Sport

When Raw Potential and Talent Not Enough

Martin Nessley was a 7’2″ 280 lb. lumbering mountain from Whitehall-Yearling High School in Columbus, Ohio. Along with his size he brought impressive credentials as a McDonald’s All-American and a Parade All-American. What’s not to like? Coach K went after him and he committed to Duke in 1984. Coach likely believed he could get Martin into weight training and conditioning and speed the guy up-give him a vertical leap of at least several inches.

Nessley was placed on a strict diet. Alarie recalls that the guy hardly ate anything besides maybe a salad at the training table. Yet 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 one evening between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. Amaker, Nessley’s roommate, was awakened by a knock at their door and then some muffled conversation. As Amaker tried to doze off, he heard movement coming from the other side of the room. He turned on a lamp and found Nessley gulping a large pizza under his blanket. Surely Nessley had to know that the Duke trainers would have satisfied that hunger with plenty of protein drinks and low-fat meats packed with protein. But maybe his drive to excel wasn’t powerful enough.

Finally, as a senior Nessley played in every game, 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 as if that 7 foot 2 frame of his could have achieved a whole lot more. He played a little NBA ball for one year.

Randolph: Bad Breaks or Bad Attitude?

Shavlik Randolph became an instant star at Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. His high of 56 points in a game broke Pete Maravich’s record at the same school. With that sort of play it should not be shocking that he was a 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 terrific start at Duke with a team-high 23 points and 7 rebounds in the first game against Army. Two days later he had a double-double against Davidson. Then suddenly Shavlik almost dropped out of sight. He scored in double figures only five more games that season and struggled a bit with injuries. Over the summer he had to rehab after successful hip surgery. As a sophomore he played in all 37 of Duke’s games, averaging a ho-hum 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Then he seemed to come alive for the NCAA tournament run, playing great against both Alabama State and UConn.

During his junior year his averages were slightly lower than his sophomore stats, but he sat out four games recovering from mono. Still, he averaged almost 20 minutes of playing time per game. Then, unexplainably, after his mediocre junior year, Randolph decided to opt out of his senior year and declare for the draft. Through the years he’s bounced back and forth between brief stints with NBA teams followed by play in European leagues.

Price: One Terrific Year

Ricky Price played three years of high school basketball at St. Anthony’s and his final 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. A McDonalds All-American Slam Dunk Champion, he was unanimously named a USA Today/AP/Parade Top 5 player in the nation.

Price started 14 games as a rookie during that nightmare season without Coach K. Then he had a breakout sophomore season with 29 starts in 31 games. He starred as 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 coming up roses for Price until shortly before preseason of his junior year when he broke a finger and began having trouble with his outside shot. He only started 11 games that year. Definitely a disappointment.

Then as he entered his fourth year, this should have been his golden chance to well exceed his stellar sophomore stats and make NBA scouts salivate. However, he was caught plagiarizing and declared academically ineligible following his junior year. He had to sit out the fall semester as a senior. In December when he could resume play, Coach K was apparently not very impressed because he got only one start-on Senior Day against UNC. Price ended up playing professionally overseas.

Sheer Talent not Enough

Nessley, Randolph and Price arrived at Duke with accolades and awards rivaling some of the best recruits ever. Veteran scouts raved about them and they were voted prep school All-Americans. Their pure potential seemed almost unlimited. Some may blame injuries but many Duke players have fought through injuries and still put together a sterling Duke career. When guys show up at Duke, success isn’t even close to being inevitable. They have to stretch for excellence, fight for minutes, slave away at strength, speed and conditioning. They have to play for the team, learn from the coaches, and outplay their opponents. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. That’s why it’s a fierce competition to the end.