|Wednesday, October 3
Updated: November 15, 12:12 PM ET
Shavlik couldn't refuse invitation to join Duke dynasty
By Gregg Doyel
Special to ESPN.com
DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke has played in two of the last three national championship games. It won last season's title by beating every team in its NCAA tournament path by at least 10 points. It will enter this season as a consensus top-five team, and no doubt will be ranked No. 1 in some polls. And it already had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country wrapped up and ready to go as freshmen in 2002-03.
Duke didn't need Shavlik Randolph, who entered the summer as the No. 1 rising high school senior in the country. But Duke got him, and recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons knows what all of it means.
"We could be looking," he said, "at the makings of another UCLA-type dynasty."
Randolph, a rising senior at Raleigh's Broughton High, is more than the cherry on top. He is an entire ice cream sundae unto himself, a 6-foot-10 forward with the sweet shooting stroke of a guard, the work habits of a marine and the bloodlines of an All-American. His grandfather, Ronnie Shavlik, was an All-American forward at N.C. State, where his jersey -- No. 84 -- hangs from the rafters at the Wolfpack's plush Entertainment and Sports Arena.
As you can imagine, N.C. State desperately wanted Randolph, who made his verbal commitment to Duke and Mike Krzyzewski official on Wednesday at a news conference in Raleigh, N.C. So did the other finalists: North Carolina, Florida and Kansas. As a high school junior, Randolph scored 50 points to break the Broughton single-game scoring record held by Pete Maravich. Another night, more than 12,000 fans came to watch Randolph play a regular-season game at Reynolds Coliseum. A classmate began selling T-shirts with the logo, "Shav Country."
Randolph was a phenomenon, but more than that. He was devoutly religious, humble, intelligent and talented, and every major basketball school in the country made an overture. Some were more clever than others. In a recruiting letter to Randolph, Michigan State sent a headline from the high school days of ex-Spartans forward Zach Randolph, once ranked No. 1 in the country. The letter included a clipping of a newspaper headline that read, "No. 1 recruit Randolph chooses Spartans."
Clever, but not enough to overtake the Tobacco Road influence that clings to Randolph like the smell of smoke. He was born in Raleigh, grew up an N.C. State fan, and even was a ball boy at Wolfpack games. He also became enamored with North Carolina product Michael Jordan and Duke's Grant Hill.
Randolph would become, in the words of recruiting analyst Dave Telep, "the career leader in unofficial visits to ACC schools."
Only Florida's Billy Donovan seemed to have a chance to pry Randolph away from the ACC. And Donovan had to do something pretty outrageous to get into the game. During a recruiting period when coaches can't visit or call high school players, Donovan flew from Gainesville, Fla., to Raleigh, then rented a car and drove it into the Broughton High parking lot. There he waited until Randolph showed up for school, waved at him, then drove back to the airport.
"That was the most extreme thing that happened," Randolph said. "That got my attention."
Gimmicks aside, Randolph probably was destined to play for N.C. State, Duke or North Carolina, which have won a combined seven national championships since 1974. Those three schools long have recruited the same players, but all three hadn't been after the same player for this long, and with this much hope, in decades.
And for the player to live in the Triangle ... and for his grandfather to have starred at N.C. State ... and for his father, Kenny, to have played baseball for North Carolina ... Well, this was too much.
"It's the most intense recruiting battle in this state since David Thompson went to N.C. State ( in the early 1970s)," Telep said.
N.C. State surprised Randolph with a mural the size of a bed sheet with the date of every basketball milestone the Wolfpack could come up with:
Says Randolph, "I couldn't believe how much they had paid attention to things like that."
Oh, the Wolfpack paid attention. Sendek was the first coach to offer Randolph a scholarship, doing so before Randolph had even started his first high school game. That was the summer after his freshman year.
North Carolina quickly got into the fray, too, but coach Matt Doherty had to start almost from scratch after replacing Bill Guthridge after the 1999-2000 season. By then, the summer before his junior year at Broughton, Randolph was considered the No. 1 national player in his class. Doherty handled the recruitment of Randolph personally, an unusual move for most head coaches, certainly for one at a program like North Carolina. Every day, Doherty sent letters or newspaper clippings or even photographs, like the one of Jordan behind a desk at his office with the Washington Wizards, wearing a T-shirt: "Shav Country."
Duke wasn't above the gimmick game, either. Assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski doctored a photo that showed Randolph and Krzyzewski holding aloft the national championship trophy on the cover of a national magazine.
In the end, Randolph chose Duke because he felt it would be best for his future.
"Coach K told me I'd have to work my butt off, that I'd have to earn everything," Randolph said. "That's fine with me. I've dreamed of the NBA since I was 11 years old, and I think he'll get me ready for that."
Randolph caps a Duke class that has four of the top 15 players in the country -- the best class Gibbons says he has seen in 28 years in the business. There is a player for every position, and a sixth man, 6-7 wing Lee Melchionni of Pennsylvania, who already has shown unselfishness. Melchionni, the son of a former Blue Devil and not a bad player at all (No. 72 nationally, according to Gibbons), agreed to play as a freshman walk-on to help Duke get around the NCAA rule limiting teams to five scholarship signees in a single season.
When they arrive on campus, Duke's freshmen would fill out quite a starting lineup. Chicago's Sean Dockery (6-2, ranked No. 15) at point guard, with 6-5 J.J. Redick (No. 10) of Virginia at shooting guard, Randolph at small forward, 6-9 Shelden Williams (No. 5) of Oklahoma at power forward and 6-11 Michael Thompson (No. 32) of Illinois at center.
Not that Duke will need them all to start. They figure to have back, in 2002-03, point guard Chris Duhon, shooting guard Daniel Ewing, wing Michael Dunleavy and center Casey Sanders -- all former McDonald's All-Americans. And shooting guard Dahntay Jones, the Rutgers transfer expected to star this season, might be back, too.
"That team will be incredible," Gibbons said. "They're incredible now. All I can say is, 'Wow.'"
That pretty much covers it.
Gregg Doyel covers the ACC for The Charlotte Observer and is a regular contributor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.