With the season officially underway, here are some Duke points of interest.
-The Duke New Devils
-QUINN Ready to COOK
-Injury Bug Buzzes
-Recruiting Hits, Misses and Hopefuls
THE DUKE NEW DEVILS
Let’s start with the newcomers, Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon. With these additions, Duke gets better on the defensive end; both players embrace the Duke ideal of strong and tough defense. Sulaimon will remind some of Nolan Smith with his on-the-ball defense as well as his ability to break his man down off the dribble. I expect Duke will turn over the opposition at a much higher clip than last season. Amile Jefferson in high school was sometimes matched up against the opposition’s big man: he often had to play bigger, stronger guys on defense and didn’t flinch in that role. Amile will provide much needed depth on the wing. The other newcomers, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee, have spent a year in the Duke system practicing, getting stronger, bigger and getting a chance to watch and study the offensive and defensive principles. Unlike most freshmen, these two should be battle ready and hungry. Murphy will most likely start, providing Duke a bigger lineup with Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. Coach K is already making the Kyle Singler references in talking about Murphy. The difference I see in the two are Murphy’s mobility: He may be a step quicker than Kyle. It will be interesting to see what Murphy brings to Duke in terms of offense, and with Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee garnering most of the attention, shots should be available for Murph. Marshall Plumlee, according to coaches, has improved and had worked his way into the rotation before his injury, hopefully Marshall does not fall too far behind while he during his recovery.
Duke returns a solid core of veterans to complement the incoming freshman. Ryan Kelly provides the Blue Devils with size and versatility on offense. Kelly came into his own this past season, becoming a reliable jump shooter as well as occasionally posting up smaller players. His points and leadership will serve Duke well this season. Also returning for the Devils is guard Seth Curry, one of the better spot up shooters in the ACC. Duke will rely on Seth to show the new guards the way. Moving over from the point to the 2 guard may be what the doctor ordered for Curry, who did not put up spectacular numbers last year, in part due to a nagging injury, and unfortunately for Seth and Duke he is yet again fighting an leg injury that coaches are certain will be with him the entire year, limiting practice and reps. The other and arguably most important senior is Mason Plumlee who, instead of tossing his hat into the NBA arena after the tough loss to Lehigh, used this off-season to train and work as if he was in the NBA, working on all facets of his game, attending big man camps and working on his mid-range game to compliment his fierceness around the basket. If teams play Mason as they did last year, there should be a wealth of jump shots awaiting him, and he has worked to make sure he cashes in on those opportunities. Mason does have room to improve, and if he plays for an entire season as he is capable of playing, then we will talk about him in terms of ACC POY by mid-season.
QUINN READY TO COOK
Duke will have a different look this year at point guard and although Duke fans saw flashes of what the offense would look like with Quinn Cook behind the wheel. This year, Coach K has given Cook the keys to the team and for the first time in a long time a true point guard will be at the helm. Duke’s success this year will hinge upon Cook being able to keep the assist-to-turnover efficiency he showed last year up for the duration of the season, but also knowing when to shoot, when to pass and knowing his teammates’ tendencies. It can’t be mentioned enough that Quinn was also hampered by injury his freshman year and being out like he was definitely slowed his development. He has, however, had an injury free summer and marked progress is expected.
Where Cook needs to show and prove is on the defensive end: According to Coach K, the team was not up to snuff on defense, but this year’s team should be able to rectify that. Duke will look to set up mostly in the half court on defense, trapping only when necessary. While this iteration of the Blue Devils should have a size advantage over most teams it plays, it is not a particularly fast group. K will look to accentuate team defense and at very least on the wings, Duke should be much improved. If the way Quinn handled the off-season is any indication, he is hungry and ready to put his mark on this team. Cook will be backed up by the defensive and tough minded Tyler Thornton.
INJURY BUG BUZZES
As mentioned earlier, as it stands Marshall Plumlee is in a walking boot and crutches with a stress fracture in his foot. Duke is hoping for sooner, but realistically they are looking at a 6-week absence. You have to feel for Plumlee, having to sit out last year couldn’t have been very easy for the 7-footer, and to have to miss the start of the season has to be a downer. Plumlee’s injury will most likely throw Josh Hairston into the big man rotation and if last year is any indication he is up to the task. The other key Duke injury is to Seth Curry: Curry is nursing an undisclosed leg injury that the staff is confident will be with him the entire year. Curry will be limited in practice and will just have to take things day by day.
RECRUITING HITS, MISSES AND HOPEFULS
As Duke fans already know, Duke has garnered verbal commitments from Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye for next season. Duke is also courting Tennessee big man Austin Nichols who recently visited Duke and is deciding between Duke, Auburn, Memphis, and his hometown Tennessee Volunteers. Most believe it to be a two-school race for Nichols, with the two schools being Duke and Tennessee. As it is for most recruits, the Internet is abuzz with rumors, some having Nichols assuring TN, others having him committing to Duke after his visit. The truth according to Nichols himself is to not believe the hype and let the process take its course. Duke is in dire need for a big man in this class, and Nichols is the last one remaining on the board for the Devils. Also on the board for Duke is Illinois super-prospect Jabari Parker. The small forward has a list of 5 schools remaining vying for his services: Florida, Duke, Michigan State, Stanford and BYU. Anyone who says that this is only a two-school race between Duke and Michigan State hasn’t followed Jabari long enough: He is earnestly interested in what each school has to offer. It’s not all about basketball for this small forward, who is probably the most well-rounded high school athlete you will see on and off the court. With the church being a huge part of Parker’s life, the community and atmosphere of the schools on his list will surely play a role and it’s safe to say that Parker’s Mormon faith colors the path he will take with this decision.
Some misses on the recruiting trail for Duke include Julius Randle who Duke had courted but according to most was never a true contender. Noah Vonleh, who Duke had also reached out to, never included Duke on his list and omitted Duke on his most recent list. Duke also missed out on SG Allerik Freeman, who committed to the UCLA Bruins earlier in the summer. Also not landed by the Devils was SG Robert Hubbs who committed to Tennessee last month. This commitment is noteworthy because Hubbs is best friends with Duke recruit Austin Nichols. Whether or not Hubbs’ decision factors into Nichols’, no one knows: Time will tell with Nichols projected to announce in the next couple of weeks.
As many Duke fans are already aware of, Andre Dawkins will not be with the team this year. His father stated that Andre will remain at Duke and live the next year as a student and not a student athlete. Dawkins tragically lost his sister during his freshman season and was never truly allowed proper time to grieve. Surely coming to Duke a year early, being on arguably one of highest profile teams in college sports and having to deal with the stresses of being not only a student but a student athlete only exacerbated the situation for Andre. I wish Andre the best and hopefully we will see him in a Duke uniform next year, and moreover with a smile on his face.