Key Recruiting Battles Loom

The final buzzer has sounded. For the fourth time in five years, the Blue Devils' season has ended with a loss in the Sweet 16 despite expectations that extended much, much higher. And, as it the usual custom for teams who will watch the Final Four nets being cut down from a television instead of in person, the focus now turns to reloading and recruiting. Right now there are two very important recruiting pitches that must be made.

Shelden Williams is taking his ball and going to the NBA where he'll enjoy a long and fruitful career. Williams leaves as Duke's all-time leading rebounder and shot blocker, and he's taking his 18 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks a night out of a Duke rotation that struggled on the glass tremendously.

Take solace Duke fans, the next great big man is already in Durham. In fact he led the team in SportsCenter highlights this season. Yes, it's safe to expect rising sophomore Josh McRoberts to be an absolute star for the Blue Devils.

Or is it?

Therein lies the great question of this off-season because McRoberts could put his name into the NBA Draft and be selected in the top 14 picks while earning himself millions of dollars.

On the flip side, McRoberts could return for his sophomore season, become Duke's featured players, and cement himself as a top five pick, earning himself even more millions of dollars. It's a wonderful dilemma for anyone to face, and it's going to be a heart wrenching few months for Blue Devil faithful as the talented freshman weighs both sides of the equation before ultimately deciding one way or another.

The other part of the equation to replace Williams is the recruitment of Lance Thomas, a 6-foot-8 athletic power forward who continues to mull over a decision between Duke and Rutgers. A gifted rebounder with a terrific motor, Thomas would certainly be a threat to start as a true freshman for Duke.

However, this is a recruiting battle that has gone on for a long, long time with Duke and Rutgers battling back and forth for Thomas' services. The Scarlet Knights recently changed head coaches, with Fred Hill taking over the program. Thomas is visiting this weekend for a chance to be re-re-recruited by Hill. He has already visited Duke numerous times, including senior night against North Carolina.

While it's been a recurring statement for the Thomas recruitment for some time now, a decision will be made within the next month. Recent reports have that final choice coming down by the second week in April.

While Duke will certainly be among the elite programs in the country throughout head coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure, an argument could be made that for the high level of success enjoyed over the past decade to continue, the Blue Devils must win a pair of recruiting battles this spring in the form of McRoberts returning to school and Thomas arriving on campus.

Should Thomas elect to attend the home town school while McRoberts decides to forego his final three seasons, Duke would still have a stable of former high school players of the year and McDonald's All Americans in the post, but it would be a group of collective question marks.

Rising sophomore Eric Boateng has as much potential as any player in recent history, but the 6-foot-10, 230 pound London native played just 50 minutes this season and has only participated in organized basketball for five total years. Classmate Jamal Boykin, named California's Player of the Year in 2005, was another player who logged limited minutes in his initial Duke campaign. Incoming freshman Brian Zoubek stands a legit 7-foot-1 and tips the scales close to 270 pounds. However he's battled injuries over the past two seasons, which have limited his exposure to many experts.

Without McRoberts or Thomas, at least two of these players would need to step up and become more of an answer than a question. Granted that neither Josh nor Lance is close to a ‘sure thing' when it comes to high levels of contribution in 2006-2007, they both provide the kind of player Duke sorely lacked over the past two seasons. Should neither be on the roster, the Blue Devils will look for Boateng, Boykin, and Zoubek to step up and provide answers to some very important questions.

For Boateng that will mean harnessing tremendous athletic ability and using it to his advantage, while honing the finer points and skills required to be a force at the high major level. That's a lot to expect from a player who is still so new to the organized game at this level. For Boykin it means continuing to play with his usual fire and blue collar attitude. Zoubek remains a mystery as he will be the first traditional center to come to Durham in many, many years. How he fits into the system or how the system is modified to fit him will likely determine his effectiveness.

None of these adjustments are going to happen overnight, leaving next year's front court with a number of unknowns as Krzyzewski starts over at square one. Coach K could turn that into a head start by winning a pair or key recruiting battles.

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