Duke Basketball: It’s About Team, Not Minutes

CTC-101913-88I remember when I played varsity basketball in high school. In my senior year, there seemed to be quite a bit of parity between the top ten players.  So we ended up playing one-on-one to see who were the better players.

I ended up opposite a guy named Strauss who was several inches taller than my 6’2” frame. He was actually a better player than I, and, because the play was intense and physical, I fouled him a few times. This only irritated him and he retaliated by playing harder. I ended up on the second team and for a while I resented it.

This year, the Duke basketball team has a number of players of near equal talent and intensity. It was surprising to learn that during a recent open scrimmage, a team featuring the four freshmen and an upperclassman defeated the other team convincingly.

Though senior Quinn Cook may well lose some playing time to Tyus Jones, he was effusive in his praise for the underclassman.  Rasheed Sulaimon also claimed that though the scrimmages were extremely intense, players appreciated and respected one another and were trying to refine each other’s strengths and improve one another’s weaknesses.  Leaders like Cook and Sulaimon have to know when they compliment fellow players that the underclassmen they are sharpening may take playing time away from them in the weeks to come.

Yet this is the team concept Coach K hammers again and again.  You are there for the team, not for yourself individually.

You must want to make your fellow teammate smarter and more skilled on the court.  All other things being equal, you must realize that whoever the coach considers is playing best overall will get the most playing time. If your shots are falling but another player is a significantly better stopper, he may get more minutes.

Whether you get five minutes on the court or 25, you must be able to enter the game and immediately fit in seamlessly with teammates and game tempo and you must be able to contribute immediately.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Coach K stick a sub in for two or three minutes. If he doesn’t do anything constructive, he’s immediately back on the bench. A player may think, “If only coach would leave me in eight or ten minutes–I could get into the rhythm and really put up some good numbers…” But Coach wants to see some reason—some proof that you are able to make an immediate impact.

That’s tough but it’s reality.

Convinced they deserve more playing time, some players have finally gotten fed up and transferred. Interestingly, though, the majority of such transfers, though given more minutes at the next school, do not put up exceptional numbers. Their caliber of play did not quite measure up to the Duke players who were getting 20-30 minutes per game.

That’s one factor every player recruited by the Blue Devils should face up to before signing his letter of intent:

I will be competing for minutes with some of the top talent in the nation. Am I ready for the number of minutes Coach K ends up giving me? Am I willing to play in a program in which my minutes may start at 3 per game and top off at 12-14 minutes four years later? Am I willing to make the good of the team my top priority?

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