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Talented Duke Short on Leadership

October 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. — Take a quick look at Duke's roster. It doesn't take long to spot the Blue Devils' biggest uncertainty heading into a new season.

Sure, they have plenty of the familiar traits of a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team as they opened practice Friday, from one of the nation's best recruiting classes to talented returnees such as Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus. But after losing All-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, the Blue Devils need to figure out who will take the big shot or provide leadership in critical moments.

The youth movement has McRoberts and Paulus becoming the first sophomores to serve as team captains in program history. Fellow captain DeMarcus Nelson, a junior, now qualifies as the team's grizzled veteran as its lone scholarship upperclassman.

"We're not going to just become great leaders in a day or in a week or two," Nelson said during the team's annual media day a few hours before the official start of practice. "It's going to take time and it's going to take us playing some ballgames. It's going to take some mistakes for us to get better.

"The one thing I will say about the three captains this year is we all are very hungry to win. We're dedicated to making our team the best that we can possibly make it and to having a fun year."

The Blue Devils are coming off a 32-4 season that was dominated by the season-long scoring onslaught delivered by Redick, who averaged 26.8 points and was named the Associated Press national player of the year. Williams was also a first-team All-American as the rugged physical presence inside for the Blue Devils.

Last season, everyone knew Redick would be the guy to get the ball in the clutch. And there were other seniors around such as Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni to provide experience.

Now, the Blue Devils are losing 72.8% of their scoring from last season. Even more important is the lost know-how, probably forcing this year's captains to step up significantly.

After all, as Krzyzewski noted, "None of our guys have really established themselves as who they are at a high level." And he said the Blue Devils have their youngest team with their fewest upperclassmen since World War II.

"Now there's no one ahead of them," he said of the captains. "I think they'll have more courage to lead and see a greater need to lead. I think good people who have leadership ability respond to that type of circumstance. It's a good environment for them to lead and I think they'll respond. They're good kids. They want it and I think it'll help them become better players."

Paulus would seem to be the most comfortable in a leadership role, simply because he played point guard along with Dockery. And McRoberts, who is coming off off-season back surgery, is the leading returning scorer at 8.7 points a game. Nelson averaged 7.1 points despite sitting out several weeks last season because of a broken right ankle.

Krzyzewski said he planned to meet more often, perhaps weekly, with his captains to talk with them about everything from practice plans to the mood of the team. The trio sounds eager to embrace the new role.

The question now is how long it will take in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.

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