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Critical year ahead for Krzyzewski

It wasn't supposed to be like this for Duke.

At the end of last season, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils were anticipating the return of four starters, including budding superstar Luol Deng, from a Final Four team. Even better, Krzyzewski was ready to welcome another trademark stellar recruiting class--including the nation's top point guard, Shaun Livingston--to Cameron Indoor Stadium this year. Armed with depth, talent and experience, the Blue Devils were primed to become a dominant team during the 2004-2005 season.

That, however, was before Deng and Livingston took their high-flying games to the NBA draft. To make matters worse, the announcements came late enough that the coaching staff could not find replacements. As a result the rising high school senior class, the Class of 2005, becomes especially important for the Blue Devils, who return just six scholarship players from last season.

 ��� First and foremost, Duke will need depth in the next recruting class. In the best case scenario, the Blue Devils can return only seven scholarship players from this year's squad to the 2005-2006 team, and even then, five will be seniors. Consequently, Duke could sign five to six players in the class to fill the depth chart.

The Blue Devils are off to a strong start in the class with verbal commitments from point guard Greg Paulus and big man Josh McRoberts, both of whom are ranked among the nation's top 20 prospects. With Dockery as the only true point guard on this season's roster, Paulus is a hard-nosed floor general who will likely be able to step in and contribute immediately. As a player who has indicated he wants to stay in college at least three years, Paulus will likely provide the Blue Devils with continuity and stability at the point.

Similarly, the 6-foot-10 McRoberts will add badly needed post depth to a Duke team that could have just one player, Shavlik Randolph, taller than 6-foot-7 when he arrives. Given that current de facto center Shelden Williams could enter the draft before the 2005-06 season, Duke has continued recruiting big men in the Class of 2005.

Top-rated center Eric Boateng would then appear to be a logical Duke recruiting target. Additionally, power forwards Jon Brockman, Tyrell Biggs and Jamal Boykin--all of whom are ranked among the top 80 players nationally--could also find themselves with Duke scholarship offers before the summer's end. The departures of Deng and Livingston, both of whom were expected to play stretches of time at the small forward position next season, may also force Krzyzewski to go after a true wing forward in the Class of 2005. Right now, the only two small forwards projected to be on the Duke roster in the fall of 2005 are Lee Melchionni and David McClure. Although both are fundamentally sound and have impressive leadership capabilities, neither possesses the athleticism or scoring ability to be much more than a role player.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, who stands 6-foot-5, is a point guard but could possibly act as point forward, similar to the role played by Grant Hill at Duke in the early 1990s. Additionally, Duke could also court Texas small forward C.J. Miles, a top-20 prospect who scored 26 points per game in his junior season.

The Blue Devils may not find many flashy superstars in the upcoming recruiting class--considered one of the weakest in recent memory with few, if any, prep-to-pro prospects--however, they will be able to find an abundance of players who should add depth and important continuity to a program coping with recent defections.

�� Nonetheless, both Paulus and McRoberts appear to be at least three-year players who are good enough to step in and make immediate contributions to the program. Yet because of the class' shallow talent level, the Blue Devils may be inclined to stock up on even more solid three- to four-year players to add depth and look to the Class of 2006--which appears to be an extremely deep class--for new superstars.

Jake Poses contributed to this story.


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