For anyone eager to see the crowning of a fresh NCAA champion, dispiriting news comes in the form of a course offered at Duke this fall. Three returnees from the defending champions, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon and Jason Williams, sat raptly in Phys Ed 180: Performance Enhancement. The rest of college basketball might be forgiven for asking, "What's to enhance?" Although the Blue Devils lost player of the year Shane Battier and consummate glue guy Nate James to graduation, their holdovers and newcomers are formidable enough to repeat.
A recent lecture in Phys Ed 180, during which professor Greg Dale outlined the four stages a group goes through to become a team, offers a guide to assessing this Duke edition. First, teams form. Consider the cast the Devils have mustered: the speed and skills of Duhon and Williams in the backcourt, Boozer's inside muscle at center and Mike Dunleavy's inside-outside game from the wing. All four grace the preseason list of 30 Naismith Award finalists. The new element in the lineup will be swingman Dahntay Jones, a 6'6" slasher who transferred from Rutgers.
After forming, teams storm, or go through a period of interpersonal conflict and resistance to control. Though Duke doesn't have a senior among its regulars, Williams and Boozer are certain to leave for the pros after this season, and Duhon, Jones and Dunleavy may well too, which raises the question: Will Duke turn into a troupe of NBA auditioners all jockeying for a spot at center stage? One early indication bodes well. "This is Jason's year," Dunleavy says, "just like last year was Shane's."
Once they've stormed, teams norm, developing solidarity and cooperation. To do so, Duhon says, "We have to develop the leadership. We're quicker and more athletic than last year, and when we develop that leadership, we'll be scary." Even if Williams and Dunleavy are the team's nominal leaders, Duhon is certain to range beyond last season's deferential role as a freshman defensive ace. Also, with Boozer's knack for getting to the free throw line, look for Duke, which last season set an NCAA record for most three-point shots made (407), to make a subtle shift back to the inside game.
With everyone's efforts channeled toward a single goal, teams ultimately perform. The Blue Devils are sure to do so at an elite level once more. Whether that's enough to win another championship will depend on how severely they storm, and how solidly they norm.
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