The season hadn't even started, and senior guard J.J. Redick was being asked to contemplate this ending: What if the Blue Devils, the consensus preseason choice as the nation's top team, fail to deliver the fourth national title of the Mike Krzyzewski era? "If we do everything in our control to try to win the national championship and come up short, I think there will be a little bit of satisfaction there," Redick says. Then he pauses for effect and smiles. "Nah, I'm lying," he says. "We've got to win it all."
While we're being honest, it should be noted that Duke, despite having two senior All-Americas (Redick and center Shelden Williams) and the nation's best freshman class, is not perfect. Williams has gotten into foul trouble in big games, the offense may be in the hands of a freshman point guard (Greg Paulus) much of the time, and even Redick, the reigning ACC player of the year, has struggled in the past three NCAA tournaments, in which Duke bowed out twice in the Sweet 16 and once in the Final Four. (Last March, Redick shot 4 for 14 in a bruising 78--68 regional semifinal loss to Michigan State.) But that amounts to nitpicking for what is the most complete and feared team in the land.
Unlike during last season, when Redick had to play an exhausting 37.3 minutes a game, the Blue Devils' newfound depth should keep him fresh deep into March. "J.J. and Shelden won't have to pace themselves," says Krzyzewski, who hopes a 10-man rotation will enable Duke to extend its defense, crank up the offense (into the 80s or 90s from last season's 78.2 points per game) and give all the starters time for a breather. "They can play five hard minutes, come out for a minute and go back for another five to eight hard minutes," Krzyzewski says. "This year they may play in the low 30s [minutes] but have better numbers."
To recharge, Redick stayed away from the court for two weeks last summer, after playing for the U.S. in the under-21 world championships in Argentina. Rested and ready, he knows the best way to enter the Duke pantheon is to raise a national championship banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium. "Shelden and I won a lot of honors last year, but individual awards aren't what any of us are looking for," Redick says. "We've talked about it all preseason: What we're after is cutting down the nets in Indianapolis."
When Duke played exhibition games in England three years ago, the positive buzz helped land Luol Deng. Now comes Eric Boateng, a fellow Londoner who was a McDonald's All-American at St. Andrews School in Middletown, Del.
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski 2004--05 record: 27--6 (11--5, 3rd in ACC)
2005 tournament: Lost in Sweet 16 to Michigan State
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
Your ability to defend J.J. Redick depends on the refs. If they allow you to be physical with him, he might struggle. If they don't, he's basically uncheckable.... You have to go right at Shelden Williams because he can be foul-prone.... Josh McRoberts is very, very good, but so was Shavlik Randolph in high school.... DeMarcus Nelson can probably score more, but I don't know if they need him to yet.