Coaches Q&A Part I: Current Roster & Season

The first part of our question and answer session with coaches Wojo and Collins reviews the 2006-2007 season and looks into the immediate and long term plans of several key players.

Do you believe that the chemistry was strong last year? Or was the perceived lack of leadership a problem that proved too great to overcome?

This past season, we obviously had no seniors outside of walk-on Joe Pagliuca. In an ideal world, we would have key contributors from every class each season, and each kid would then have the freedom to grow and develop at his own pace. As the kids mature at Duke and move up in years, they are able to then pass down and help teach the Duke culture to their younger teammates without our staff having to focus on it as much. In this ideal scenario, you set your team up well for developing and building team chemistry.

However, the unforeseen circumstances surrounding our 2003 and 2004 recruiting classes have not allowed us to have the roster balance the past two years that we would like and feel is most conducive to team chemistry. From Luol Deng and Kris Humphries, we got a combined one year out of our 2003 class, leaving us with a hole in our roster. The 2004 class included one player who did not arrive on campus (Shaun Livingston) and two guys who have been riddled with injury in David McClure and DeMarcus Nelson. Those two guys will tell you their careers have been interrupted by injuries up until this past season.

Because of these roster issues, we have had to work harder to instill the Duke culture and team chemistry. Certainly, in the past, we have had experienced upperclassman leaders who were not only some of our best players but also our greatest competitors, from guys like Johnny Dawkins to Tommy Amaker to Danny Ferry to Christian Laettner to Bobby Hurley to Grant Hill to Trajan Langdon to Chris Carrawell to Shane Battier to Jason Williams to Chris Duhon to J.J. Redick to Shelden Williams. These guys made a tremendous difference for our team in their leadership by example and their understanding of the Duke culture.

This past season, not by the fault of any of our guys, but because of unpredictable roster turnover, we didn't have those older veterans critical for really cultivating team chemistry. Fortunately, our players did get some incredible experience under their belts.

As a follow-up, which players do you expect to be the leaders of the team next year and how can they earn the respect of their teammates? What suggestions do you make to those who have never been asked to lead?

Going forward, leaders will emerge over the course of the offseason and fall. Having more experienced players next season will lend itself to producing stronger leaders. It is very hard to be a strong leader as freshman or a sophomore.

Do you feel the current backcourt of Scheyer and Paulus is capable of playing the kind of pressure defense that Duke was once known for? Also do those two's weaknesses (lateral quickness) mirror each other enough to magnify any potential problems? Does the staff feel this problem was exploited at times this year such as Virginia, Va Tech, VCU, and so on?

We believe that with a backcourt of Nolan, Greg, Marty, DeMarcus, Gerald and Jon, we will have as good and deep a perimeter as anyone. Strong backcourt play is always a key to winning in college basketball. We are pretty sure that if you analyzed our losses over the past two decades, most all of them came against teams with outstanding backcourt play. This year was certainly no different.

Your question suggests that our defense was perhaps not up to par this season compared to previous quicker Duke teams. To the contrary, we felt all year that defense was in fact our main strength and we were among the nation's leaders and tops in the ACC in scoring defense all year long. The 62.0 PPG that we allowed this season against the third-hardest schedule in the nation is the lowest ever by a Duke team during a Coach K era that has produced outstanding defensive teams and nine National Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Martynas Pocius seems to ooze with potential and explosiveness. However, his appearances are often very short or non-existent. Is there a bigger role planned for him in the next two years?

We have a great deal of confidence in Marty and in his ability to be a great player here at Duke. This past season, Marty's performance was greatly impacted by the injury to his ankle. He was never able to practice at full speed day in and day out. It was an issue he dealt with every day and that forced him to miss practice at times. Therefore, it was harder for him to maintain a consistency and continuity in playing with our other guys. He just underwent surgery to repair that ankle and will spend a bulk of the summer rehabbing to get to 100 percent. There is no question that Marty can score the ball, and he gave us a huge boost of energy in the post season. We expect him to challenge for major minutes next season.

What plans and programs are in place to help Duke get some real value out of Zoubek? He's the first true center in the program in quite a while, but he seemed overwhelmed at times.

We believe Brian has great potential and are confident he will have an outstanding summer. He has been in the weight room almost every day since the end of the season, and we feel that added strength in both his upper and lower body will really help him in his development into a very good collegiate player. Along with the added strength, we will develop a detailed and personalized workout program for Brian, as we do for all of our guys, that will help him continue to improve and hone his basketball skills.

What has the staff asked Lance Thomas to work on in the off season? At times it appeared that Lance wasn't even looked at inside by our point guard(s). What are the long term plans for him? Will he be adding muscle to play inside?

We are excited about Lance's potential as a player in our program. We felt that Lance was a key contributor to this year's success, as evidenced by the fact that he started 18 of our 31 games as a freshman. To put it in perspective, he started more games as a first-year Duke player than did Chris Duhon (10 starts), Daniel Ewing (zero starts), Mike Dunleavy (2 starts), Corey Maggette (3 starts), Shavlik Randolph (6 starts), William Avery (0 starts), Antonio Lang (8 starts) and Christian Laettner (16 starts). All of these players went on to play in the NBA. Lance needs to be allowed to develop his game at the same pace as those guys were able to. We believe Lance will have a great summer, working on his game and improving his strength, and should be a major factor on next year's team.

Similarly, what are the plans for Gerald Henderson? He seemed like a dynamic scoring threat late in the season.

Regarding Gerald, there is no question he has the talent and athleticism to become a terrific player at Duke. It was well-documented that Gerald had to work hard to overcome some physical problems that held him back at the beginning of the year from becoming the player he will be.

He showed, at the end of the season, the kind of potential and talent that he possesses. He is hungry to have a great summer and come into next season looking to make a big statement.

A follow-up to that. What are the summer plans for the team? Will they be on campus the entire time? How much interaction can the coaches have with them?

All of our guys, including Lance and Gerald, will spend at least one summer session on campus working with our strength and conditioning coach William Stephens, while also working amongst themselves developing their on-court skills. Once the spring semester concludes, none of the coaches are allowed to have any on-court instruction time with any of our players until the fall semester begins. Therefore, we have to utilize the next couple of weeks productively. We are allowed two hours per week of individual instruction, where we will lay out the different drills and skill work that we want our players to take into the summer.

After this season, what is the single most glaring need in your opinion of the roster for next year?

The single most-glaring need is intense competition at every position. To become the best team we can be, the players need to push themselves to become better by challenging each other on a daily basis. With no spots in the starting five set in stone, we would like each of our returning guys as well as our incoming players to come into next season with a goal of competing for a starting position. If they do that, we will maximize our potential as a team.

Be sure to check out Part II of our interview with Coach Collins and Coach Wojciechowski as they tackle your questions regarding recruiting at Duke.

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