Much of the off-season talk in Durham centered on who left (forward Luol Deng bolted for the NBA after only one season), who almost left (Mike Krzyzewski entertained an offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers before turning it down) and who almost came (McDonald's All-American Shaun Livingston signed with Duke, then entered the NBA draft instead). That meant there was little attention paid to the players who stayed, in particular the Blue Devils' already underappreciated center, 6'9" junior Shelden Williams.
Williams not only doesn't have the star power of some of the great Duke players who preceded him, but he also doesn't have the highest profile on this year's team. That designation goes to junior sharpshooter J.J. Redick, who is beloved at Cameron Indoor Stadium and is the most hated Blue Devil everywhere else in the ACC. But Williams is arguably the most important player on the team, because without him Duke is essentially devoid of inside muscle. Forward Shavlik Randolph, a 6'10" junior and the only other player in the frontcourt with significant experience, is not a banger.
"My job is to be the anchor around the basket, the guy who takes care of things underneath," says Williams, who averaged 12.6 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds last season. "We have some other really talented big men on this team, but having been around here for a while now, I'm the guy who has to be counted on the most in that area."
Williams's importance was never more evident than in last year's national semifinal against Connecticut. After he picked up his third foul, late in the first half, the Blue Devils' fortunes took a turn for the worse. UConn center Emeka Okafor dominated in the second half and sparked the Huskies to a come-from-behind win, while Williams played cautiously and fouled out with 5:04 to play.
That wasn't unusual for Williams, who fouled out of six games and finished 10 others with four personals. Duke will need him to play with more discipline but without losing the aggressiveness that enabled him to set a single-season school record with 111 blocked shots in 2003--04. Williams plays like he owns the paint, which has earned him the nickname the Landlord. And the Cameron Crazies are fortunate that he still resides in the building. --P.T.
2003--04 RECORD: 31--6 (13--3, 1st in ACC)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Connecticut in Final Four
Lacking depth, Blue Devils must pace themselves. Wings are speedy, but break needs more direction.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"The question is who plays the point, Sean Dockery or new combo guard DeMarcus Nelson? Dockery can handle the ball and is a very good defender, but Nelson is better offensively.... If J.J. Redick can catch and shoot, the ball has a very good chance of going in. Be physical with him, screen him, and he might wear down.... Daniel Ewing is one of the better players in the ACC because he can flat-out score and defend.... Shavlik Randolph has had two subpar years; this needs to be his breakout season.... Another question is depth: They may only have one sub for the post players and one for the guards."
A DEVIL IN THE PAINT
Williams, who had a school-record 111 blocks last year, is a force inside but he must avoid foul trouble.