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Duke Basketball Open Practice Observations

DukeReport-BBall-092813-160This past Sat., Sept. 28th, the Duke Men’s Basketball team held an open practice for fans to get their first glimpse of the 2013-14 squad. Many fans and analysts alike feel this team will compete for a National Championship.

I arrived at Duke around 8:15am and there were already lines on both sides of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The doors opened at 9am and fans rushed in to find the best seat they could. Thankfully I was able to grab a front row seat, right behind the visiting bench. I honestly thought there would be more people there. If I had to guess, I think there were about 2,000 people in attendance. I know it was just a practice, but I know how Duke fans are. We’ll line up just to see them walk by for a brief second.

The practice seemed to start early, that or they were just doing warm up drills before practice actually started. It’s always hard to tell with Duke because they go hard at everything, even warm ups. The crowd erupted when Jabari Parker walked out of the locker room and onto the floor. As well as when Coach K appeared for the first time.

The practice mainly consisted of drills and scrimmaging. The coaches took time one-on-one to pull each freshman aside to talk to them. Jabari stole the show with several dunks…which I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this season. As mentioned before, the players went hard during every aspect of the practice. Bodies were flying all over the place, and yes, charges were taken. The only real injury that happened seemed to be Rodney Hood straining his lower back. Not sure exactly what he did or when he did it, but he only briefly participated in the scrimmage.

The scrimmage was white vs. blue in what I figure to be the teams for Countdown to Craziness. The white team consisted of the four starters Coach K named the other day (Parker, Rodney Hood, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson), as well as Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins. More than likely Rasheed and Andre will alternate who starts depending on their play in previous games as well as how they practice leading up to that game.

Instead of giving a play-by-play of the scrimmage, I wanted to provide quick thoughts on what I saw from team and each individual player during the practice.

Duke will run, run, run this season if you didn’t already know. They have 6-7 guys who can handle the ball well enough to lead a fast break. I believe Coach K when he says he’ll use a deeper bench this season.

Now onto the players…

Jabari Parker – If you didn’t already know, he can do it all. The one thing I really took away was how he guarded every position. There were times he was matched up defensively on Marshall Plumlee and handled himself well. It would not surprise me to see Parker guard the center position at times this season. He was by no means perfect during the practice. The coaches worked with him on where he needed to be during offensive sets, and how to set up better defensively. His shot at times wasn’t falling, but he kept attacking the basket. As Coach K said earlier, the team will be built around Parker and…

Rodney Hood – Like Parker, Hood can do it all. He can hit the mid range shot, the step back three, as well as lead the fast break. He is a captain for this Blue Devils squad, and the first one to be named captain before ever playing a game. He’s not very vocal, however,  as it seems he’ll be a lead by example type of captain. He worked extremely hard on both ends of the floor before sustaining what looked to be a lower back injury. He’ll be capable of getting 25-30 points on any given night if needed.

Quinn Cook – I was somewhat surprised when Coach K named the starters and said “and probably Quinn Cook.” I’m not sure if that’s to help motivate Quinn after his struggles late last season or not. The one thing that really stuck out to me was Cook’s outside shot. He looks like he has really improved on that as he was hitting three after three. His handle also seems to have gotten better, and you can tell he has worked to improve on the defensive end. He and Tyler Thornton really got after each other during the practice. Cook also doesn’t seem to mind guarding taller players, as he was matched up against Semi Ojeyele at one point.

Amile Jefferson – Amile’s weight training has definitely paid off as you can see that he has added muscle in the offseason. As with Parker, Jefferson can guard any position 1-5, though he’ll mainly be guarding the opposing team’s power forward and center. I don’t think he’ll be asked to do a lot offensively, but he’ll provide a lot of energy and rebounding like last season. I can see him averaging 10 pts and 10 rbs this season. He probably will not need it, but his outside shot looks to have improved from last season as well.

Rasheed Sulaimon – I really believe the only thing holding Rasheed back from being a Nolan Smith type superstar is Rasheed himself. He did everything in practice that you saw last year, he just needs to be more consistent. I do think he’ll be splitting starts with Andre Dawkins, and because of that, I don’t think he’s as sure a lock to leave at the end of the season as many believe. He’ll be the #3 or #4 scoring option on the team this season. He will have some big games, but look for him to average more in the 10 – 12 ppg range.

Andre Dawkins – It was really good to see ‘Dre back on the floor and back in a Duke uniform (even if it was weird to see him wearing the White Raven’s number). Andre, as you may know from Duke Blue Planet videos, has been working hard this offseason to get back into basketball shape, as well as expand his game from being just a three point shooter. He took his usual amount of threes, but also drove the lane looking for an easy basket, or contact. He also seems to be working harder on the defensive end. Many times before, besides going cold, his lack of defensive effort would land him extended time on the bench. This season look for Dawkins to give everything he has on both ends of the floor all game long.

Tyler Thornton – While Hood will be a leader by example, Thornton will be your vocal leader this season. I noticed we really didn’t hear Coach K yell during the practice, and one reason probably was Thornton was doing it for him. He is this squad’s Wojo and while not glamorous, it will be a very important role on this young team. You will see Tyler Thornton back at Duke in some form not too long after he graduates. He may try to play overseas, but I think coaching at Duke is in his future.

Josh Hairston – Hairston worked hard this offseason to slim down and that was clearly visible. What he also worked hard on in the offseason was his outside shot, as he was knocking it down on a fairly consistent basis (and yes even from three). In high school he was more of a jump shooter and less of a low post player. I don’t think Duke will have him playing out on the wing this season, but if he gets the open mid range shot, you know he will take it. That shot should fall more often this season. He of course was playing hard defensively and took several charges during the practice. That is one thing that will never change.

Marshall Plumlee – Plumlee is the only true center on the squad. He looked healthy as he had no problems running up and down the floor. Like his brothers Miles and Mason before him, I think Marshall’s main issue is a lack of confidence in himself. Too many times he did the Plumlee fake, instead of getting the ball and taking it up strong, especially when Parker or Ojeyele were guarding him. It really took Mason until his senior year to believe in himself enough to go up strong the first time and not worry if his shot was going to be blocked, or have confidence in himself that he could score over the defender. Hopefully MP3 will gain that confidence soon because he could be a force down low.

Alex Murphy – Alex showed flashes of why many felt last season he should have been a starter and played a lot more. But he also showed why he didn’t. He does have a streaky outside shot, though he was attacking the basket a lot (especially against Parker). He at times struggled on the defensive end against quicker and stronger guys. He will get playing time this season as they’ll need someone to spell Parker and Hood, but if he struggles as he has done in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me if he spends a lot of time on the bench. I hope that’s not the case as he can be a very valuable part of this team, especially if they hope to win a National Championship.

Semi Ojeyele – Semi is definitely a beast, but he is going to be a long term project. I’m not sure if it was nerves, or just sweating a lot (it was rather warm inside Cameron) but he was constantly losing control of the ball when he would go up on the offensive end. Each of the coaches took time to talk with him one-on-one. The good thing is they won’t (barring injuries) need him right away this season. He can take the time to adjust to the college game and going against Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood every day will certainly help his development.

Matt Jones – When I first looked at the roster for this season, I thought Jones would be like Ojeyele, talented but not going to get that many minutes. After watching practice, Jones has a chance to earn some real playing time. He has good size, he can handle the ball well, and he can obviously hit the outside shot. The offensive/defensive battle between Jones and Sulaimon was a sight to see, it will mature his game quickly. If Duke runs as much as they say (and we hope), then he could see time off the bench in three guard sets with Thornton and Sulaimon/Dawkins. As with any freshman, he’ll need to work on his defense, but that will come in time.

Todd Zafirovski – Todd’s role this season will be like that of last year. Help the team in practice, and have the occasional moment of playing time. One thing I found interesting during the practice is Todd playing PG during one of the drills. He reminded me of a young Kyrie Irving (ok maybe not but he did handle the ball fairly well for a guy of his size).

Nick Pagliuca – Like Todd, Nick’s role will be to help the team during practice. He didn’t seem to be on the floor much this past Sat. but I would expect that to change as the season goes along and he is more acclimated to Duke Basketball.

Obviously after watching one practice, I am now an expert on the Duke lineup (hashtag sarcasm), so here is the order in which I see guys getting playing time/coming off the bench this season:

  • Jabari Parker
  • Rodney Hood
  • Amile Jefferson
  • Quinn Cook
  • Rasheed Sulaimon
  • Andre Dawkins
  • Tyler Thornton
  • Josh Hairston
  • Marshall Plumlee
  • Alex Murphy
  • Matt Jones
  • Semi Ojeyele
  • Todd Zafirovski
  • Nick Pagliuca

Duke fans are going to love watching this team play this season. If you loved the late 90’s/early 2000’s, then this squad should bring back great memories.