Seniors still unsure of 'what's next'

Riding in the backseat of a taxicab in the nation's capital last Wednesday, Duke head coach John Danowski and his son Matt learned that their up-and-down ride with Duke lacrosse could be taking yet another dramatic turn.

The two Danowskis were in Washington D.C. for the Tewaaraton Award banquet, where Matt was named the National Player of the Year. It seemed like a fitting end to the career of one of the most prolific points scorers in ACC history-except that it might not be. During that one brief taxi ride, John Danowski received the phone call informing him that the NCAA had granted 33 of his players, including Matt, with an extra year of eligibility.

"I looked at [Matt] and we were like, 'What does this mean?'" the coach said. "What's next?"

Over a week has passed since the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff granted Duke's season-of-competition waiver request for non-senior players sidelined in the 2005-2006 season, and the question of "What's next?" is still dangling.

The seniors from the 2006-2007 Duke squad scheduled a trip to Mexico well before this decision came down, and did not return to the United States until early Wednesday morning. Although they were able to escape to the beach, out of the reach of media, for a week, they cannot avoid the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Each player in this year's senior class graduated, many have jobs already lined up and one was accepted into law school elsewhere. Because the NCAA decision was not made before graduation and the team members received their degrees, their only option if they want to return to school and play lacrosse is to enroll as graduate students, John Danowski said.

"There are a lot of issues here," he said. "First, is there a program that the students are interested in? If you're not interested in returning to school, then lacrosse is really secondary. Second, is it possible to gain acceptance into those programs? And third, would it be financially feasible for your family to support your return?"

One of the most difficult aspects of the choices these players must make, and of the two subsequent classes that also have the option to play another year, is not only the individual impact of their decisions, but the effects they have on the program as a whole.

Although there is more money left over than usual in the lacrosse coffers because of last season's small freshman class, Danowski said, there is not enough to take care of potential returning players and the 13 freshmen recruited to play next spring.

The coach also said there are seven freshmen hoping to walk on for the Blue Devils in 2008.

"As a coach, I have to ask myself, would I like a really good freshman or would I like Zack Greer for another year? I think the answer is obvious that I'd want Zack," Danowski said. "But these are all nice problems to have."

Danowski, however, said he is confident in the program's ability to recruit new players, even if current sophomores, juniors and seniors opt for their additional year of eligibility.

Senior Associate Director of Athletics Chris Kennedy, who was one of the Duke administrators responsible in the petition for the waiver, also noted the difference in how the team might approach scheduling if a significant portion of last season's seniors returns.

"It changes how you schedule-if you have five of those seniors back next year, you're going to want to play a much tougher schedule," Kennedy said.

Danowski believes five or six students will choose to return to Duke, and that "it's Duke or nowhere" for most of the players, who are free to use their additional years of eligibility at any school outside of the ACC (because a transfer in-conference requires a player to sit out a year).

As for a timetable of when the players will make their decisions, Danowski said he had not talked to them since they departed for Mexico, but that he was not going to pressure them into making any hasty decisions.

"With everything those kids have been through-the negative stereotypes, the 'wanted' posters, the pot-bangers, their names taken off the website-they can take as much time as they want," Danowski said. "If they need the summer to make that decision, I'll wait with them. This is their school, their program."

When asked how he felt about his son returning, the older Danowski said the decision of "what's next" is completely out of his hands.

"If he thinks that this is the best opportunity for him at this point in his life, then absolutely. But if he thinks it's time for him to walk away, then that's what I want as a father," he said. "It's the same thing as when he was being recruited. I stepped away and let him choose where he wanted to go and he made a great choice."


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