DALLAS -- The best thing that happened to Chris Duhon this summer was Duke teammate Jason Williams' decision to stay home and not play for the U.S. National team.
This is Duhon's team. It became his the moment Williams -- a junior point guard and the consensus preseason player of the year candidate -- decided against showing up in Dallas for the team's week-long practice session and two exhibition games at the Global Games at Moody Coliseum.
Duhon, a sophomore, took advantage of being out from Williams' shadow, asserting himself for the first time in two years since he left Slidell, La., for Duke.
"With Jason not playing, it gave me an opportunity to assert myself at both ends of the court," Duhon said. "If Jason were here, it still would have been a great team and I would have tried to assert myself as a leader, but not as much as I'm trying now. When I go back to Duke and play with Jason I'll be confident enough to show my leadership on the court."
With his sharp-shooting and lock-down defense, Duhon was a major factor in the Blue Devils' run to the national title beginning in mid-February. But he wasn't as vocal. He wasn't as much of a leader. Those roles were already locked for Williams and Shane Battier.
"It was time for me to stop being passive and take control," Duhon said during the team's training session for the World Championships for Young Men, which will be held in Saitama, Japan, Aug. 3-12.
"I want this to be my team," Duhon said. "I want to be in control of every team that I'm on. I think that's exactly what this team needs to be successful. When we go to Japan, I want to take it upon myself to be that leader, to be outspoken so the players can follow someone when things are good or bad."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was expected to name Duhon and Boston College's Troy Bell co-captains. Once he knew Williams wasn't coming last week, he talked to Duhon and Bell about being leaders. He didn't have to say too much to either.
"Troy is a veteran who has been in a lot of wars and Chris won a national championship," Boeheim said.
But Boeheim agrees Duhon is having an easier time adapting to this role without Williams.
"They played together at Duke, so they certainly could have played together here," Boeheim said. "Psychologically, maybe, it helps."
Boeheim coached Williams on the qualifying team last summer in Brazil. The team relied heavily on Williams to score. That's not the case with Duhon.
"They're two different kinds of players," said U.S. national and Duke teammate Carlos Boozer. "Jason wants to assert himself and everyone know he's out there and then get everyone involved. Chris wants to get everyone involved and then let everyone know he's out there. Chris is a true point guard and that's the role he'll have on this team to get everyone set up offensively and set the tone defensively.
"It would have been tougher on Chris if Jason were here because Jason is much more offensively aggressive. Jason is going to be Jason."
And that's not a bad thing, but it wouldn't have helped Duhon's maturity as a point or as a leader. The Duke coaching staff, recruiting in Las Vegas, concurred that Duhon will benefit from Williams' omission on the team.
"Jason is the national player of the year candidate, helped lead us to a championship, so everyone would have naturally assumed he was the leader," Duhon said. "But it's great to sit back and learn from one of the best guards. He has helped me become more aggressive, to know when to pass and when not to. I'm still working on the selfish part of my game."
|Chris Duhon says he's looking forward to his chance to lead the U.S. team: "I want this to be my team."|
Duhon doesn't mind that he'll get second billing to Williams during the season, even though fellow coaches and NBA scouts view them as near equals in one of the best backcourts in college basketball the past decade.
"My mom did a great job raising me," Duhon said. "I don't have to be the star. I can take a back seat role. Jason deserves all the headlines and he'll get that. I'll just wait my turn."
But, this summer, it's all about Duhon.
"He's more vocal than he's been," Boozer said. "He's wanted to fit in a lot when he got to Duke but he's a lot more assertive and more confident. This is the new Chris Duhon and that's good for us."
It might be a new Boozer, too. He got cut from the national team last summer because he was out of shape. He's a force in the middle on this squad.
"Carlos is much better than he was last summer," Boeheim said. "He's playing. But Carlos isn't as good as he could be. He's used to just hanging around at Duke. He needs to raise the level of his game."
Boeheim could have had Jason Williams, Indiana's Jared Jeffries and Stanford's Casey Jacobsen, but all three decided against playing this summer. Instead, he's got a team that could struggle inside if height is a factor. If toughness is needed, then it shouldn't be a problem. Boozer and Georgetown's Michael Sweetney are finishing in the post. Iowa's Reggie Evans is a battler on the boards and Kansas' Nick Collison is an inside-out finesse player with a baby hook in the post. Illinois Brian Cook adds a shot blocker and a big man with 3-point skills.
Connecticut's Caron Butler gives the team a scorer from the wing, as does Duke's Dahntay Jones. UCLA's Jason Kapono is a 3-point specialist. Boeheim moved Bell and Michigan State's Marcus Taylor to the wing and kept Duhon and St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson at the point as the two best on-the-ball defenders.
The players on this squad are appreciative of the chance, with Evans saying he's never been around this kind of talent before "because I never played AAU ball."
For Boeheim, it's his sixth coaching stint with USA Basketball, compiling a 26-7 record with two gold medals, three silver and one bronze.
"Whose counting?" said the understated but well-respected Boeheim. "I love coaching basketball, especially in the summer. When you're coaching college, you're grinding away trying to get someplace. Here you're just coaching. It's fun to work with this much talent. And, my wife gave me permission to go, even though we've got three babies (two 21-month old twins and a 3-year old)."
How do they do it at Duke?
Katz's Top 50
The Wooden Award Committee asked 16 members of the national media for their preseason top 50 players. Newcomers or redshirts aren't eligible for the preseason poll but can be placed on the midseason award list. Here's my ballot:
Maurice Baker, Okla. State
Lonny Baxter, Maryland
Troy Bell, Boston College
LaVell Blanchard, Michigan
David Bluthenthal, USC
Carlos Boozer, Duke
Kevin Braswell, Georgetown
Caron Butler, Connecticut
Sam Clancy, USC
Nick Collison, Kansas
Dan Dickau, Gonzaga
Juan Dixon, Maryland
Erwin Dudley, Alabama
Chris Duhon, Duke
Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Duke
Ronald Dupree, LSU
Melvin Ely, Fresno State
Reggie Evans, Iowa
Dan Gadzuric, UCLA
Jason Gardner, Arizona
Drew Gooden, Kansas
Jerry Green, UC Irvine
Lynn Greer, Temple
Udonis Haslam, Florida
Josh Howard, Wake Forest
Casey Jacobsen, Stanford
Jared Jeffries, Indiana
Jason Kapono, UCLA
John Linehan, Providence
Steve Logan, Cincinnati
Tito Maddox, Fresno State
Chris Marcus, W.Kentucky
Roger Mason, Virginia
Brett Nelson, Florida
Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's
Marvin O'Connor, St. Joseph's
Chris Owens, Texas
Tayshaun Prince, Kentucky
Luke Recker, Iowa
Justin Reed, Ole Miss
Darius Rice, Miami (Fla.)
Kareem Rush, Missouri
Preston Shumpert, Syracuse
Tamar Slay, Marshall
Michael Sweetney, Georgetown
Marcus Taylor, Michigan State
David West, Xavier
Frank Williams, Illinois
Jason Williams, Duke
Kelly Wise, Memphis
Carlos Boozer said he'll be two classes shy of graduating after his junior season and will declare for the NBA draft. Jason Williams said he will graduate in the same time frame and will be in the draft, too. All in three years.
"I'll just have to come back for two classes in summer school," Boozer said. "Just doing the summer school and taking five classes a semester is how it happens. It's not easy, but it's doable. You can do it and, yes, this would be it for me (playing at Duke)."
Sophomore Chris Duhon might not be far behind in doing the same thing, graduating in three years.
"We do a lot of summer school and don't want a heavy load during the year," Duhon said. "We take heavy classes during the summer so we can graduate when we're juniors. If other students want to do that they're more than welcome. Anyone can."
Global Games a hit for incoming players
While the U.S. National team swept through Lithuania and Yugoslavia in exhibitions in Dallas, Team USA/Texas was a regular member of the tournament. The event proved invaluable for a few expected contributors next season. Clemson newcomers Chey Christie and Sharrod Ford need to be factors for the Tigers this season, especially with the departure of Will Solomon. "This is helping us make the transition from high school to college because some of these guys are pros," said Christie, who will have to guard future pros like Duke's Jason Williams and Chris Duhon. Christie is a lanky 6-4 point guard who has the long reach to be a defensive pest but needs to bulk up to handle the better ACC point guards. Ford, a 6-9 forward who could use some beef, too, got a taste of how to play physical. "These guys were definitely strong," Ford said of the Europeans. "This is real critical to get exposure for us."
For Villanova newcomers Chris Charles and Marcus Austin, playing on a national team against European competition was a must, considering neither is allowed to go with the Wildcats to Italy in August. NCAA rules prohibit newcomers from going on summer trips overseas. Charles and Austin, who could provide the bookends for the Wildcats and first-year coach Jay Wright, got to know each other at summer school in Villanova and are now becoming fast friends.
"The only negative is that we can't go on the trip with the team," said Charles, who is listed at 7-feet and, while he needs to get stronger, still held his own in the post against the Europeans. "We're getting real close on and off the court. We can both guard the post, do the high-low thing and shoot the 15-foot jumper."
The 6-9 Austin has the longer arms and could be a better defender.
"Our games really do compliment each other," Austin said.
Both players got a sneak peak at their rival in Philadelphia when St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson was playing for the U.S. National team. "Villanova will always be the best in Philly, so Jameer can get all the shout out he wants but when it comes time for game time we're going to win," Charles said boldly about an upcoming Big Five matchup.
Like Charles and Austin, Baylor newcomer Lawrence Roberts (nephew of ESPN's and ABC's Robin Roberts) took advantage of a new rule allowing incoming freshman to go to summer school. "I got to get in workouts, get familiar with the coaches and the players and knock out a few classes to lower the load," Roberts said. "I saw the opportunity and hopped on it. I needed to come here to play with different guys since that's what I'll be doing at Baylor."
Will Bynum, a point guard who is headed to Arizona, looks like he'll compliment Jason Gardner with his ability to get into the lane and push the basketball. ... Lamar got a steal in the waterbug and crafty point Isaac Hines. ... Kansas picked up a replacement for Kenny Gregory with Keith Langford. "I can do some of the things Kenny couldn't do like make free throws and shoot a little better," Langford said. "I'll create space for Nick (Collison) and Drew (Gooden) by setting them up." Langford took advantage of the summer school rule by taking classes in June, too. "We're the first class that's doing it and it will do nothing but help," Langford said.
The NCAA wouldn't allow college coaches to watch the Global Games in Dallas because the event wasn't certified. But that didn't stop the NBA. Scouts filled Moody Coliseum checking out the two U.S. national teams and teams from Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Senegal, Germany and Puerto Rico. The scouts were especially interested in Yugoslavians Nikola Vucurovic, Stevan Nadeji and Goran Cakic. Lithuanian Saulius Kusmniskas, who was at Cal, also caught their eye.
The 5/8 scholarship limit -- teams can only sign a maximum of five players in one season and no more than eight in two -- and Nike's and Adidas' involvement in summer recruiting are going to be discussed by the NCAA in the coming weeks. There is a chance that the 5/8 rule could be suspended before November's signing period if emergency legislation is passed. The management council, board of directors and Basketball Issues Committee want a resolution on the matter by early October. Summer recruiting for 2002 needs to be finalized by October, too.
Hawaii coach Riley Wallace isn't as worried that Predrag Savovic, his best player and fifth-year senior, will be done for the season as a result of the NCAA's crackdown of players who played with pros in Europe in the past six seasons. "We once thought it was no chance," Wallace said. "Now it could end up being 50-50. It's looking better every day."
The Coaches vs. Cancer tournament will still retain an exempted status, even if it changes promoters from the Gazelle Group to the American Cancer Society, National Association of Basketball Coaches associate director Reggie Minton said. The 2001 event (with Arizona, Temple, Florida and Maryland) is scheduled to open the season Nov. 8-9 at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. But the Gazelle Group owns the rights to MSG and has a TV contract with ESPN. If the American Cancer Society takes over running the event in 2002, then it will still be an exempted event (meaning the two games count as only one on the schedule) but will have to move it to a campus site and search for a TV deal. Meanwhile, the Gazelle Group would likely still run a charity-based tournament those same dates and in the same facility.
Former Kent State coach Gary Waters left new coach Stan Heath with a stocked backcourt -- Trevor Huffman and Andrew Mitchell -- but a problem of scheduling games. The Golden Flashes' win over Indiana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament made it even harder for Heath to schedule games. "I couldn't get anyone to come," Heath said. So he's going to Xavier, Illinois State and playing Kentucky in a home game for the Wildcats in Cincinnati. The only non-conference home games of note Kent State could get were St. Bonaventure and Tennessee-Chattanooga. "When I got the job I needed six games," Heath said. "Everyone was tough to get."
First-year Rhode Island coach Jim Baron is doing all that he can for assistant Shawn Hood by simply supporting him until the legal situation is resolved. Hood, a former Wisconsin assistant, was arraigned on two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 in Massachusetts earlier this month and is on administrative paid leave. In the interim, Baron replaced Hood on the road recruiting this week with assistant Tyrone Weeks. Weeks was a former assistant at St. Bonaventure and center for John Calipari at UMass.
Matchups are set for the Rainbow Classic in late December at Hawaii. The host Warriors will play Portland, with Iona playing Holy Cross in the bracket. The other side of the bracket has favorite Boston College playing Miami of Ohio and Georgia playing Arkansas State. Hawaii usually loads one side of the bracket with the better "name" teams.
Tennessee kicked off Terence Woods and Harris Walker for a "violation of team rules," and it's going to be hard for both to find a Division I home. Ohio University checked out Woods and thought about offering him a scholarship but changed its mind over the weekend after further investigating his violations.
Both Ohio and Ohio State are off to Europe Aug. 20 but on separate junkets. Ohio State will be in France and Italy while Ohio will be just in Italy, a coup for first-year coach Tim O'Shea to get to know his new players, especially the MAC's top talent in forward Brandon Hunter.
DePaul had to move its preseason NIT opener against Fordham to Rockford's Metro Center because of scheduling conflicts with the United Center and the Rosemont Horizon. But that means a homecoming for Boylan High's Joe Tulley. The last time DePaul played in Rockford was 1983.
Florida picked up a recruiting coup for this season when 6-9 forward Adrian Moss got out of his national letter of intent with Southwest Texas State in 1999. The NLI committee has shown more leniency lately with players challenging letters and Moss is the latest case. Players who sign an NLI are bound to the letter for a year unless they're ineligible or inadmissible to the school. Going to prep school (Moss went to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia) doesn't eradicate the problem, but simply puts it off for a year, which is what happened to Moss. He should help offset the loss -- at least in terms of another body inside -- of Kwame Brown.
New Mexico State bumped up Tony Stubblefield to associate head coach, a move that will help his stock nationally when he tries to get a head coaching position. Stubblefield is one of the more respected assistants and has quietly helped Lou Henson put together a contending team in the Sun Belt, despite NCAA penalties from the previous coaching staff.
Utah is still the glamour team from the Mountain West with four straight Big Monday games on ESPN -- Jan. 28 against BYU, Feb. 4 against Wyoming, Feb. 11 at UNLV and against New Mexico Feb. 18 during the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. Utah coach Rick Majerus, usually outspoken against Big Monday, said he's OK with it since three of the four are at home. The Utes are also hosting Texas Dec. 29 on ABC and are at Alabama Nov. 26 on ESPN2. Meanwhile, the San Diego State at Duke one-time guaranteed game is set for ABC Dec. 29.
Cliff Ellis is thankful assistant Michael Wilson turned down a lucrative package from Cincinnati to stay at Auburn. "It says a lot about where our program is," said the Auburn head coach. "We had a great recruiting class last year and it would have been very difficult to send a new guy on the road this week if Michael had left." Meanwhile, Ellis will have assistant Shannon Weaver start practice Monday for the team's trip to Italy, Spain and France Aug. 9. A team is allowed 10 days of practice, but Monday and Tuesday are still evaluation days and Ellis needs to stay on the road. The trip will be critical for Marquis Daniels. The 6-7 forward is going to be the team's point guard after sophomore point Jamison Brewer declared and was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by Indiana.
Kansas is giving Jeff Boschee a homecoming game in North Dakota with a road game at the Fighting Sioux Dec. 22. The Jayhawks are also at UCLA Jan. 12 in what could end up being a rematch from the Maui Invitational if the two teams meet in November. If that's the case, then UCLA-Kansas could become this season's Arizona-Illinois, who played twice last season and split the two games in Maui and in Chicago.
Texas Tech's exposure increased when it named Bob Knight coach. Now it will get even more exposures on television. The Red Raiders picked up three nationally televised games -- Jan. 14 against Texas on Big Monday, Jan. 19 against Oklahoma State on CBS and Jan. 26 against Oklahoma on ABC. All three are at home at the United Spirit Arena. Knight loaded up the non-conference schedule with home games in his first season, with William & Mary and either Northern Iowa or San Diego State in an opening tournament; Sam Houston State, UTEP, TCU, Texas-Arlington, Louisiana-Lafayette, Stetson and the toughest home games against Wyoming and Minnesota. The three road games are at SMU, New Mexico State and Houston.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Thursdays/Fridays throughout the year.