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McRoberts key to success

The calendar says it's only December, but this past weekend in Cameron Indoor Stadium, it felt a lot later than that. And although it may seem early to make any long-term judgments on this very young Duke team, one thing seems abundantly clear-the Blue Devils are only going as far as Josh McRoberts will take them.

McRoberts led Duke in points, rebounds and assists Saturday night in a 61-52 win over Georgetown, a performance that inspired head coach Mike Krzyzewski to say that "Josh played like a star."

But despite these statistics, the 6-foot-11 sophomore still has a lot to prove, particularly if he wants to be an NBA lottery pick come June.

Even Dick Vitale-who is so anti-Duke that his grandchildren paraded into Cameron Saturday donning old-school J.J. jerseys-said during Tuesday night's ESPN telecast of the Blue Devils' game against Indiana that McRoberts needs to "want the rock," and that there was "no reason for him to be averaging only 11 or 12 points per game."

In that very moment, in a game in which McRoberts went 2-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-2 from beyond the arc, good ole' Dicky V said something mildly critical about a Duke player, something that actually pertained to what was happening on the floor. And I agreed with him. It was nearly apocalyptic.

Really, there is no reason why McRoberts shouldn't be averaging a double-double every night. He is big, skilled and athletic. If he stayed inside the paint a little bit more, he could average more than 1.75 offensive rebounds per game and increase his number of put-back opportunities.

Plus, just think about it, the possibilities for McDonald's-themed nicknames and cheers would be endless. Don't tell me the Big Double Cheeseburger wouldn't be in the top-10 greatest nicknames of all time, right below the Round Mound of Rebound.

A second look at the stat sheet from Saturday night reveals another story about McRoberts' performance. He shot 4-for-12, or 33 percent, from the field.

The sophomore is only converting on 45 percent of his shots on the season, which speaks more to his shot selection, or the shots he is being told to take, than to his talent level. In basketball, big men are only as big as they make themselves. By failing to establish his presence down low, McRoberts is selling himself short.

Instead of taking 10-, 15- or 19.75-footers (he has more airballs than makes from there this year), McRoberts could use a shot fake and his superior ball-handling ability for a post player to beat more uncoordinated, slower big men on the drive. Or he could even post-up occasionally and take easier shots.

The biggest problem with McRoberts not playing inside, however, doesn't show in his line. It shows in everyone else's.

Name one team in the country right now-one team with a legitimate talent-level-who would double-team McRoberts.

Now, try to think of any team that wouldn't put at least two defenders on McRoberts' counterpart down Tobacco Road, who is averaging 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

Traditional centers, like Georgetown's Roy Hibbert, aren't going to come out and defend a 6-foot-11 power forward on the three-point line, nor should they.

By spending too much time on the perimeter-by not drawing a second defender, or sometimes even a first-McRoberts isn't letting the floor open up for shooters like Jon Scheyer or DeMarcus Nelson.

The talented sophomore doesn't need to be the Landlord, but he does need to be a captain.

He needs to command respect from opposing teams by becoming a more physically dominating threat, because if he doesn't dominate on the interior, I'm afraid Duke won't dominate in March.

And it will be a shame, because McRoberts could leave Duke without having reached the extraordinary heights he could have in Cameron, without knowing the feeling of carrying a team on his back further than anyone thought he could.

If there is one thing columnists hate, it is to be wrong in their predictions. But in this case, I hope I get a letter postmarked April 5 from Atlanta, which includes a hard-copy of the stat sheet from the National Championship game signed by Tournament MVP, Josh McRoberts.


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