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NBA curse is finished

The tides of Duke basketball may be turning.

The program established itself long ago as a standard for college basketball. But once the each Blue Devil played his final game in Cameron, success did not come as easily. In fact, some have even talked about a Duke-NBA curse.

But if the early part of the NBA season is any indicator, recent Duke graduates are beginning to fair much better in the league. Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy, Elton Brand and a resurgent Grant Hill are likely to remove the stigma that has been placed on Duke players since head coach Mike Krzyzewski came to Durham.

In fact, if any other school lined up their current NBA players, the Blue Devils would have a superior squad.

Regardless how one feels about Boozer’s ethically questionable contract negotiations this summer, on the court he is becoming a superstar. The 6-foot-9 power forward has blended nearly seamlessly into Jerry Sloan’s system of screens and cuts, showing more athleticism than he did for the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers. Against the Denver Nuggets Nov. 6, Boozer bruised his way to 30 points while also corralling 17 rebounds. If Boozer can continue this level of play in the future, he will quietly become the best power forward in the game.

Luol Deng has also exceeded expectations. At only 19 years old and with only one year of college experience, Deng is averaging 20.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Chicago Bulls. Most expected Deng to turn into a solid NBA player, but with only adequate athleticism, few thought he had superstar potential. Deng’s statistics may be somewhat inflated because of his hot start, but his play indicates that he will probably average at least 15 points per game this season. If Deng can do this as a rookie, it is very plausible that he will develop into one of the top players in the game at some point in his career.

After an embarrassing rookie season in which Dunleavy was not selected to the Rookie All-Star team despite having been the No. 3 pick in the draft, he has proven to be a solid NBA player. Averaging 13.3 points per game for the Golden State Warriors this season, the 6-foot-9 guard/forward has been a versatile threat for the young team. Dunleavy probably will not become a hall-of-fame-caliber player, but he has shown enough ability and basketball smarts to most likely be a solid member of championship-quality teams.

Brand, who left for the NBA the year before Dunleavy arrived at Duke, has consistently been one of the best power forwards since winning Rookie of the Year in 2000. Although he has yet to develop the drive that lifts the game’s greats to dominance, Brand’s performance cannot be overlooked when analyzing the former Blue Devils. He is a double-double machine, and at the age of 25, Brand should improve over the next few seasons.

Hill, the other Blue Devil to win Rookie of the Year is finally back. As recently as 2000 some were calling him the next Michael Jordan. But after several surgeries and sitting out 281 of a possible 327 games during the past four seasons, Hill’s ankle seems as if it is ready for a full season. So far he is averaging 15.8 points per game while still conservatively testing out his surgically repaired joint. Seeing No. 33 in an NBA uniform again is a welcome sight for all and perhaps the most visible sign that times are changing for former Duke players.

The Blue Devils have not had the type of NBA success other schools such as North Carolina and UCLA have had, but there are finally a number of players from Duke showing signs of future prominence. The Blue Devils have a lot of catching up to do in the NBA, and catching up is what they are doing.

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