There's Pride in Reality

Long time Duke fan Daniel Turner offers his thoughts on the Blue Devils' season

When projections were made at the beginning of this season for Duke to finish outside of the top three in the ACC and stumble into another NCAA tournament, many fans across the nation felt those prophecies to be accurate.

After all, the Blue Devils were without a true point guard after senior captain Chris Duhon graduated, and the nation's best prep point, Shaun Livingston, was selected as the number four pick in the NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers.

To further complicate matters in Durham, a mid-summer drama involving head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the news as the NBA power made an offer that had $40 million behind it. Luckily Krzyzewski turned down the option to become the highest paid coach in the NBA and remained at the helm of the Blue Devils.

With Krzyzewski still roaming the sidelines, Duke fans had high hopes in mind for this year's team. The mindset in Blue Devil nation seemed to have more to do with the tradition surrounding the name on the front of the jersey, not the names on the backs. With all the great teams that had come before them, this team had to live up to those kinds of expectations, didn't they?

Entering the season, however, comparisons to past teams were almost unfair. A blue print from past teams matched very little with the characteristics of the 2004-05 group- a group that entered the season lacking a floor leader, a star player, and depth.

But somehow, Mike Krzyzewski found a way to win.

Sean Dockery and Daniel Ewing would both share the role of point guard despite neither being fully qualified nor at all experienced. The blue print of Dockery and Ewing certainly did not take form from past greats including Bobby Hurley, Steve Wojciechowski, and Jason Williams. Results, including twenty-six wins, were, however, a common bond between the point guards and past greats.

Over the summer, Luol Deng, who averaged 15 points per game as a freshman, became an NBA lottery pick, and in turn, left Krzyzewski in need of a go to guy.

While various players would fill the go to guy role occasionally, one would out shine the rest.

JJ Redick was far from the traditional Duke blue print of a star player, but he did very little to disappoint. Past Duke greats included Johnny Dawkins, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Shane Battier.

This season, JJ Redick carried the Blue Devils to a sixth ACC championship in the past seven years while playing an average of thirty seven minutes per game, and he seemingly placed his name on the list of Duke greats.

Redick's ACC Tournament MVP honor and First Team All-American honor formed a common bond with the blue print created by the past Duke stars.

Respect must be given to Shelden Williams as well.

One could easily argue that Williams was the most valuable player for the team. His presence was irreplaceable, and in turn, he was recognized as a third team All-American.

But what might be most remarkable about this truly unique season were the lack of depth and the budding of new stars.

There was the big three made up of Ewing, Redick, and Williams, and a group of support players who did everything in their hands to propel Duke to big wins.

Included in the group of support was Shavlik Randolph.

While Randolph's statistics may not have been impressive, his size and presence were much needed.

A win over rival North Carolina on February 9th was helped in large part by the contribution of freshman DeMarcus Nelson who scored sixteen points in twenty-six minutes of play.

Without a doubt, the pleasant surprise of the year goes to Lee Melchionni who displayed absolutely no fear and a relentless passion for winning.

Melchionni made almost all of the key shots, and in the final games of the season, when he took a crucial shot you knew it was going to fall. His hard work and energy formed a blue print of its own for this year's team.

Reggie Love returned from a NFL tryout with the Green Bay Packers to provide key relief from the bench. Along with minutes from freshman David McClure, and occasional minutes from Patrick Johnson, the bench was able to cover just the right amount of minutes despite an absence in talent.

Making matters even worse throughout the year were the critical injuries.

DeMarcus Nelson injured his thumb in the preseason. Shavlik Randolph weathered a bout with mononucleosis. Reggie Love suffered a broken foot, and David McClure and Sean Dockery each injured their knees.

All of these injuries made the twenty-six wins, ACC tournament championship, and the number one seed in the NCAA tournament seem even more improbable.

This Duke team, however, overlooked improbability for much of the season.

So Duke fans, take pride.

Pride in the fact that a team with so many question marks surrounding them in the preseason managed to provide yet another historic season for Duke University.

Pride in the fact that experience was lacking at the beginning of the season, but by seasons end, experience became abundant.

Pride in the fact that without a true point guard, Duke still managed to win twenty-six games.

Pride in the fact that this Duke team was unconventional, and because of that, will be forever remembered.

Pride in the fact that, despite being knocked off in the Sweet Sixteen, Duke had physically exhausted itself throughout the season by laying everything on the line every night.

And pride in the fact that Mike Krzyzewski is still our head coach.

So to Daniel Ewing and Reggie Love, thanks for the memories. To JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, thanks for the star lift this season, and in the season to come. To Lee Melchionni, thanks for the love of the game. To Sean Dockery, thanks for the physical and mental grit. To DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure, thanks for the maturation. And lastly, to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, thanks for the leadership.

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