Early NCAA tournament flameouts have gone from a rare occurrence to a relatively frequent phenomenon for the Duke men’s basketball team in recent years.
Last week’s stunning round-of-64 loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh sent the Blue Devils home before the region final for the seventh time in eight seasons.
But while the Lehigh defeat left Duke fans reeling, it’s two more potential losses that should be far more disconcerting.
Freshman point guard Austin Rivers will leave Duke to enter the NBA draft, according to a report from CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman. A team spokesman said Friday that Rivers will discuss his future plans with his family this weekend before making an announcement as early as next week. This comes on the heels of news that junior forward Mason Plumlee may test the draft waters ahead of the June draft.
Rivers is projected by many to be a sure-fire lottery pick, one year after Kyrie Irving was drafted No. 1 overall following a single season in Durham.
With only one senior on their roster this season — forward Miles Plumlee — the Blue Devils could be a much-improved squad in 2012-13. But if Rivers and Mason Plumlee bolt for the NBA, Duke could regress.
It’s hard to knock Rivers for using his stellar freshman campaign as a springboard for pro basketball. He averaged 15.5 points per game, was a rare freshman selected to the all-conference first team and hit the memorable last-second three-pointer that sunk North Carolina in Chapel Hill and earned him a career highlight. But another one-and-done player continues a troubling trend for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Since 2007, three of the five Blue Devils selected in the NBA draft left early. Compare that to the seven previous seasons when seven of the 11 players drafted stayed at Duke for four years. and it begs the question: Is Duke simply recruiting more NBA-ready talent, or are the Blue Devils no longer able to keep players around for more than two seasons?
Here’s the list of Duke’s crop of NBA draft picks since 2000:
Chris Carrawell, senior — Round 2 (41) — Spurs
Shane Battier, senior — Round 1 (6) — Grizzlies
Jay Williams, junior — Round 1 (2) — Bulls
Mike Dunleavy, Jr., junior — Round 1 (3) — Warriors
Carlos Boozer, junior — Round 2 (35) — Cavaliers
Dahntay Jones, senior — Round 1 (20) — Celtics
Luol Deng, freshman — Round 1 (7) — Suns
Chris Duhon, senior — Round 2 (39) — Bulls
Daniel Ewing, senior — Round 2 (32) Clippers
*Shavlik Randolph, junior — Undrafted
Sheldon Williams, senior — Round 1 (5) — Hawks
J.J. Redick, senior — Round 1 (11) — Magic
Josh McRoberts, soph. — Round 2 (37) — Trail Blazers
Gerald Henderson, soph. — Round 1 (12) — Bobcats
Kyrie Irving, freshman — Round 1 (1) — Cavaliers
Nolan Smith, senior — Round 1 (21) — Trail Blazers
Kyle Singler, senior — Round 2 (33) — Pistons
Austin Rivers, freshman — ???
Mason Plumlee, junior — ???
Both of Duke’s national championships during that same span came with teams that had a mix of seniors and young talent that stuck around after the Blue Devils cut down the nets. In 2001 it was seniors Shane Battier and Nate James leading the way for sophomores Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Carlos Boozer. The 2010 team had seniors Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas playing key roles alongside Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
It’s one thing to shuffle in full line changes of star-studded freshman classes the way John Calipari has been able to do at Kentucky. But when your team is so dependent on guard play and point guards are only sticking around for one season, it prevents cohesiveness and makes it difficult for a team to progress from year to year.
Should Coach K and company be concerned? Should they alter their recruiting model? Is this an inevitable by-product in today’s basketball landscape? What do you think?
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