Luol Deng Wows In Pick Up Action

<b>Luol Deng</b> walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium late. He had just finished his first college paper that was due at midnight via e-mail in his first day of college classes. Despite having only been through one day as a college student, Luol was about to conduct his third basketball clinic in Cameron.

Deng had just arrived on campus Saturday night in the midst of Coach K's third session of summer camp and made an immediate impact on the team. Based on his early performances, it's hard to envision the 6-foot-8 forward being left out of the starting lineup at any point during his college career. It is likely that hard working lefty Lee Melchionni, who has made Cameron Indoor Stadium his home this summer, will back up Luol at the small forward position.

The question with Deng appears to be: What can't he do? He's very gifted with the basketball and seems to have a very advanced understanding of the game. Though he's been listed at 6-foot-6 by some publications, he appears to be closer to 6-foot-8 and has significantly broadened his shoulders in the weight room since last winter when he led Blair Academy to a victory in Cameron.

The increased muscle coupled with his athleticism and understanding allows Deng to be the kind player in that can play every position on the floor. He can race up the floor on a fast break, weaving as he dribbles past speedy guards, or he can go down low and post up against big men. If neither of those options is available, he can also take his defender to the hole from the perimeter or line up and drill treys.

Perhaps the most impressive attribute possessed by Deng is his tremendous grasp of the basic fundamentals and incredible instincts on the floor. Last season Duke did not have someone who could effectively receive an entry pass down low, draw the defense around him, and stall if necessary to wait for a perimeter player to open up. Luol can do just that, which will make the combination of Deng and Redick lethal for opposing defenses in 2003-2004.

Additionally Deng was scoring at will when he received entry passes in the post. I know Manute Bol has worked extensively with him as well as his brothers in helping them become great basketball players, but whoever taught Deng the fundamentals of the game needs to start a camp of their own. Deng is almost flawless in that department: A textbook form jump shot, excellent ball fakes, outstanding footwork in the paint, and an uncanny knack for finding the open man.

On defense Deng has a gigantic wingspan, very long, active arms and he moves his feet extremely well. He's also very active attacking the boards for rebounds and seemed to be winning tip-ins routinely against bigger opponents.

Deng was observed at one point this evening getting a rebound, driving through numerous players in total control and then throwing himself an alley-oop off the back board and slamming it home over a crowd of 2 bigger defenders. The dunk was great, but what was most exciting as a Duke fan was seeing a 6-foot-8 rising freshman pull down a rebound and speed down the floor going coast to coast.

Later Deng hit a 3 pointer to win a game and had Andy Borman jump into his arms and hug him. Borman then commented walking to the water cooler before the start of the next game "Luol is a killer!"

In my mind it is not unrealistic to think this young man will be able to challenge for ACC Player of the Year honors as a freshman. In looking at his competition for the award, I do not see that the likes of Hodge, Felton and Duhon can do all the things Luol Deng can do for a team. It is somewhat amazing to even see a young man like Luol Deng in college. It was just last week we saw numerous high school graduates make the leap to the NBA and Deng was undoubtedly better than most of them, aside from Mr. James.

That thought leads me to my next question, which makes me nervous to ask. Just how long will Luol be with us? When next season starts, it will be VERY apparent to basketball fans everywhere that Luol Deng is an NBA caliber player. However, Deng comes from a large, strong and intelligent family that wants to see him get a degree. Luol is certainly in a place where he can achieve a degree from one of the best academic institutes in the country.

Yet his obvious readiness for the NBA may overwhelm such a thought. I would certainly love to see Deng at Duke for four or even three years but we all have seen what is happening in college basketball recently. If players like Marquis Estill and Josh Powell can be convinced they are NBA Draft material, what is stopping a guy like Deng who IS ready to make the move?

As I looked up in the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium at names like Battier, Hill, Hurley and Laettner I thought of all the talent that walked into Cameron and made a lasting impression. However, I do not recall any of the names in the rafters looking as outstanding or as unflawed as a player the summer before their freshman year. Nor do I remember any of the names hanging in the rafters being able to play every position on the floor.

Cameron Crazies, meet the next and perhaps best Duke superstar.

Dave Dixon is a Chicago native and graduate of Elmhurst College outside Chicago. He is 27 and has lived in Durham for one year. Dave worked at Coach K's camp this summer and attends over 20 Duke games a season as well as numerous practices and pick up games when possible.

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