A string of defections has the once rock-solid Duke program
suddenly looking a little shaky
It has been barely a month since Mike Krzyzewski had his
arthritic left hip surgically replaced, and the Duke coach is
already saying his rehabilitation is "way ahead of schedule."
Before surgery his left leg was an inch and a half shorter than
his right, but the artificial hip corrected that. He has
graduated from crutches to a cane, and his mobility is steadily
improving thanks to physical therapy in a swimming pool. "I
still have to take it one step at a time," he says, "but it
feels good to stand straight."
Given the way his program's foundation has been shaken the past
few weeks, this is a propitious time for Krzyzewski to be
regaining his sense of balance. Before this spring Duke had
never lost a nonsenior to the NBA draft, but last month two
sophomores, center Elton Brand and guard William Avery,
announced they were leaving school to turn pro. In addition
sophomore center Chris Burgess decided to transfer--he'll
probably end up at Utah, which he plans to visit on May 14--and
sources close to the Duke program say that 6'7" freshman
swingman Corey Maggette will soon announce that he, too, will
enter the NBA draft. For his part Krzyzewski seems to be
negotiating the shifting terrain with his usual equanimity. When
asked last Thursday if he was surprised by a broadcast report
about Maggette's apparent defection, Coach K replied, "If you're
surprised by life, that means you thought you knew it all. I've
lived too long to be surprised."
Of the four departures Brand's was the least surprising. He is
considered by most NBA executives to be a certain top five pick,
which is why Krzyzewski gave Brand his full blessing. Avery,
however, made his decision without the coach's approval. Having
twice told Coach K face-to-face that he was going to come back
for his junior season, Avery returned with his mother, Terry
Simonton, to Krzyzewski's house on the night of April 15 and
informed the coach that he had changed his mind. To Simonton's
dismay Krzyzewski told them he would not support the decision
because he didn't feel Avery's draft position was strong enough.
The school announced Avery's decision the following day in a
"I understood where Coach was coming from, but I don't think he
really understood how tough it is for me financially at home,"
says Avery, who has since dropped out of school. "This is what's
best for my family."
Burgess was considered by some recruiting experts to be the best
player in his class when he came out of Woodbridge High in
Irvine, Calif., but he averaged just 14.1 minutes a game during
his two seasons in Durham. "I just felt I was being buried
there. I need a new start," he says. The 6'10" Burgess also
believes the Duke coaches hampered his abilities by insisting he
bulk up to 250 pounds. "I think they wanted me to be this big
thug down low." Rick Majerus has told Burgess that if he comes
to Utah, the first thing he'll need to do is drop down to his
old playing weight of 235 to 240.
Though most of the will-they-stay-or-go speculation centered on
Brand and Avery late in the season, some draft mavens believe
that Maggette may be selected ahead of even Brand. The freshman
wasn't even thinking of coming out until, during the first week
of the NCAA tournament, he read an article in the Chicago
Tribune that said he might go as high as No. 1 in the draft if
he came out. That got him thinking seriously about his
prospects. He even sought counsel from fellow Chicagoan Michael
Jordan. (MJ's advice: Stay in school.)
If Krzyzewski was rankled by Avery's departure, he must really
be angry with Maggette, whom he advised to return for at least
another season. Still, Coach K has plenty of reason to look
forward to next season. Duke's incoming six-man freshman class
is the best in the nation (box, above), and the worst of his
physical ailments finally appears to be behind him. "How you
react to things is what matters, and I intend to react
positively," says Krzyzewski.
Rhode Island's Ambitions
THE COST OF GOING BIG TIME
Rhode Island sophomore forward Lamar Odom abruptly left school
for nearly two weeks last month. After he returned, the Queens,
N.Y., native offered no specifics for the impromptu hiatus,
telling the Providence Journal-Bulletin on April 22, "I had
family things I had to take care of, and I could only do that in
New York." A sudden disappearing act just before final exams
would in many cases jeopardize the eligibility of a student, but
that was not the case with Odom. "We want to make sure Lamar has
every opportunity to return academically," Rams athletic
director Ron Petro said last week. "We have to wait until the
end of the semester to evaluate him, but he's here now, and he's
attending classes. There's a lot of pressure on that kid."
It's not the first time Odom has disappeared. He also went AWOL
for two weeks and skipped his final exams in December 1997,
before he was even admitted as a full-time student at Rhode
Island. All was quickly forgiven, and Odom was granted extra
time to make up the work he had missed.
In fact, rarely has a university so assiduously tried to placate
a single star player. After coach Jim Harrick resigned on March
31 to take the head job at Georgia, Rhode Island named Odom to
the nine-member search committee to find Harrick's replacement.
Odom attended only one meeting of the committee, but on April 16
the school accommodated his wishes anyway when it gave the job
to second-year assistant coach Jerry DeGregorio, whose only
previous Division I experience was a three-year stint as an
assistant at Hofstra. It didn't hurt that DeGregorio is
something of a father figure to Odom and was the main reason
that Odom came to Rhode Island after UNLV withdrew its
scholarship offer to him in the wake of questions about his
standardized test score (SI, July 7, 1997).
Petro says DeGregorio's appointment was not preordained, but the
school's search for other candidates seemed a bit halfhearted.
The only other people interviewed were former Charlotte Hornets
coach Dave Cowens (who was offered the job but turned it down)
and first-year Loyola-Chicago coach Larry Farmer, who had been
an assistant to Harrick at Rhode Island two seasons ago. Even
DeGregorio, 37, says it "never even crossed my mind" that he
would be Harrick's replacement, though he's also making no
apologies. "I believe I've paid my dues," he says.
Odom, of course, could make a mockery of the whole process by
announcing this week that he'll turn pro. The deadline for
entering the NBA draft is May 16. Rhode Island's need to have
him back in a Rams uniform extends beyond next season's win-loss
record. The school hopes in the near future to build a $50
million arena, a project that is being spearheaded by governor
Lincoln Almond, a Rhode Island graduate. It is an ambitious
undertaking for a school with such a modest basketball pedigree.
Time will tell whether it was worth the cost.
Rating the Recruiting Hauls
The spring signing period officially ends on May 15, but so many
of the top prospects have already committed that the jury of
recruiting mavens has rendered its decision on which schools had
the top classes. SI surveyed a panel of experts and came up with
this list of star-search winners.
Carlos Boozer, 6'9"; Michael Dunleavy Jr., 6'7"; Casey Sanders,
6'11"; Jason Williams, 6'2"
The Skinny: Blue Devils would have been No. 1 even if Boozer, a
strong, athletic power forward, hadn't signed this spring, but
Williams, the nation's top point guard, is the most important
catch of all.
Matt Bonner, 6'9"; Donnell Harvey, 6'8"; Brett Nelson, 6'3"
The Skinny: Billy Donovan has put together his second straight
elite class. Bonner and Nelson will add scoring punch to a team
already loaded with firepower, while Harvey is the inside
presence the Gators needed.
Stephane DonDon, 6'8"; Majestic Mapp, 6'2"; Travis Watson, 6'7"
The Skinny: Mapp is a true point guard who can run Pete Gillen's
up-tempo system; Watson is a natural scorer; and DonDon, who
played last year at Collin County (Texas) Community College,
won't be pushed around.
DerMarr Johnson, 6'9"; Kenny Satterfield, 6'2"
The Skinny: Satterfield, who is more of a scorer than a pure
point, may be the best combo guard Bob Huggins has signed since
Nick Van Exel. Johnson is a gifted swingman who almost went
straight to the NBA.
Schea Cotton, 6'6"; Rod Grizzard, 6'8"; Kenny Walker, 6'9"
The Skinny: The Crimson Tide has traditionally done well only in
the South, which is why signing Cotton, a Californian, confers
instant national credibility on coach Mike Gottfried's program.
Grizzard and Walker are both versatile big men who can create
matchup problems on the perimeter.