Walking into to Cameron Indoor Stadium, I had extremely high expectations for the event, and walking out of Cameron, the expectations were shattered… in a great way. Countdown to Craziness is truly a special and worthwhile experience. Although it is much different from a game, the energy level is off the charts, and the experience really represents what Duke Basketball is all about… tradition and energy. The Crazies were in full force, and the stadium was packed. This was my first time going to CTC, and I was blown away by the loudness and excitement that was present. All Duke fans must at one point attend Countdown to Craziness.
The most amazing part of the event to me was the chilling hype videos. The buildup to the team introduction was flawless. Although Cameron may not be the biggest arena, its intimacy is incredible and still sounds like there are 100,000 people screaming. For the second straight year, they projected the hype video onto the basketball court which was very unique and exciting, as well as having a dramatic video on the big screen. Warning: when watching these videos, you will get the chills. Another highlight from the event was the unveiling of the 2015 Championship Banner which included highlights from each championship season. To prevent ear damage next time they unveil a championship banner, I recommend you cover you’re ears.
After all the hype and introductions, the team played a 24 minute scrimmage. There was no shortage of coveted recruits in attendance: Jayson Tatum (2016), Javin Delaurier (2016), Gary Trent Jr. (2017), Wendell Carter Jr. (2017), Tre Jones (2018), Immanuel Quickly (2018), and Wendell Moore (2019). The Crazies were well aware of the potential stars surrounding them as they chanted, “(Insert Name) Sit With Us!” to literally ever recruit until they walked across the court and sat in the student’s section. While some of the uncommitted players were hesitant, they could not resist the cries of the Crazies, and ended up in the student’s section.
On to the scrimmage! Below are my thoughts on each scholarship player and the team as a whole following the 24 minute scrimmage.
Aside from one or two explosive plays from the freshman, Chase had a very quiet showing. Jeter showed his incredible athleticism with a strong and-one dunk, but thats about all I got from his performance. He was active on the boards, but definitely needs some polishing in the paint. Overall, none of the new big men could compete with the physicality of Marshall Plumlee. Jeter will need to put on some muscle and add some stronger post moves for him to be affective come ACC play. We do know that he has the potential, as he has all the tools to become a stud in the paint, but don’t expect that early in the season.
Ingram will be deadly. There were multiple flashes of his brilliance and freakish nature that had the fans in awe, and I definitely see a big year from the coveted freshman. He showed his smooth shooting ability as well as his incredible handle and length at 6’9″. He is virtually unguardable with his unique length and guard-like skills. Try to find another 6’9″ guy who can play the point and the power forward position. Although he displayed his silky smooth potential, there is still some dirt to be cleaned. He was constantly double-teamed in the scrimmage and needs to get more comfortable finding the open man. Duke claims that Ingram has gained over 20 lb since entering campus, but he still looks too fragile to be in the ACC paint. Expect lots of isolation plays involving Ingram. He is a threat from anywhere on the court, and seemed to be a go-to player in the scrimmage.
Antonio will be very interesting to watch as the year goes on. He did not see too much time in the scrimmage, and I believe it is safe to label him as a project. He has the potential to be a presence in a couple years, but he did not show any indication that he is ready to play more than 5-7 minutes per game this year. The lone post move that he attempted was a very weak hook shot contested closely by Marshall Plumlee. On the defensive end, Marshall put him on a poster with a massive dunk. Vrank is physically ready, but his post moves are not. I expect this kid to be a very critical piece of the Duke team in two years. He reminds me a lot of Marshall Plumlee as a freshman, and will need work to get him on the same level as guys he could be guarding, like Kennedy Meeks.
Luke had a very active scrimmage. He was constantly involved with the offense and played a good amount of point which could come in handy for the Blue Devils. Although there were concerns with his point guard skills, he looked very comfortable handling the ball and played some solid defense on Derrick Thornton. He knocked down a lot of jumpers throughout the scrimmage and really displayed a Curry-like ability to create his own space and knock down jump shots. Kennard will be piling on the three pointers this season, a lot like JJ Reddick did, although Kennard is not only a shooter. Luke has some bounce, so don’t be surprised with his athleticism. He will be a key piece for Duke’s offense this year.
Thornton will be playing a lot this year. Expect him to take a Tyus-like role on the team this year, as he is the only true point guard on the roster. He moves the ball well and is insanely quick, although moved a little too quick for his own footing a couple of times. He had a couple brilliant passes and drives to the hoop in the scrimmage. He will not be relied on as much for scoring, like Tyus, but will need to be the quarterback of this offense which is a tough task to ask of a freshman who skipped a year of high school. As long as you don’t compare him to the heroics of Tyus Jones, this kid will impress.
Justin surprisingly played a big role in the scrimmage on Saturday. He was extremely active on defense and did a pretty good job containing Brandon Ingram, which is not an easy task. Robinson’s length can be very effective on the defensive end, but there is lots of work to be done on the other side of the floor. There was not much action from him on offense, although not many were expecting much, but Robinson’s athleticism was on full display defensively. Robinson had a emphatic block while guarding Ingram, and was skying all over the place for rebounds. There is definitely something here in the future but development is a must.
Grayson came out of the gates aggressively which is what all Duke fans want to see. He picked up right where he left of in Indianapolis by diving on the floor for lose balls and attacking the basket. He drove strong to the rim, and got to the line repeatedly as well as knocking down some pretty jumpers. Allen’s two concerns last year were shot selection and turnovers, and at least one of them seemed to be solved at CTC. He took very good shots all game long. On the other hand, turnovers seemed to be an issue with the Duke team as a whole during the scrimmage. Grayson, individually, looks much more comfortable than he did during the regular season last year. A big season is in store for him.
I think we got a good taste of what Obi will be doing for the team this year: rebound, defend, and more rebounding. He did not display an offensive post game, but was a presence on the glass. It seemed like every time a shot went off the rim he was right there fighting for it. He is an active rebounder despite his lack in length at 6’9″. Obi was often subbed in and out which indicates that he will have a limited role on the court this year, but he will provide quality minutes off the bench. He is a very physical player which is nothing new for all the Rice Basketball fans out there (I’m sure thousands are reading this).
Matt was unbelievable defensively. He will be one of the best defensive guards in the country this year and really showed that in the scrimmage. His hands were constantly in the way of passing lanes and crossovers, and his mind-blowing footwork makes him impenetrable. Matt did everything I wanted to see, knocking down threes and playing defense. The co-captain is so crucial for this team, and looked very polished and mature on the court Saturday. All positives for Matty.
Like Matt, Amile played a heck of a game. With such an abundance of bigs, K appeared to give Amile a lot of freedom outside of the paint. Jefferson moved the ball so well, and even took a couple of drives all the way to the basket from the arc. Biggest takeaway from Amile: He is strong. The countless hours in the weight room have certainly paid off for Amile. He looks 5 times stronger than he was last year. Jefferson also displayed impressive leadership qualities throughout the scrimmage which is essential considering he is one of the few upperclassmen on the team.
MP3 was phenomenal. He looks like a completely different player from last year. Marshall had a posterizing dunk over Antonio Vrankovic, and really bullied all of the other bigs. There was a time when I was worried when Marshall was on the floor, and now is not that time. He knows what he is doing, he executes what he is doing. This is scary for all teams facing the 7-foot cadet. Based on the scrimmage, there is no way he is not in the starting lineup on opening game.
There is no question the team has depth and talent, but there are some serious concerns. The offense was way to sloppy. It seemed like every inbound play was deflected or intercepted. There were way to many miscommunications and tipped passes. If Duke goes into ACC play the way they were playing at CTC, it will not be pretty. Chemistry is key to winning, and from the bleachers it seemed like I was watching a bunch of players who were meeting each other for the first time. Perhaps this is a result of such a young team still learning each other, but this needs to be fixed. On a better note, the team’s defense looked way better than it has in the past few years. All around, the ball pressure was impressive and intensity was high. Overall, there were positives and negatives, reasons for optimism and reasons to scratch you’re head, but let’s not draw any conclusions based on one 24 minute scrimmage. There is a good chance that this team will face challenges early in the season regarding chemistry and youth, but who knows where the team will be by the end of the year, and thats all that matters. It’s all about how the guys develop together and I like the man in charge, Coach K.