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Williams to stay for senior year

Duke fans can finally exhale.

Junior forward Shelden Williams announced Monday that he will return to the Blue Devils for his senior season as a co-captain of one of the most talented and experienced teams in the nation next year.

“From the time I arrived in Durham it has been my goal to earn my degree,” Williams said. “For that reason along with others, I am going to pass on the opportunity to enter the NBA draft.”

The 6-foot-9 forward is coming off his most productive season. He averaged 15.5 points and led the conference in rebounding with 11.2 per game. Williams also shot .582 from the field, second best in the league.

The first team All-ACC selection attracted NBA scouts’ attention for his overpowering defensive abilities. The 2005 NABC National Defensive Player of the Year set the Duke single-season record with 122 blocked shots and is second on Duke’s all-time list with 285.

“Shelden is a different type of defensive player than we have had in the past, but he is definitely up there with the other Duke standouts,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said when Williams picked up the NABC award. “He’s the best shot blocker I’ve coached, and with our team this year, he was the main reason we were a good defensive team.”

The 2005 senior class is one of the weakest in recent memory, prompting numerous underclassmen across the country to declare for the June 28 draft.

By electing to stay, Williams resisted the temptation that has been too great for many of the ACC’s top players. Duke is one of only six conference teams without an underclassmen who will likely join the NBA ranks next season.

A trio of North Carolina players said they will enter the draft Friday, joining Rashad McCants, who had previously made known his intentions to leave the University. Maryland, Wake Forest and Florida State have also had players announce they will leave school early, and Georgia Tech’s second team All-ACC point guard Jarrett Jack is expected to make a decision in the coming days.

Of the 12 non-Duke players who earned All-ACC selections in 2005, only two are planning to return to college next season.

Many of the departing players were Williams’ front court nemeses. Sean May, Eric Williams and Sharrod Ford will likely not be playing college basketball next year, making Duke’s Williams one of the top interior threats in the league. He is the only returning player to average more than eight rebounds per contest or shoot better than .460 from the field.

These early departures, in addition to several graduating seniors, will leave the 2005-2006 ACC with significantly less talent than it has featured in recent years. With the return of Williams, a third-team All America, Duke will likely be ranked among the top teams in the nation entering the season, a factor the sociology major said he considered.

“I am looking forward to finishing off my academic career with a degree and also returning to the playing court to help Duke compete for the National Championship next season,” Williams said.

The squad will be led by five seniors who contributed extensively last season. Williams, along with J.J. Redick and Sean Dockery, will serve as team captains, Krzyzewski announced Friday.

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