The State of Duke Basketball: Development Issues

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IJune 25, 2009

BOSTON - MARCH 26:  Greg Paulus #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts to committing his fourth foul against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regionals at TD Banknorth Garden on March 26, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It's no secret that the Duke basketball program hasn't been what it used to be in recent years.

Of course, few programs have ever achieved the status of what Duke "used to be."  Mike Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils' program to legendary heights in his tenure, amassing 11 ACC championships, 10 Final Four appearances, and three National Championships.

There are only a handful of programs in the nation that can sport such accolades.

Perhaps Duke's success in the last few decades has set the bar unrealistically high for the present and future, but the bar has been set nonetheless, and Duke fans expectations remain the same as they were a decade ago.

While the Blue Devils' status as one of college basketball's elite programs is far from withering away (they just won 30 games, an ACC title, and appeared in their 10th Sweet 16 in 12 years), fans are wondering what has caused the recent struggles and (more importantly) when those struggles will end.

Last week, we analyzed some of Duke's recruiting misses in recent years and the impact it's had on the Blue Devils' Final Four chances. With the loss of Gerald Henderson (NBA) and Elliot Williams (transfer) leaving Duke with just two guards for next season, those recruiting misses have never been more pertinent.

This week, we're going to examine another often-discussed issue with recent Duke teams—the apparent lack of development of highly-touted players.


Development Issues

Ask a Duke junkie why the Blue Devils have struggled in recent years and (right after you hear about missing out on Brandan Wright, Patrick Patterson, and Greg Monroe) you'll likely hear cries of development issues on the part of Duke's coaching staff.

Most of these discussions revolve around players like Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus, Lance Thomas, and Brian Zoubek. While none of these players have been total busts ( passionate fans would argue otherwise), they have fallen under sharp criticism for not living up to their billing.

Zoubek just had his most productive season with the Blue Devils, but his progress (due in large part to injuries) has been slow at best. Injuries aside, his progress has been difficult to swallow as the Blue Devils have continued to struggle in the post, especially considered he was rated higher than Hasheem Thabeet and Luke Harangody coming out of high school.

Thomas has always been a defensive asset, but he came into his freshman year as one of the top five power forwards in his class. While a consistent contributor, Thomas hasn't managed a season averaging much more than five points and three rebounds despite playing over 30 minutes per game each year.

McRoberts was considered to be the top player in the 2005 class by many analysts, and while he always put up respectable numbers, he never matured into the player he was expected to be.

Paulus was the top-rated point guard in his class, and even Krzyzewski was mentioning his potential as being Bobby Hurley-like. But by the time his senior season was coming to a close, he was barely able to manage any playing time.

Most recently, fans have been perplexed by the lack of playing time from players like Miles Plumlee, who started the first game of last season before becoming a frequent DNP bench player, and Elliot Williams, who could hardly get into games before jumping to the starting lineup and looking like an All-ACC freshman player.

It's cases like these that have many fans criticizing the coaching staff for either having talent evaluation issues or serious problems at developing that talent.

Now, for every Paulus or Zoubek there has been a Kyle Singler or Jon Scheyer, so it's not like the coaching staff has been unable to attract serious talent or develop it, but there seems to have been an abundance of Duke players under-performing for their billing in recent seasons, at least more than in years past.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear—either Duke must start bringing in better talent or do a better job at developing the talent it has if the Blue Devils are going to be legitimate National Title contenders once again.


Check back next week for an evaluation of when the Blue Devils look likely to return as a Final Four favorite.