By now all Blue Devil fans are wary of the annual hype that seems to surround local hoops prodigy Shavlik Randolph. After being ranked as the nation's best prep player as a high school junior, Randolph has had a rocky three seasons since, allowing the skeptics to write him off as just a rising junior.
However, the Blue Devils may have more reason than ever to be optimistic this season as the 6-foot-10, 240 pounder has continued his strong summer play in the first days of official practice. Randolph is now showing off his perimeter ability, but isn't afraid to go with authority to the basket – something that has been missing for his first two seasons. Given his size and skill set, there is no reason he can't put up huge numbers on any given night.
Throughout the pick up season he impressed onlookers with his strength inside as well as his willingness to finish everything strong at the rim. That continues to be the case against Shelden Williams to this point. If he's truly healthy and truly comfortable in his new frame, this could finally be the year he realizes all the hype.
This Kid Is For Real
Last year we were guilty of raving over freshman sensation Luol Deng, who, after a slow start, ended up being Duke's most dangerous offensive threat. It seems that Coach K and staff have found another one of those stud freshmen in the form of 6-foot-3, 195-pound DeMarcus Nelson.
After committing over three years ago, Nelson is finally ready to break on to the scene in the ACC. The first thing that one notices is Nelson's sheer size and athleticism, which is considerable to say the least. One contact was candid when he said: "If you don't look at his face, I'd swear this was 2002 and Jay Williams was back on the court, only bigger."
The comparisons will certainly continue throughout the season as Nelson, like Williams, has a bit of an unconventional form to his jumper. He's also a guard who seems to forget his position when he's attacking the rim – going to the goal as if he's a slashing small forward. Considering this kid spent the conditioning part of the off season working out on a 38" plyometric box, you can understand how he gets those extra few inches.
Simply put, Nelson is going to either be a major threat to start at some point this season, or he's going to make those ahead of him in the rotation earn every second their on the floor in front of him.
The Glue Guys
If the first few practices are any indication, that's going to be the roles of junior Lee Melchionni and freshman David McClure. Both of whom could be called upon to provide different remedies in the battles of the regular season.
As has been his custom for much of his career, Melchionni looks very good in the practice gym, and shows the ability to contribute in spot duty as a worse case scenario. Best case will see either one become a regular contributor on the boards and a key contributor in the defensive schemes that will be employed in order to prevent fouls from racking up on Williams and Randolph.
McClure enters the season tipping the scales around 215 pounds, which won't help him win any physical battles in the paint. However he's very adept at crashing the boards and reading the ball off the rim. This allows him to get good position inside which accounts for his surprisingly high rebounding totals.
Offensively he'll probably spend most of his time in a role similar to that of Nate James, Chris Carrawell, and Dahntay Jones – a small forward who can step outside or go inside for garbage buckets.
Mimicking any of those three would be a huge lift to this Duke team (sans push ups after a big dunk, of course).
Much Love From Reggie
Sure, Reggie Love is only around 6-foot-4 (in shoes), but he's also a rock solid 240 pounds and about as tough as you would expect an NFL receiver to be. While no one expects him to come in and score 15 per night, Love could easily log high totals on the boards in spot relief of Williams and Randolph.
In short he's got long arms, great leaping ability, and he's strong as an ox. It's not a stretch to think in the right situation he could be similar to other former football players masquerading as hoopsters like former UNC contributor Julius Peppers.
Right now the conventional wisdom has four of the five starting positions locked up with Williams, Randolph, Daniel Ewing, and J.J. Redick guaranteed to be introduced each night. The fifth spot seems to be up for grabs between Nelson and junior point guard Sean Dockery.
So far in practice it would seem that Dockery is doing his part as Chris Duhon's heir apparent. Though his jump shot is still not what could be considered reliable, his quickness and handle are likely the best on the roster. Defensively he's as good as ever with pressure on the ball. The main concern will certainly focus on his ability to keep defenses honest with an ability to score and make correct decisions with the ball. Still, Duke's offensive sets and practice priorities seem to focus on everyone being involved with the ball handling duties, at least in the early going.
Nelson, to his credit, is a tremendous defender with good lateral quickness and fast hands, and his offense is better than his junior counter part's. However he is a freshman and Coach K usually enjoys the luxury of an upper classman running the team. Still, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the fifth starting position.
Interestingly enough the Blue Devils could start a line up that consists of four juniors and one senior should Dockery earn the starting gig. That's a team with a ton of experience including "winning experience", something that's impossible to quantify these days in college hoops.