When he committed to Duke, Josh McRoberts was considered one of the top 30 overall prospects in the class of 2005. Since that time the Indiana prep star has taken his game to another level, becoming the top ranked player in the class while being tabbed as a future NBA star. However, many freshman phenoms enter college and have trouble adjusting. Will that be the case for Josh? Not likely.
"Josh has incredible talent," said our source. "He's 6-foot-10 with a 36-inch vertical leap and good ball skills. He can really handle and pass for his size, and he is an outstanding rebounder. For us to be the team we can potentially be, Josh will need to be an impact player for us on the court."
"He can be a great compliment to Shelden, and will enable Shelden to go inside and out. One thing about Josh is he's an aggressive finisher around the basket. His biggest improvements will come in shooting the ball and a low post game. Those are things he is working on in practice."
The Freshman Class
"We really like our freshmen class. They all love the game and have great attitudes."
The entire group of five – composed of McRoberts, Greg Paulus, Martynas Pocius, Jamal Boykin, and Eric Boateng, was rated as one of America's best by all the recruiting services. More importantly, the group filled specific needs on the Duke roster including depth at point guard and help in the post – a marked change from last year's roster, which forced 6'3 DeMarcus Nelson to play power forward for extended periods of time. So how does our source envision the freshmen fitting in?
"Paulus will share the point duties with Sean. They will also play together at times. Greg is a tough competitor and can really pass the ball. He's a throwback guard in that he wants to run the team and get everyone involved. Most of today's point guards are score first. He will have a terrific 4 year career here at Duke because has great leadership potential.
"Marty has a great spirit on the court. He is athletic, tough and plays fearless. He has a knack for scoring the ball. Right now, he is a good driver and slasher with a streaky outside shot. He will be a great role player for us this year and will spell JJ and DeMarcus on the wing. He can bring great energy to the game and continue to improve as the season goes along."
"Jamal is a ball of fire when he is out there. He plays incredibly hard and brings a lot of energy and emotion to the court. He has a very nice face-up jumpshot to 17 feet and a nice feel around the basket. He will be a great post reserve who can come into the game and bring energy and enthusiasm. You pretty much know what you are going to get when he is on the court. I am sure he will be a real fan favorite."
"Eric is a guy who keeps getting better and better. As everyone knows, he has only played organized basketball for four years and is learning every day. He loves to work on his game and put in the time. It has been great to go against Shelden everyday while learning the ropes. He has a good jump hook inside and a nice touch to 15 feet. Eric has a very big upside as he continues to mature and gain experience. He will be a good physical defender and rebounder this year and will enable Shelden to get some minutes rest during the game."
On Duke's Style of Play in 2005-2006
Over the last few years the Blue Devils have developed an identity as one of the best defensive squads in the country. Offensively this group has also been forced to rely on more of a halfcourt game compared to some of their predecessors. Now, with a rotation that can go as many as 10 deep, will the Devils revert to a more up-tempo style?
"We would like to play faster than we were able to last year. Our personnel didn't allow us to really pick up the pace defensively last year. With so many guys playing heavy minutes, we just couldn't do it. This year, you will see us pick up more full court but we will vary it. You won't see it all the time. Our foundation is still our half court man-to-man pressure defense. We have worked on some presses so far in the preseason."
The Biggest Surprise in the Preseason
"The guy who probably continues to surprise the most is Lee Melchionni. He came back to school after working on Wall St. this summer in incredible shape and improved. He has had a terrific preseason and earned the right to be named captain. Lee will play a huge role on this year's team whether he starts or comes off the bench. He is very versatile in that you can play him as a wing or as a small 4 man."
The Generation Gap
With five seniors and five freshmen, there are conceivable chemistry issues associated with the Blue Devils. Only one rotational player, DeMarcus Nelson, doesn't have four or zero years of eligibility remaining. How are the Blue Devils dealing this potential pitfall?
"The gap between the freshmen and seniors is best bridged by those guys gaining experience playing together. They are all good guys who want to work hard and win. The more they play together, the more they learn about each other's games. Hopefully as the season progresses, they will continue to gel and get better."
"DeMarcus did a great job by being here this summer with the freshmen and really getting to know them on and off the court. They bonded pretty well."
The Biggest Off Season Improvement
"The guy who has made the biggest improvement from last year to this year is DeMarcus. He came back to school in great shape and having really worked on his game. He has really embraced his role as a dirty work player and top defender on the perimeter. He is a unique guard in his ability to play inside and out. He is as good of a rebounding guard as I have seen in a while. He will have opportunities this year to have big games as people focus their defenses on JJ and Shelden."
The Proven Commodities
While many Duke fans are focusing on the play and contributions of the freshman class, there have been cases of fans forgetting that Duke has two of the best players in the country at their respective positions. Despite their lofty rankings, both J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams spent the off-season working to develop more diverse overall games in hopes of cementing their status as top collegiate prospects.
"The main thing we wanted JJ to do this summer was to keep his same level of conditioning and to use the experience of international ball to get better. He had a phenomenal year last year and we want him to continue to build on it. He will continue to do the same things that he has done throughout his career."
"The example that he and Shelden show the young guys on a day to day basis only helps for the future of our program. They have been great leaders."
"We have eased Shelden into the preseason to get him healthy. He came back from the World University Games a little banged up and tired. He had some time off to get rested and recovered and he is working his way back to be the Shelden we all know. The season is a long journey and we want to have him ready for the long haul. I think having a few more bodies inside will really benefit Shelden. He will be able to play all over the court and take less of a pounding on a game to game basis. We expect Shelden to have a terrific season."