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The look of a champion

There are many reasons why Duke is the team to beat

Posted: Friday October 28, 2005 2:06PM; Updated: Friday October 28, 2005 3:03PM
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Shelden Williams
Shelden Williams returns to Duke for a senior season filled with promise.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
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DURHAM, N.C. -- As I sat in the office of Duke associate head coach Johnny Dawkins Thursday afternoon, the coach opened up the laptop computer on his desk and called up a video file of the Blue Devils' Blue-White scrimmage from last weekend. Magically, the game started playing on a television sitting on the other end of Dawkins' office. Clearly proud of his high-tech toy, Dawkins manipulated the video using a handheld console he called the "cowboy" as we discussed the team's prospects for the coming season.

I was duly impressed by the gadgets, but I was even more taken with what was happening on the screen -- J.J. Redick stroking a 3, Shelden Williams hitting a turnaround jumper, freshman Josh McRoberts soaring through the lane for a dunk. The most significant part was that the Blue Devils actually held an intrasquad scrimmage. This time last year they only had eight players on scholarship, which meant two walk-ons started the annual Blue-White game. Though Duke won the ACC tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, it was a worn-out bunch by the middle of March, when it was ousted by a physical Michigan State team in the Sweet 16.

Some people called that a down year, but I've got some bad news for all the Duke haters out there: The Blue Devils are up again. The one thought that kept recurring as I watched them practice in Card Gymnasium was that not only does this team have some great pieces, but those pieces look like they fit together. That's an intriguing combination.

Most teams are lucky to have one gifted pure point guard on their roster, but the Devils have two in senior Sean Dockery and freshman Greg Paulus. Lots of squads have difficulty shooting the 3, but Duke has a bevy of crisp marksmen in Redick, Lee Melchionni and sophomore DeMarcus Nelson. And in an era in which the senior All-American is supposed to be extinct, Redick and Williams both fit that bill. Throw in a five-man freshman class many are calling the nation's best, and it's easy to see why Duke is such a popular pick to win the national championship.

Still showing the afterglow of his big introduction on Wednesday as the new coach of the U.S. national team, Mike Krzyzewski was spirited and intense as he directed Duke's 11th practice of the season. Coach K usually utilizes his assistants, but he was hands-on for most of Thursday's workout, especially when it concerned his freshmen. He erupted only once, when his guys weren't running an offensive set correctly, and when things got sloppy, he started making them run each time they committed a turnover. But mostly, Coach K was simply teaching and exhorting. His passion reverberated through the gym.