- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

As a national title winner and college basketball's player of the year, Shane Battier enters today's NBA Draft as decorated as they come.
Yet if the general league consensus is to be believed, the credential-rich forward will be little more than a solid pro a hardworking, dependable cog, but hardly a franchise talent.
In other words, just another ho-hum player from Duke.
"It's bizarre to think that at 22 years of age my basketball potential is near its peak," Battier said. "I'm hungry and I'm willing to learn."
Danny Ferry. Christian Laettner. Cherokee Parks. The names echo like the ghosts of Alaa Abdelnabys past, one more disappointing than the next. Taken as a whole, they point to a single, inescapable conclusion, the dirty little secret of Blue Devils basketball.
Come draft day, there's something screwy in Krzyzewskiville.
With a few notable exceptions, college basketball's crown jewel has given the NBA the personnel equivalent of six points and three rebounds a night, a ragged parade of road-weary journeymen, bench-riding scrubs and hard-luck washouts.
Think Trajan Langdon. Brian Davis. Will Avery. Bobby Hurley. Antonio Lang. Roshown McLeod. Mark Alarie.
That's not exactly a Dream Team or even the Vancouver Grizzlies' bench, for that matter.
"All of those guys were very talented, very competitive, winners," said Duke assistant coach Johnny Dawkins, a former Blue Devils and NBA guard. "You see some of the unfortunate things that have happened, and no one could have predicted it. It has nothing to do with the great careers they've had here."
Indeed, the situation is puzzling given Duke's sterling record over the last two decades: Three national championships, nine Final Four appearances, 13 All-Americans. And it's even harder to fathom considering the pro output of some other prominent college programs.
Since 1980, Duke has produced just one NBA superstar, Orlando Magic forward Grant Hill. In the same span, only three other Blue Devils Mike Gminski, Dawkins and Elton Brand have gone on to professional careers roughly commensurate with their draft position.
By contrast, Michigan has given the pro game a superstar (Chris Webber), a near superstar (Glen Rice), a budding superstar (Jalen Rose) and an All-Star (Juwan Howard). Kentucky can count Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer and Tony Delk among its NBA alumni.
Even Alabama, a mid-level power that has never reached the Final Four, has contributed a pair of franchise talents, Latrell Sprewell and Antonio McDyess.
"Why? That's a difficult question to answer," Dawkins said. "We play in a great conference, against a high level of competition, all year long. If that's not good preparation for players when they move on from college, I don't know what is."
The skepticism surrounding Battier's pro potential may stem in part from the fate of the Blue Devils' previous two college players of the year, Ferry and Laettner.
A two-time All-American and a DeMatha High graduate, Ferry was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the No. 2 pick in the 1989 draft. However, he refused to sign with the club, playing one season in Italy before Los Angeles traded his rights and Reggie Williams to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ron Harper and three draft picks.
Ferry agreed to a 10-year, $34 million deal with the Cavs, a pact that quickly turned sour while Harper helped lead the Clippers to a playoff appearance before winning NBA titles with Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers. Ferry spent the better part of the decade as a reserve, never averaging more than 13.3 points a game in a single season.
"It takes a lot to land on the right team," Dawkins said. "There are any number of players who haven't been fortunate in finding a team that fits their style of play, a place where they can display their talents."
Fit was a problem for Abdelnaby, who bounced between five teams during his five professional seasons. It's been an issue for Avery, who's spent two years stuck behind Terrell Brandon in Minnesota.
Then there's Laettner, whose story is even more curious. A two-time national title winner, the 1992 player of the year and the only collegian selected to the original Olympic Dream Team, Laettner had all the makings of a future star when Minnesota took him with the No. 3 pick in 1992.
Instead, his 10-year career has been an up-and-down exercise in frustration: Five different teams, only one All-Star appearance and a scoring average that has declined from 18.2 points a game his rookie season to 13.2 last year, when he split time between the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards.
"Christian was the ultimate winner in college," Dawkins said. "To go from that to a situation where you're not in playoff contention is difficult. I know it was hard for me my rookie year [in San Antonio], even to go out in public as part of community relations. You're embarrassed."
For some former Blue Devils, injuries have taken a toll. Dawkins' promising career was scuttled by bad knees. Laettner missed most of the 1998-99 season with a fractured rib and a torn right Achilles' tendon.
After leaving Duke in 1993 as the all-time NCAA assist leader, Hurley never recovered fully from a near-fatal car crash during his rookie year. He struggled through five forgettable seasons before retiring last October.
"In two [different] years that I played, I blew my knee out," Dawkins said. "At the time, I was averaging [roughly 16] points and seven or eight assists. When it happens time and time again, you never can gain the consistency you need."
That said, Dawkins is optimistic that Duke's NBA fortunes are changing. In 1999, four Blue Devils were picked in the draft's opening round, an NBA and NCAA first.
Of the four players selected Brand, Langdon, Avery and Corey Maggette two have shown considerable promise: Brand earned co-rookie of the year honors in 2000, while Maggette has dazzled with his raw athletic ability.
In addition, the Blue Devils' best current pro prospect, All-American point guard Jason Williams, likely would have been a top pick in this year's draft had he declared himself eligible.
"I think it goes in cycles," Battier said. "Some of the guys in my classes are going to make waves. It may not seem like much now, but our cycle is coming around."
Naturally, Battier would like to be at the forefront.
"At this time of year, you hear all about vertical jumps and lateral quickness," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's important to be a good basketball player. Playing for Coach K, I'm confident in my abilities and in my knowledge of the game."
Even so, few league observers have slotted Battier as the No. 1 selection in the draft. Sports Illustrated even projected him to be taken between picks No. 14 and No. 20 the sort of ranking that rankles Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"He is the most proven person in the draft," Krzyzewski told the Associated Press last week. "But to some people, they won't take that. They'll take something for the future."
Given Duke's NBA past, it's awfully hard to blame them.

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