DURHAM, N.C. (AP)Mike Krzyzewski describes his latest Duke team as old-fashioned – with an emphasis on old.
Sure, the Blue Devils will be heavy on freshmen again after replacing one batch of one-and-done players with another. But surrounding them will be a deep, strong group of veterans with a renewed dedication to defense – a staple of Krzyzewski’s past Duke teams.
”We have a lot of old talent,” senior captain Javin DeLaurier said, ”and a lot of young talent.”
These Blue Devils, ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Top 25 and again the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference, might not have a single player who can captivate the college basketball world quite like Zion Williamson did a year ago when he and RJ Barrett turned mundane early season games into must-see events with their highlight-reel dunks and once-in-a-generation athletic ability.
That’s OK, Krzyzewski said. He expects his 40th Duke team to take a collective approach because its talent is spread a bit more evenly throughout the roster.
And it all starts with point guard Tre Jones – the only member of last year’s freshman class to return for his sophomore season, and the only returning player who averaged more than nine points.
”Last year, playing with RJ and Zion especially, you have to give them the ball,” Krzyzewski said. ”They needed the ball so they could not only score but move the defense. With this team, Tre’s responsibility in that regard goes up, and sometimes we all watched those two kids play instead of playing off them. … Tre’s going to be as key a person as we have and our leader.”
Krzyzewski is counting on Jones and seniors Jack White and DeLaurier to help bring along a promising freshman class ranked third nationally by Scout.com and led by Cassius Winston, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt and five-star center Vernon Carey Jr. – who inherited Williamson’s No. 1 jersey.
A year ago when Duke was replacing all five starters, nobody was there to help Williamson or the other freshmen because, as Krzyzewski rhetorically asked, ”What are you going to help Zion with?”
”I like the fact that this is more of an old-fashioned dynamic for us, and I think we can be pretty good if we can make sure that we start it with defense,” Krzyzewski said. ”Start it with defense, and offense will come from the defense.”
Jones shapes up as the most important player on this team because of his tenacious on-the-ball defense and his knack for involving his teammates – his average of 5.3 assists ranked second in the ACC, and he was tops with a school-record assist-to-turnover ratio of plus-3.62. Junior guard Alex O’Connell could be a breakout candidate with an increase in playing time after hitting nearly 38% of his 3-pointers a year ago.
In addition to the departed freshman trio of Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish, the Blue Devils also must replace one of their top interior players – Marques Bolden, who bypassed his senior season to turn pro and was fighting for a roster spot with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those departures leave White, who averaged 4.7 rebounds a season ago, as the only returnee to average more than four.
Cassius Stanley has already erased Williamson’s name in the record book – at least, for one impressive athletic feat. The school posted video last month of Stanley breaking Williamson’s 1-year-old school record for vertical leap at testing, though school officials did not specify how high either player jumped.
Duke again has a challenging schedule lined up, starting with the opener against Kansas on Nov. 5 in the Champions Classic in New York. The Blue Devils will visit Michigan State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and the conference schedule is highlighted by the two matchups with North Carolina. It also promises to be a special night on Jan. 28 – Duke’s home game against Pittsburgh marks Jeff Capel’s first game as a visitor at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The former Duke player and right-hand man to Krzyzewski is entering his second season as the Panthers’ coach and their only meeting last year came at Pitt.
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