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The Three Wise Men
by Pete Johnson / May 22, 2002

Let’s face it, Duke’s going to have some problems next season. Usually when the siren song of the NBA draft hits innocent undergrad ears only a few stars respond. But not in Duke. The 2002 draft has lured not one but possibly three key players. Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy are all (probably) headed to the big time, and who can blame them—having been to Durham, you know it's no place for a budding national celebrity and default millionaire to waste one’s time.

Everyone always moans about how players don’t finish school, citing the one in a hundred chance that (god-forbid) anything should happen to that player, what, ultimately, is he qualified to do? Please. These guys are going to get six to seven digit signing bonuses just by showing up, and eventually pen a lawyer brokered deal that gives them more money than most of us will ever see in the entirety of our lives for just three measly years of playing basketball. So let’s talk risk versus reward shall we?

On one hand: Finish school now and waste a full year of multi-million dollar earning potential and possibly risk injury before you even make it to the big leagues?

Or on the other hand: Go into the draft play one year, invest wisely and if a career ending injury finds you, live the rest of your life off the interest accrued from that one years worth of work?

Kind of a hard one, huh?

Maybe Carlos Boozer is the one who should wait another year before going pro. Is he that talented that he can afford to forfeit the pragmatic aspects of a college degree? Maybe, maybe not. The mock draft has Memphis taking him as the 32nd pick. The truth is that number is only going to get higher the longer this native Alaskan waits. He’s a good player, but not the best— tending to let his body go on the off season, and lacking the one quality most important to NBA helmsmen: consistency. His offense is uncanny, but that’s mostly because
he’s got the top two point guards in the country feeding him. One of those guys—Jay Williams—is leaving as well, which may cut his offensive showcase in half.

Since he’s not stupid, he knows he can’t have that. He’s worth something now, and is currently struggling with his identity as a player. If Boozer can self-motivate and muster enough consistent on court intensity, he’s got a decent shot at a long and fruitful NBA career. But if he can’t, he’s better off staying on one more season at Duke if only to work out his kinks.

Then comes Mike Dunleavy. People have been hyping this 6’9 small forward as the next Larry Bird since he entered the college arena. A Larry Bird he is not, but he comes from proven NBA stock (Mike Dunleavy Sr.) and probably has had the fundamentals drilled into his head more times than any player on the planet. His most attractive trait to NBA brass has to be a toss up between his intelligence and soft touch. Either way he’s a great prospect who has worked all his life to make it to the NBA. And now that he’s a mere inch away from achieving this life goal, he’d be nuts to listen to the academic blowhards cautioning him about entering a world without the protection a BA affords.

He’s got leadership qualities, and that is traditionally the characteristic often responsible for making or breaking a career. Dunleavy’s learned as much as he can from Coach K, and he knows that if he’s going to improve as a player he’s got to start competing against the best.

But the real talent coming out of Duke this year is Jay Williams. He’s going to go fast, perhaps even first. Does he deserve it? You bet. This guy is so quick on O that most teams orchestrate special containment defenses on the fly just to see him, and even then it’s of no use. He is an offensive dream and his numbers speak for themselves.

But what about Jay Williams the decision-maker? The intellectual college student? Jay Williams, like many other aspects of his life, has it covered. He decided to stay at Duke over the summer break and take the classes he needs to graduate thus shutting the collective mouths of the public’s nay-saying pro-degree factions. He’s going
to waltz into the NBA (probably wearing a Chicago or Houston jersey) with no regrets. If averaging twenty points a game doesn’t suit this budding superstar, he can always get an entry level position at a Foster Care agency of his choice by brandishing his hard-earned BA in sociology. But what makes this man stand out, as both a player and a human being is his well roundedness. His instincts preclude hasty decisions, and his talent is like a language unto itself—speaking for him and explaining why he is the best basketball player in the draft.

Pete Johnson is a freelance writer based in North Carolina and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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