Battier, Williams give Duke another 1-2 punch

Updated: October 18, 2000, 1:55 PM ET
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

DURHAM, N.C. -- They seem to come in pairs at Duke. Championship teams, led by not one, but two stars. Sometimes more.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that two Blue Devils are among ESPN.com's top players in the country heading into the 2000-01 season -- senior Shane Battier and sophomore Jason Williams.

Over the past 20 years under the guidance of head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke programs has produced some of the best twosomes to ever play in college basketball.

The lineage of dynamic duos under Coack K started in 1986 when Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie led the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship game and a 37-3 mark. This forward-guard combo were his first great pairing and still ranks as the highest scoring tandem in Duke history.

Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley teamed up to win back-to-back NCAA titles to start the '90s. Hurley remains the NCAA's all-time assist leader, while Laettner is the top scorer in NCAA Tournament history. When Laettner left in '92, Grant Hill stepped in for a season. All three's numbers have been retired.

Elton Brand and Trajan Langdon were Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside during the 1998-99 season, which saw Duke win 37 games and advanced to the NCAA Championship Game. Both were drafted in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft -- Brand going No. 1 after his sophomore season.

Krzyzewski's 2000-01 squad boasts another duo he knows is special. Williams came in as a freshman last season and played like a veteran, taking over the point like no Blue Devil since Hurley in his first season. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.5 assists a game. Battier is perhaps the most unique player Krzyzewski has ever coached. According to Coach K, Battier has no position, but is just a player.

"It would be a mistake to put Shane into a position. He can do so many things," Krzyzewski said. "I want him to be a player, and he is a hell of a player."

Battier had a remarkable junior season, continuing his cerebral dominance on the defensive end, yet revealing an offensive capacity that was striking. Battier, a 6-foot-8 forward averaged 17.4 points, almost six rebounds, two blocks and two steals a game -- all while shooting an ACC-best 44 percent from 3-point range.

Battier went from being the consummate team player to being the consummate team player who was the consummate team star rolled into one. He is the one player in the nation that every single coach wants on his team, without exception. Battier defends his rear end off, and he does it on every play. He rebounds in traffic, and he will post up as easily as he will step out and take a three.

"Shane plays every play, and he demands that his teammates play every play," says Krzyzewski. "He really pushes himself, all the time."

Battier's offense has made him the most complete player in the country.

"Chuck Daly told me that his best players, the great ones, were the ones that had an 'offensive ego,'" Krzyzewski said. "Shane's pushing himself to further develop that. He had it for the second half of last year, when he was maybe the best player in the country. He was spectacular. He needs to build on that, and not forget what he did"

As their coach, I need to put them in a position where they can make basketball plays. The two of them working together, they're special. They're as good as any two players in the country, maybe better. We'll see.
Mike Krzyzewski
Duke head coach

Perhaps best of all, however, is how Battier leads a team by example.

"Shane is an incredible leader," Krzyzewski said. "He leads our defense, which is unusual for a bigger guy. He is an inside voice for our team. He sees the game while playing with his back to the basket. That's unique. Not many teams of mine have had that type of presence."

Krzyzewski sees how Battier's teammates not only love his desire, but respect him on a variety of levels. But he wants to see Battier's teammates help him out more on the court.

"Shane wants, even craves, responsibility. He's a glutton for responsibility, which makes him an endangered species today," Krzyzewski said. "But, because of that, he gets worn out doing things that other people can do. His teammates have to help him out more, but its tough sometimes to do it in the face of a dominant leader.

"We have to be careful not to wear him out. You can't have the maitre'd sweep the floor every night."

One of the players that will help Battier is Williams.

"Jason reveres Shane," notes Krzyzewski. "And Shane was kind of our mother hen last year. But I'd like to see Jason say, 'Shut up, Shane' once in a while. That would be good for Jason, and for us."

Needless to say, Williams had a nice Duke debut season, but the flamboyant Williams tallied a ACC-leading 134 turnovers. Krzyzewski handed Williams the ball from the first day of practice, even though Williams was more of an off guard in high school, and rode him all the way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Williams proved to be an extraordinary penetrator. He drove the lane to finish as often as to dish it. Where he struggled, however, was with his decisions, his shooting, and sometimes his shot selection. But Krzyzewski knew that Williams would get better.

Over the summer, Williams played on the U.S. Under 20 National Team and showed a new maturity, and a new confidence to take, and hit, big perimeter shots.

"I was really impressed with Williams," said Hofstra coach Jay Wright, an assistant on the U.S. team. "I didn't realize he was such a good shooter. He hit a lot of pressure shots, with defense right on him, and, along with Jason Richardson was easily our best player."

Williams then played on the USA Select Team that played the Dream Team in Hawaii. Williams not only showed he could hold his own, he excelled.

"The difference in Jason is his confidence," Krzyzewski said. "He spent the summer playing point at the highest level. Now he can relate to Shane as an equal. That will take their relationship to a different level."

It's clear that Krzyzewski believes the relationship between his latest 1-2 punch is as important as the way their basketball skills blend together on the court. But the on-court skills are not lost on Coach K.

"They run the high screen and roll so well. The way they talk to each other, and make reads, how they look for one another. It's fun for me to coach," he said.

"We have a team that can handle the ball. We can put two point guards on the floor in Williams and Chris Duhon, and we have Battier."

Krzyzewski says that in a way that conjures up the thought that Duke has Battier, and no other team does. And Battier, along with Williams, could be the difference in the national championship picture.

"As their coach, I need to put them in a position where they can make basketball plays," Krzyzewski said. "The two of them working together, they're special. They're as good as any two players in the country, maybe better. We'll see."

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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