The real Shavlik

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Day 9: Duke | Traveling Violations

DURHAM, N.C. – They waged a virtual holy war here in the Triangle to sign Shavlik Randolph, and for good reason. He was the local hero of Raleigh's Broughton High, a 6-foot-10 consensus top-10 player nationally, with strength and skill and grades and a firm handshake.

When he scored 50 in a single game, he broke a school record previously held by Pete Maravich.

North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Florida pulled out all the stops to try and get him.

"My junior year they had made up some T-shirts that said 'Shav Country,'" Randolph recalled Thursday night after helping Duke to an easy exhibition game victory. "Matt Doherty was the coach of North Carolina, and he used to send me a lot of mail.

"One day a picture came with Michael Jordan standing in his office, hands [on his hips] wearing a 'Shav Country' T-shirt," Randolph laughed. "I almost fainted. It was a pretty momentous moment in my life. I had spent so much money buying Michael Jordan gear, to see him wearing Shavlik gear. …"

As we said, it was a recruitment to end all recruitments. And Duke won.

But then the player Mike Krzyzewski got wasn't exactly what all the recruiting hype had said he was. Oh, there was nothing wrong with Randolph. He was solid and played hard and had his moments as a sometimes starter. He has averaged 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game his first two years with the Blue Devils.

But he wasn't Carmelo Anthony or Amare Stoudemire, two guys from his class to whom he often was compared.

A key reason was a hip injury that had plagued Randolph since high school. He played through it as a freshman, got surgery after the season and then, after spending the offseason on crutches, struggled to regain his timing as a sophomore.

But rather than pout, rather than wilt under the pressure of not immediately living up to the incredible hype, Randolph did something different.

He kept working and praying and believing.

Now, on the eve of his junior season, he is healthy, muscular, mobile and seemingly ready to be the collegiate star everyone thought he would be. This looks like the Randolph of old.

"Mostly my relationship with the Lord [helped me through]," Randolph said. "I had to go through some tough times, but with my faith and God's intervention with everything going on I knew everything would work out.

"I feel I am better than last year. I feel I am capable of doing some really good things. I am staying positive; the opportunity is there for me."

In the modern era of freshman superstars and high school lottery picks, Randolph's is a cautionary tale. The recruiting circus that surrounded him is the stuff of legend.

Having Jordan wear his T-shirt is just the start of it.

But with the attention came the albatross of expectations, and Randolph heard the whispers as his game went up and down. Not everyone understood just how much his hip was affecting him.

"Sometimes when you have an injury and you don't know it and just play through it, you can't do some things," Krzyzewski said. "[Then you] start thinking you are not as good as you want to be.

Randolph, however, "kept a good attitude," according to his coach.

Randolph is a key for Duke this year. While the Blue Devils are talented (six prep All-Americans) they aren't deep. Duke is ranked No. 11 nationally but picked fourth in the ultra-competitive ACC.

They need Randolph to be a major player on both ends of the court, including knocking down outside shots. Krzyzewski has no doubt Randolph is capable of that, if only because he is regaining his confidence.

"Now he is realizing he is a very, very good basketball player."

For Randolph, just getting healthy is enough. Now, he believes, he can help the team as much as possible. If he does that, he will have lived up to all of the hype and hysteria that came with his recruitment.

At the very least, he now has a chance to show his stuff.

"It feels good," he smiled. "To say the least."