It didn’t take much understanding of basketball to know that there was something seriously off about the 2011-2012 Duke Basketball team.
They had talent, they had Mike Krzyzewski, they had one of the top recruits in the incoming class; the Blue Devils seemed on top of the world but by the end of the year it all fell apart. From the opening game, a game which I was in attendance, I could tell there was something about this team that made me scratch my head.
Those fears were quelled to an extent when the Blue Devils beat Michigan State, then traveled to Hawaii and won the Maui Invitational beating Kansas in the finals. But on the way back they left their game and mojo on the islands. They were beaten handily by Ohio State and just a few games later handled by Temple.
Defensively they were not very good. They lacked a true point guard and at times the communication that Krzyzewski has built his programs success on, appeared to be nonexistent.
The leadership of the team was given to Miles Plumlee, a player who I’m not entirely sure spoke a word while at Duke; Seth Cury, a player who seemed invisible at times; and Ryan Kelly, a big man who played more on the perimeter.
The point guard role was filled primarly by Tyler Thornton who was known as more of a defensive stopper than an offensive playmaker. Still, Thornton was often committing silly fouls and Duke’s perimeter defense was the worst I’ve ever seen. So much went wrong last year you don’t really know where to start.
We all know how it ended, with the Blue Devils being bounced from the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament before their first round swan song in the NCAA Tournament. The loss of Kelly to injury in the conference tournament proved to be too much for a fragile team to over come.
After the season the rumors of conflict, of egos, of a genuine lack of team closeness were pervasive. Whether there is truth or not to the rumors only the players and coaches know.
Jump ahead to this year’s team and I am already seeing a Duke team take shape that appears to be infinitely closer than the team from last season. Look no further than the recent interview with incoming freshman Amile Jefferson who talked about how the team is working on their communication and are becoming a close team.
It all comes back to that and it speaks to how well Jefferson is going to fit in as a member of this team that, he as a freshman, already recognizes the importance of that team concept. He didn’t seem particularly interested in becoming a star, but rather becoming a defensive stopper and a player that can help the team. He is not one person out to showcase his own talent, but one player as part of a team. Look at all the great Duke teams over the years and you will find those guys.
I’m not necessarily saying that Jefferson will be a star or even get that much playing time, but it is refreshing that in this day of ‘me first,’ that the freshman understands how important the team concept is.
Add in a player like Rasheed Sulaimon who appears to be mature beyond his years and there is plenty of reason to be exited about Duke Basketball despite a rocky off season.
This should be a team that plays as such. This should be a team that improves from the mistakes that cost it dearly last season. This should be a team that doesn’t loose intensity and focus, like it did last year. There is talent on this team, there are solid incoming recruits, and the team still has Mike Krzyzewski as its coach.
Not much difference between the make up of last year’s teamand this one on the surface, but the differences will be noticeable on and off the court and in the final record. Success or failure, this year’s team will feel much more like a team; it already does.