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Raw Potential and Talent Not Enough
Nessley: less conditioning
Martin Nessley was a 7-foot-2, 280-pound mountain from Whitehall-Yearling High School in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his height, he brought impressive credentials as a McDonald’s All-American and Parade All-American. What’s not to like? Coach K pursued him and he signed up with Duke in 1984. The coach probably believed he could train Martin in strength and conditioning and speed the guy up by giving him a vertical leap of at least several inches.
Nessley was put on a strict diet. Alarie remembers that the guy ate almost nothing except maybe a salad at the practice table. Yet he couldn’t even lose a pound. Marty didn’t play much in first year – too slow. Then knee surgery limited him to second grade.
Sumner describes an evening between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. Amaker, Nessley’s roommate, was awakened by a knock on their door and then a muffled conversation. As Amaker tried to doze off, he heard movement coming from across the room. He turned on a lamp and found Nessley swallowing a large pizza under his blanket. Surely Nessley must have known that the Duke coaches would have satisfied that hunger with plenty of protein shakes and low-fat, high-protein meats. But maybe his drive to excel wasn’t strong enough.
Finally, as a senior, Nessley played every game, started four, stopping 24 shots—not bad. The best game of his career was at Harvard with 25 points and 8 rebounds. But this was the extreme exception. It seems his 7-foot-2 frame could have done so much more. He played an NBA small ball for a year.
Randolph: Bad breaks or bad attitude?
Shavlik Randolph became an instant star at Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. His game-high 56 points broke Pete Maravich’s record at the same school. With that kind of game, it shouldn’t come as a shock that he was a McDonald’s All-American, two-time Associated Press North Carolina Player of the Year, and two-time Parade All-American.
The kid got off to a great start at Duke with a team-best 23 points and 7 rebounds in Game 1 against Army. Two days later, he had a double-double against Davidson. Then, suddenly, Shavlik almost disappeared. He’s scored in double figures just five more games this season and has struggled a bit with injuries. Over the summer, he had to undergo rehab after successful hip surgery. As a sophomore, he played in all 37 games for Duke, averaging 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Then he seemed to come to life for the NCAA Tournament, playing great against Alabama State and UConn.
During his junior year, his averages were slightly lower than his sophomore stats, but he missed four games to recover from a mono. Still, he averages nearly 20 minutes of playing time per game. Then, inexplicably, after his mediocre junior year, Randolph decided to pull out of his senior year and declare himself for the draft. Over the years, he bounced between brief stints with NBA teams, followed by games in European leagues.
Awards: A Great Year
Ricky Price played three years of basketball at St. Anthony High School and his senior year at Serra High School in Gardena, California. One thing that became evident during Price’s career in high school and later at Nike camps was that he was quite capable of taking charge of games and carrying a team on his back. A McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Champion, he was unanimously named one of USA Today/AP/Parade’s Top 5 Players in the Nation.
Price started 14 games as a rookie in that nightmarish season without Coach K. Then he had a second breakout season with 29 starts in 31 games. He was the go-to guy in close games and he won several in the final seconds. Against Virginia, he went crazy with 28 points. Everything was going well for Price until shortly before pre-season his junior year when he broke his finger and started having trouble with his outside shot. He only started 11 games that year. Certainly a disappointment.
Then, as he entered his fourth year, this should have been his golden chance to well surpass his sophomore stats and make NBA scouts salivate. However, he was caught plagiarizing and declared academically ineligible after his freshman year. He had to spend the fall semester as a senior. In December, when he was able to return to play, Coach K was apparently unimpressed as he only got one start on the senior day against UNC. Price ended up playing professionally overseas.
talent is not enough
Nessley, Randolph and Price came to Duke with accolades and awards rivaling some of the greatest recruits of all time. Veteran scouts praised them, and they were voted prep school All-Americans. Their pure potential seemed almost limitless. Some may blame injuries, but many Duke players battled injuries and still had great careers at Duke. When guys show up at Duke, success isn’t even close to being inevitable. They have to stretch for excellence, fight for minutes, hone in on strength, speed and conditioning. They have to play for the team, learn from the coaches and outperform their opponents. Nothing is guaranteed in sport. That’s why it’s a fierce competition until the end.
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