Whatever pull Duke and basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski had that used to keep highly coveted players in Durham seems to have dissipated.
In the span of a week, freshman Luol Deng and recruit Shaun Livingston both declared for the NBA Draft, likely leaving the Blue Devils without a pair of would-be starters for next season.
By not hiring agents, both are retaining their college eligibility and can still play for Duke. Such an outcome, however, is considered unlikely given current projections--Deng and Livingston are slated to be picked as high as third and fourth, respectively.
Livingston is the more likely of the two to slip out of the top five, analysts have said. Given his slender 180-pound frame and the difficulty point guards often have adjusting to the NBA game, the high school star could have trouble making an immediate impact in the league.
Deng--the consensus No. 2 high school player in the nation last season and the Atlanta Regional Most Outstanding Player--is a versatile small forward who averaged 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds while helping lead Duke to the Final Four.
"I am pleased that this process is over," Deng said in a statement announcing his entry into the Draft April 27. "The opportunity to pursue a career in professional basketball has been a dream of mine. With help from my family and coaches, I will continue to gather information to make the best possible decision regarding my future."
Both Deng and Livingston had until May 10 to submit their draft entry forms to the NBA. The Duke freshman can remove his name from draft consideration until June 17. Livingston, on the other hand, can be selected and retain his eligibility as long as he does not sign a contract or engage in any other activity prohibited by NCAA guidelines.
If the 6-foot-7 point guard from Peoria, Ill., jumps to the NBA next season, he will become the first would-be Blue Devil to not honor his National Letter of Intent in favor of entering the NBA ranks. Deng would be the seventh Duke player to leave early for the league and the second to depart after his freshman campaign, following the path Corey Maggette took in 1999.
If neither player dons a Duke uniform next season, the Blue Devils will be left with just eight scholarships players. In an ACC that will almost certainly be college basketball's strongest conference once again, Duke has lost the most talent. The Blue Devils, however, will have one of the league's most experienced squads, likely starting a senior and four juniors.
Still, Krzyzewski has dealt with early departures before. A trio of Duke players left early for the NBA in both 1999 and 2002, but some of those exits were more expected than the two that appear to be coming this year.
For Deng, a native of Sudan who spent time in London before playing high school basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey, the decision to explore his draft options was driven by his parents.
"I was in favor of the decision," Luol's father Aldo said by phone from London. "First, you don't know the future of the game, he was [ranked] second in high school and he is now supposed to be in the leading picks. It is our responsibility to guide him for his future. Supposing we don't make a decision and anything happened to him in the future, he was will call on his parents who have not fulfilled our responsibilities."
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Aldo Deng went on to say that the fear of injury was a leading contributor to his family's decision, and if it was solely up to Luol the decision may have been different. Still, the family reached a consensus.
"If it was his choice, he would stay," Aldo Deng said. "[But the decision] was unanimous.... We want Duke to cooperate with us because we want Luol to remain in the Duke family, whether in basketball or in just Duke."
Krzyzewski and the University will continue to assist Deng, who plans to remain on campus to train until he makes a final decision on his future.
"We're supportive of Luol's decision," Krzyzewski said in a statement released at the same time Deng announced he had declared for the Draft. "Based on our information, it is apparent that he will be a high pick in this year's NBA Draft. We will thoroughly examine any available information and utilize our resources here at Duke to help Luol make a decision that is best for him and his family."
Livingston's decision came just days after Deng made his intentions public, despite a visit by Krzyzewski to Peoria in late April.
Peoria Central High School Athletic Director Chuck Weston said Livingston contacted Krzyzewski Monday to inform the Duke coach of his decision. Like Deng, Livingston opted for the quiet route, choosing not to hold a press conference to announce his intentions.
Livingston said his final decision came after talking with Chicago trainer Tim Grover, an elite workout guru who has trained the likes of Michael Jordan.
"The deciding factor was the opportunity in front of me," Livingston told the Peoria Journal Star. "I've based my life on seizing the moment."
Frank Livingston, Shaun's grandfather, questioned the decision and held that his grandson should go to Duke.
"I think he needs to go to college a year at least because he's too immature for the NBA," he said. "I think there's a good chance that he's going to come back to Duke when he finds out if he's immature like I'm telling him today."
The point guard also said Deng's decision to enter his name in the Draft was a minor factor in his similar choice.
"I can't say that it didn't [affect me]," Livingston told the Peoria Journal Star. "It wasn't a main factor, but the chance to play with him would have been great."
To date, 27 underclassmen--including high school players--have declared for the Draft, making it one of the most active draft seasons in NBA history.
Michael Mueller contributed to this story.