by Eric Tullis
In between Duke’s back-to-back blow-outs over Cornell and Elon this week, the national spotlight wasn’t focused on how the Blue Devils fantastically worked through its 11-day rust in the first game or overcame mental fatigue in the next. It barely touched on Jim Boeheim recently joining Coach Krzyzewski in the 900-win club, or the news from the previous day that Coach K was the co-recipient (along with Geno Auriemma) and five-time winner of the Team USA Coach of the Year Award.
Instead, everyone eagerly awaited for one of the country’s top college basketball prospects, Jabari Parker, to announce which school he would sign with for the 2012-2013 season. Well, he’s coming to Durham to play for Coach Krzyzewski.
The No. 1-ranked Blue Devils moved to an 11-0 record for the 14th time under Coach K this week and in the middle of back-to-back wins against Cornell and Elon, Duke also garnered a verbal commitment from one of the most coveted high school players in the nation—for the third year in a row. Some basketball analysts have the 6-foot-8 Ubermensch and Illinois’ "Mr. Basketball" as the missing piece Duke needs to make another run for the national championship.
By that logic, we might as well forget about Duke making a run for the championship this year or aiming for an undefeated season—which is not as far-fetched as it sounds, even if you’re willing to admit that Quinn Cook and Mason Plumlee are college basketball’s most effective twosome, and Rasheed Sulaimon is prematurely and freakishly composed for a freshman.
Parker’s reserved demeanor and religious background seem to have everyone fooled into thinking that he’ll be discerning enough to choose the high road and lend his talents to Duke for at least two years. Now, let’s make a farther projection into the 2014-2015 season. If Parker does forego the one-and-done scheme, stays for an extra year, and another Duke prospect from Chicago, dominant center Jahlil Okafor, decides to come to the university, then we have the missing pieces.
Call it a “good problem” if you want to, but next year’s Duke roster is full of shooting guards (Andre Dawkins, Matt Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton), wingmen (Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Alex Murphy, Amile Jefferson, Semi Ojeleye) and one big man (Marshall Plumlee) who, so far, has had more injuries than any other statistic in his Blue Devil career. There won't be any missing pieces in that lineup. There'll be too many pieces and not enough puzzle glue.
This won’t force Coach K to abandon the current seven-man rotation that he loves today. Instead, Duke’s team might end up looking like this year’s Tar Heel team—a bunch of kids running around and, as Rob Harrington put it in his recent piece on an NIT-bound UNC team, “freelancing” on offense.
The frustrating looks on both Coach K's and point guard Quinn Cook’s face during next year’s season are almost inevitable, even with a freshman phenom like Jabari Parker chucking up shots from his predestined spots on Cameron’s floor.
That’s why when the country’s No. 2 high school basketball recruit held up a Duke t-shirt and gave the camera a shoulder-to-shoulder smile as he announced that he’d be playing here in 2013-2014, I didn’t see a championship in the near future. I saw the mechanics of an overheated offense exploding before my eyes. I saw Kyrie Irving dragging Duke fans down in his own race to the pros, and I saw Lehigh shove Austin River’s attitude down his throat in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament play. They were great players, but not college champions.
But now that the Jabari Parker distraction is over, the Blue Devils can get back to being the best team in the country, starting with next Saturday’s home game against Santa Clara. The December 29th game airs at 12 p.m. on ESPN2.