Pure potential and insufficient talent
Nessley: negative conditioning
Martin Nessley was a 7’2 “, 280 lb. heavy mountain from Whitehall-Yearling High School in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his size, he brought with him impressive credentials such as McDonald’s All-American and Parade All-American. Can you like it? Coach K went after him and got engaged to Duke in 1984. The coach likely believed he could take Martin into weight training and conditioning and speed up the guy, give him a vertical jump of at least several inches.
Nessley was put on a strict diet. Alarie remembers that the guy hardly ate anything but maybe a salad at the training table. However, he couldn’t even drop a pound. Marty didn’t play much as a freshman, too slow. Then knee surgery limited him as a sophomore.
Sumner describes a night between 1:00 and 2:00 AM Amaker, Nessley’s roommate, was awakened by a knock on the door and then a muffled conversation. When Amaker tried to fall asleep, he heard movement coming from across the room. He turned on a lamp and found Nessley gobbling a large pizza under his blanket. Surely Nessley had to know that the Duke trainers would have satiated that hunger with lots of protein drinks and protein-packed low-fat meats. But maybe his drive to excel wasn’t powerful enough.
Finally, since senior Nessley played every game, he started four, blocking 24 shots, not bad. The best game of his career was at Harvard with 25 points and 8 rebounds. But that was the extreme exception. It seems like that 7ft 2 frame of yours could have accomplished so much more. He played a little NBA ball for a year.
Randolph: Bad breaks or bad attitude?
Shavlik Randolph instantly became a star at Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. His record of 56 points in a game broke Pete Maravich’s record at the same school. With that kind of game, it should come as no surprise that he was McDonald’s All-American, a two-time Associated Press North Carolina Player of the Year and a two-time Parade All-American.
The kid got off to a great start at Duke with 23 points and 7 rebounds in the first game against Army. Two days later he had a double-double against Davidson. Then all of a sudden Shavlik is almost out of sight. He scored in double figures just five more games that season and struggled a bit with injuries. During the summer he had to rehab after a successful hip surgery. In his sophomore year he played in all 37 Duke games, averaging 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He then seemed to come to life for the NCAA tournament run, playing very well against Alabama State and UConn.
During his junior year, his averages were slightly lower than his sophomore stats, but he missed out on four games recovering from mononucleosis. Still, he averaged nearly 20 minutes of playing time per game. Then, inexplicably, after his mediocre junior year, Randolph decided to exclude himself from his senior year and declare himself for the draft. Over the years, he has come and gone between brief stints with NBA teams followed by games in European leagues.
Price: A fabulous year
Ricky Price played three years of high school basketball at St. Anthony and his senior year at Serra High School in Gardena, California. One thing that became obvious during Price’s high school career and later at Nike camps is that he was fully capable of taking over games and carrying a team on his back. Champion of the McDonalds All-American Slam Dunk, he was unanimously named one of the top 5 USA Today / AP / Parade players in the nation.
Price started 14 games as a rookie during that nightmare season without Coach K. He then had a great sophomore season with 29 starts in 31 games. He stood out as the guy to go to in close matches and won several in the final seconds. Against Virginia he went crazy with 28 points. It was all rosy for Price until just before his junior year preseason when he broke a finger and began struggling with his outside shooting. He only started 11 games that year. Definitely a disappointment.
Then as he entered his fourth year, this should have been his golden opportunity to far surpass his stellar sophomore stats and make NBA scouts salivate. However, he was caught plagiarizing and declared academically ineligible after his third year. He had to sit down the fall semester as a senior. In December, when he was able to resume play, Coach K was apparently not very impressed as he only had one start on Senior Day against UNC. Price ended up playing professionally abroad.
Pure talent is not enough
Nessley, Randolph and Price came to Duke with accolades and awards that rival some of the best recruits in history. Veteran scouts raved about them and were voted high school All-Americans. His sheer potential seemed almost limitless. Some may blame the injuries, but many Duke players have struggled with injuries and still had an excellent career at Duke. When guys show up at Duke, success isn’t even inevitable. They have to stretch par excellence, fight for minutes, enslave strength, speed and conditioning. They have to play for the team, learn from the coaches, and outmaneuver their opponents. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. That is why it is a fierce competition until the end.