From the Stands: Blue-White 2004

The 2004-2005 season is now officially underway as the Blue Devils played host to a sold out Cameron Indoor Stadium for Saturday's annual Blue-White scrimmage. While many will point to this year's lack of depth, <I></I> found a number of reasons to be excited about this year's team and what could happen.

The Value of a Floor General

Perhaps the biggest factor in Saturday's mismatch was the play of junior point guard Sean Dockery. The 6-foot-2 Chicago native, who many thought had become an after thought with this year's roster, proved himself as the fifth starter at this point in the season.

Dockery ran his team much in the same fashion as his predecessor, Chris Duhon, by making the correct pass, and finding the open man within the flow of the offense. During his sophomore campaign, Dockery would sometimes lose focus and drive straight into the heart of the defense with his head down and no way to bail himself out. This year he's got his head up and is looking for his teammates, and it showed as he tallied a game high eight assists with no turnovers.

Perhaps his best moment was midway through the second half when he beat his defender off the dribble and drove into the heart of the defense before laying the ball off to Shelden Williams who was wide open after the double team came to stop Dockery. Last season that would have resulted in a wild lay up attempt, this year it was an easy jam for the big guy.

Also of note was Dockery's much improved shooting, which included a perfect 2-of-2 from long range in addition to a number of strong finishes at the rim. His jump shot has been retooled by the coaching staff and now features improved mechanics and, ultimately, better results as his misses are now coming off the rim softer, and are fewer than last season.

While Dockery was performing well, the White team had Daniel Ewing running the show as the point guard. Ewing, to his credit, ran the team capably, committing just one turnover and handing out four assists while tallying a team high 17 points on the night. The flashback that kept popping up was of William Avery, also a natural scoring guard playing the point, running the show for the 1999 team. For Ewing to have similar success, the Blue Devils will need to develop better passing as unit, something the White team didn't fully execute on Saturday.

Shelden's Breakout Season Coming

If Saturday is any indication, Shelden Williams is heading for a very big year. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior scored a game high 24 points to go along with nine rebounds, and two blocks. Offensively, Williams benefited from the play of Dockery, who found him time and time again in the post for easy finishes at the rim. He also showed a nice face up game, hitting a pair of 15 footers from the corner, and flashes of a hook shot – reminding many of former North Carolina center Kris Lang.

Defensively the big man was very quick off his feet when altering or blocking shots, and used his huge wingspan to his advantage on a number of challenges. One heartening note was the lack of reaching by Williams when the ball was entered into the post against him. Last season that tendency caused a number of shortened evenings, and this year the Blue Devils simply cannot afford to have him sitting next to the coaching staff in crucial stretches.

Randolph's Progression

Coming into the game there was some question about Randolph's ability to go full throttle after a scary collision on Friday saw his right knee take a pretty good hit. However the Raleigh native took the floor and showed flashes of what many Blue Devil fans hope will become a nightly occurrence for him.

Offensively Shavlik no longer seems unsure of himself in the post. Instead he takes the ball up with the intention of finishing at the rim. Several times he received the ball and would show a head or ball fake and then take it up to finish, resulting in a 15 point night.

One of his better moves involved receiving the ball and facing up against Williams early in the first half. Randolph dribbled in spun, faked, and finished at the rim. Unfortunately he was called for traveling, but it was enough to leave Williams zigging while Randolph was zagging to an open rim. His rebounding totals weren't overly impressive (three total), but that was because he was constantly being boxed out by Williams who had little else to worry about when it came to crashing the boards from the White team's frontcourt.

The Rookies

The freshman duo of DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure impressed the crowd in their own ways throughout the night. While it's obvious that both players will learn a lot as they go, it's a certainty that they will each play critical roles for the Blue Devils in crucial situations this season.

Nelson continuously attacked the basket and didn't find a defender who could stop him from getting into the paint as he was able to overpower Dockery, and was too quick for J.J. Redick on the perimeter. Despite his ability to get inside, Nelson didn't have a lot of success shooting the ball (2-of-8), but then again he's also used to getting about double the looks he got tonight. Once his role is defined on the floor within the team model, there's little doubt his point totals will consistently increase. He's too good for them not to.

Meanwhile David McClure proved just why Coach K was so excited to land the Connecticut player of the year. The 6-foot-5 forward will likely play the role of Nate James or Chris Carrawell throughout his career, and the similarities are striking as McClure seems to always find himself in the right place on both sides of the ball. He totaled six point, six rebounds, and three blocks while checking everyone from Randolph to Ewing on the opposing team, and proved successful against each.

Offensively he's not selfish and didn't really look for his own shot throughout the scrimmage, deferring to teammates Williams and Redick. His six points came on put backs and garbage buckets, which seemed to suit his demeanor as one of the hardest workers on the floor.

His feel for the game will serve him well during his freshman season and beyond as a Blue Devil, and it seems that he may occupy the role as Duke's lone true small forward this year.

Love Returns

The first thing you notice when looking at Reggie Love is that this guy is big. Really big. In fact he's built like an NFL tight end with a chiseled 240 pounds set on a 6-foot-4 frame. Despite the lack of height, Love's athletic ability allowed him to play much taller. He's quick off his feet and can simply out-muscle players of similar height.

While he's not going to be an offensive threat, there's no reason to discount his ability to come in and check bigger players and contribute on the boards each night. In fact, if the early season performance is any indication, Love is likely going to be the first post reserve off the bench this year for Mike Krzyzewski. He is, truly, a big surprise for Duke this year.

Bottom Line

While it's foolish to try and predict anything after a 30-minute scrimmage, there is cause of optimism in Durham early on with this group of Blue Devils.

There is no questioning that a starting lineup of Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, and Sean Dockery can compete with any other group in the country on an nightly basis. The real question that faces this group is what happens when you get into Duke's bench.

Both rookies look like they'll be regular contributors and will improve nightly at this high level, and with Love stepping in and stealing between eight and 10 minutes per night the eight-man rotation looks solid.

The emergence of Lee Melchionni in the rebounding game would be a huge lift, as would the continued improvement of walk-on turned scholarship senior Patrick Johnson. If either of those players can step up, Duke has the typical Mike Krzyzewski look of several high major players mixed in with a group of solid reserves.

At this point it looks as though sending either Williams or Randolph to the bench will transform this team into a mirror of the 2002 Blue Devils when Dahntay Jones manned the power forward position and the offense looked inside to a big guy before looking to the perimeter attack, which is among the best in the country with Redick, Ewing, and Nelson all able to score in bunches.

With both big men on the floor, this team has the look of a real contender, albeit one that many seem to discount due to the loss of three players to the NBA Draft. What's plain is that this team will be one of the more entertaining in the last few years as the potential to do great things is there provided each player continues to improve.

Still the biggest vulnerability seems to center around the depth, but that's been the story before under Coach K, and it always seems to work out.

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