Sept. 25, 1999, may someday be regarded as a momentous date in Duke's history, and not because Vanderbilt defeated the Blue Devils 31-14 that afternoon in the homecoming football game in Durham. Earlier that morning, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke's basketball team played pickup games that involved two of the finest point guards in the nation—6'1", 186-pound Chris Duhon, a visiting recruit from Slidell, La., and 6'2", 196-pound Blue Devils freshman Jason Williams. Duhon's mother, Vivian Harper, who had cautioned her son against committing to Duke because she feared he might ride the bench behind Williams for as many as three seasons, watched intently from the stands. Duhon, who grew up a Duke fanatic, decided to make his college decision based on how well the pickup games went.
Though NCAA rules prohibited Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski from watching the action, he told forward Shane Battier to make sure Williams and Duhon played on the same team. Duhon fed Williams on the break. Williams found Duhon for threes. Williams alley-ooped to Duhon and vice versa. Duhon missed just three shots that day, and his team won six games in a row. The duo roomed together that night, and Williams assured Duhon that Krzyzewski envisioned them playing together. With his mother's blessing, Duhon committed to Duke the next day without making his other four college visits.
Duhon and Williams play a game as closely matched as their jersey numbers, 21 and 22, respectively. Williams is marginally a more natural penetrator and distributor; Duhon, who easily won the three-point shooting contest at the 2000 McDonald's All American game, is a slightly more gifted shooter. Krzyzewski calls Duhon a "sixth starter" who will run the point when Williams rests and roam the wing looking for shots when he and Williams are on the court together. "I see Chris as an understudy to the star of a Broadway show," Krzyzewski says. "He'll have to be ready to take over the lead role at any moment."
Operating with virtually no backup last year, Williams averaged a stellar 14.5 points, 6.5 assists and 2.4 steals but also committed an ACC-high 139 turnovers in a withering 34 minutes per game. "Watching on TV you could see times when Jason was tired, and all I could say was, 'Wait till next year,' "
Duhon says. "Now that we're together, it's exciting because neither of us has ever played with another point guard this good before." Duhon's presence is the primary reason why Krzyzewski is reinstating the Blue Devils' trademark pressure defense, which he scaled back last season because of a thin bench. That lack of depth also contributed to the team's third-round NCAA tournament loss to Florida. With seniors Battier and Nate James and emerging sophomores Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, Duke brings back largely the same core of players who led the nation in scoring (88.0 points per game) a year ago and finished the regular season atop the rankings. This season Duke could add to an impressive run that has seen the program rated No. 1 at some point during 10 of the last 16 years. However, it's been eight years since the Blue Devils owned that ranking at the end of a season. "You can't keep saying, 'We'll win it all next year,' " James says. "Some of us have run out of next years."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]