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Commentary: The new way to recruit

Not too many superlatives slip under the Coach K radar screen. Through no small effort by Dick Vitale, everyone knows that Krzyzewski: Wins nearly every basketball game he coaches, gives significant amounts of time and money to charity, and is perceived publicly for being a nice guy about it all.

Although it has hardly been discussed by the national media, Krzyzewski's skill as a recruiter, always listed as one of his strengths, has been more paramount now than at any other time in his career.

The West Point graduate's distinction of late is not solely based on the players he has attracted to allow the Cameron Crazies to continue to scream. It is founded on a coherent vision for the future of the Duke basketball program that could very likely create the most dominant teams Krzyzewski will ever lead.

The most interesting part of this occurrence, however, is that Coach K has accomplished this by recruiting less talented players than one would expect.

Krzyzewski's comprehension that college basketball is no longer producing the best prospects for the NBA has all but assured Duke will be one of the top programs in the nation for at least the next five years. Case in point: The first three picks in the 2003 NBA Draft had a combined one year of college basketball experience.

Because of this recent change, Krzyzewski does not waste his time on the high school superstars being charmed by the nation's other top programs, with the two notable exceptions being Duke freshman Luol Deng and still-undecided high school senior Shaun Livingston.

This can clearly be seen in the so-called "Super Six" that compose the class of 2006 Duke varsity basketball players. Rated as the consensus No. 1 recruiting class beginning the 2002-03 year, many analysts felt the Duke freshman crop, which lacked a true superstar, did not pan out to be even the No. 2 group of novices in the ACC, as Georgia Tech's tandem of Jarrett Jack and Chris Bosh and the talented new comers led by Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants at North Carolina outplayed the East Campus residents in 2003.

But Bosh has already gone to the NBA, and McCants and Felton are likely to join their fellow genetic freaks in the league before their eligibility is completed. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine any player other than Shelden Williams of even having a chance at leaving early for the riches of professional basketball. While the rest of the nation's top teams will be perpetually attempting to reload the talent lost to the NBA draft, Duke will be fine-tuning years of cohesion between highly talented individuals.

While the Super Six did nothing to make anyone forget Michigan's Fab Five recruiting class that began playing in the 1991-92 season (or at least the theoretical Fab Five, as NCAA violations have scrapped its accomplishments from the official record book), all six players, especially the surprisingly coordinated 6-foot-11 Shavlik Randolph, showed tremendous upside. The six may have not been the best freshman corps in the nation, but it is hard to imagine that a conglomerate of J.J. Redick, Sean Dockery, Lee Melchionni, Shavlik Randolph, Michael Thompson and possibly Williams will not be the No. 1 group of seniors in the land in 2006. And shouldn't that be what recruiting class rankings predict anyways?

The evidence that Krzyzewski is consciously avoiding players who will leave for the NBA before graduation continued to mount this past summer.

While the Blue Devils have shown interest in Livingston and Sebastian Telfair, who were respectively ranked the No. 1 and No. 3 point guards in high school basketball by this summer, only one other player Duke pursued for the class of 2008 this June, July and August was ranked as one of the top-5 prospects at his respective position. And that player, Alexander Kaun (No. 4 center), has only been playing basketball for three years.

For the class of 2009, Krzyzewski has received verbal commitments from two of the top fifteen players in the nation in Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts, but both players' strengths and weaknesses lend themselves away from a shot at early entry into the NBA draft.

Although most of the best college basketball players in the past few years have been underclassmen, Coach K's adaptive recruiting techniques will prevent Duke's basketball program from having to continually adapt. While most of the rest of the nation's best teams will inevitably be led by young players, Duke will be playing old-school basketball; veteran players performing while solid, but not dominant freshman grow into productive four-year players. A similar formula can be seen recently in the Final Four squads of Oklahoma, Maryland and Kansas, but expect Duke to perfect this theory even further for a more extensive period of time. Coach K isn't trying to put another banner in Cameron. He's thinking about banners.

Robert Samuel is the sports managing editor and a Trinity junior. His column appears every Wednesday.


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