1, 2, 3, TOGETHER. That was tonight’s message from Coach Mike Krzyzewski as Duke Basketball officially kicked off at Countdown to Craziness. We were treated with an inspiring speech from Coach K as he spoke of forgetting the past, living in the moment, and imagining what we could accomplish in that moment if we do it together.
Before that speech, we were treated to the annual Blue vs. White scrimmage that occurs every year at Countdown to Craziness where we the fans can get our first look at what the team is going to look like as the season is now starting up. We get our first real look at the incoming new additions of the freshman as well as seeing the improvements that have been made since the end of last season by the returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The only two players that we didn’t get to see tonight was that of senior guard Seth Curry and redshirt freshman forward Marshall Plumlee, both of whom are sidelined with injuries at the moment.
This year’s squad has added two incoming true freshman to the team, Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon. With the departure of Austin Rivers to the NBA, Sulaimon is stepping in to fill the void that was left behind, and after watching him tonight; it seems he will do very nicely. Sulaimon has many weapons in his arsenal on offense. He may light you up from behind the arc, or he could decide to take you off the bounce all the way to the basket for a bucket. Opposing defenses are going to have to be aware of his presence at all times when he is on the floor. Listed at 6’4 one may not think of him as much on the defensive end of the game, but he also has a 6’8 wingspan that will make him one of, if not the best, perimeter defenders Duke will have on the team.
Amile Jefferson was welcomed to Duke by Mason Plumlee blocking one of his shots during the scrimmage, but better to see that in a game against your own teammates than a real game. Jefferson is coming into the Duke program with a high IQ of the game of basketball, a knack for getting shots to go in with a soft touch, and a real passion for the game. Jefferson will give Duke more height in the front court and cause matchup problems with opposing teams this season with his ability to find ways to score. He’ll definitely need to continue hitting the weight room to get bigger and work on his jump shot further away from the basket, but Jefferson should be able to provide solid minutes with production on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Alex Murphy is a redshirt freshman that I think all Duke fans are looking forward to having this season. Last season proved we sorely were missing that true wing player that Duke has had in the past like that of Mike Dunleavy and Kyle Singler. Alex spent last season gaining weight, muscle, and strength while learning the Duke system and helping the team at practices with his play. This season it looks as though Alex is ready to step into a starting role. Murphy has the ability to shoot from the outside, hit the mid-range jumper, as well as play in the paint. Tonight at Countdown to Craziness we got to see that he can rebound well and also block shots.
Returning point guard Quinn Cook spent most of his first year at Duke trying to play catch up after a knee injury kept him from really getting to use the offseason for conditioning and getting where he needed to be from transitioning from high school to the college level. We saw flashes at times of what Quinn could do, but it was not on a consistent level. This offseason, Quinn has used his time well. He is ready to step into the shoes of the starting point guard for this Duke program, and tonight it appears he’ll do a fine job at it. Whatever side he was on, that was the team to be on. Quinn is going to be one of the keys to this Duke team having success this season. Quinn proved he is capable of getting his teammates the ball and involved in the offense as well as getting his own shot if need be.
Tyler Thornton will share duties at the point guard spot with Quinn Cook this upcoming season. We didn’t see Tyler looking for his shot at all during Countdown to Craziness, but he did dish out five assists to teammates and play his tough defense. Tyler is known to be Coach K’s mouth when he’s on the floor, and he’s capable of running the team exactly as Coach K sees fit. Fellow junior Josh Hairston came ready to play tonight, running off 3 consecutive jumpers to keep his blue squad in the game in the first half. Josh is a high energy guy with a huge smile and an obvious love of the game. He’ll be seeing more time this season especially now with the injury of Marshall Plumlee that will cause him to miss 6-8 weeks. Josh will provide good minutes inside where he can rebound and hopefully continue to hit those jumpers like we saw tonight when playing in games this season.
Ryan Kelly is another key to the success of how this team is going to do this season. With Ryan in the game, he stretches defenses with his ability to knock down the 3, he has a good mid-range game, he can play in the paint, and he shoots free throws very well. Tonight in total he finished with 15 points, although none came from behind the arc as he went 0-6. Even without the 3 falling tonight, Ryan was still able to get his points, and that is a great sign for this Duke fan. With it now being his senior year, what we need to see from Ryan is the ability to not fade from games as well as see his rebounding efforts increase on both sides of the floor.
After the end of last season, Mason Plumlee had a big choice to make. Would he forgo his last year of school and jump at the chance to play in the NBA, or would he return for his senior year with something to prove? Lucky us, Mason decided come back to school and spend one more year learning from Coach K and improving his game. Mason has the potential to be ACC POY when it’s all said and done. His numbers last season were good, but this season should improve more as the offense will run more through him in the paint. Mason showed tonight that he wants the ball and will call for it, something he hasn’t done so much in the past three years. Mason has the ability with his athleticism and talent to command a double team from other team’s defenders. With good passing ability for a big man, that will allow Mason to kick out to the open shooters. If Mason isn’t double teamed, he has the strength to put the ball in the basket and take fouls. Last season was not great from the free throw line, but the very last part of the season we did see a vast improvement in that area from Mason. He will get his points, he will rebound, and he gives us a low post player with shot blocking ability as well. I see him at 15 points a game and 12 rebounds, but the points could be more if he can make more of his free throws in a game.
Senior Seth Curry is out with an undisclosed leg injury that has been bothering him for a while according to Coach K. Curry is obviously taking it easy, and will probably play limited minutes the first part of the season as it takes off. Curry spent some of last season playing more with the ball in his hands and trying to make plays for his teammates, and that was not his strength. This year will find Seth in his more natural role off of the ball and ready to shoot. He’s continued to get better with his driving ability year to year, and that is a big asset in his arsenal if he can drive as well as knock down the long ball. Looking at him tonight, Seth does appear to have put on some strength in his upper body which should allow him to play better defense against opposing guards this upcoming season.
With a fractured toe, we won’t be seeing Marshall Plumlee playing until sometime in December. The third of thePlumlee brothers spent his redshirt season last year bulking up in order to be able to play against other bigs in college. Marshall will play behind older brother Mason when he returns. Marshall has the tools of rebounding and athleticism already down, but exactly what we will see out of him remains a bit of a mystery. We will have plenty of people around him on the floor that can get points, so if Marshall can provide good defense, I believe he’ll see minutes. I don’t really see a lot of pressure on him this season as far as where his offensive game is at. Any offensive production we get from him should be a bonus to Duke.
Tonight Duke fans got to see their first and only glimpse of Rodney Hood. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Rodney will have to sit out the 2012-2013 basketball season. He is a versatile forward that can play tough inside, and he also has the ability to play on the wing and take players off the bounce. The crowd at Cameron Indoor stadium got to see that tonight especially with a behind the back move that had everyone in the building oohing and ahhing after he made that basket. While Rodney won’t play in any games this season, he will be a huge asset to have as he plays against the guys on the team that will play every day in practice. He will push the rest of the guys to give 100% when playing against him in those practices, and he is like someone we will see from opposing teams that we play.
It’s going to take a while to see where this Duke team really is. The pre-season polls have us ranked #8, but I don’t put too much stock in anything pre-season. There is too much unseen and unproven to really know where any team is to be honest. I think most eyes have us under the radar, and my gut says it will probably remain that way throughout the season. I don’t mind that in the least because the last time we were under that radar was 2010, and we all remember how well that turned out. Whether all the pieces fall into the right spot with this team or not remains to be seen, but like Coach K said tonight, he dreams of playing on that Monday come April. If we get there and do it, it will be because we DID IT TOGETHER!
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