With the exception of last week’s Olympic Gold Medal performance it has been a relatively quiet end of the summer for the Duke Basketball program and that, as I’ve written about before, is probably a good thing.
This has been a bit of a rollercoaster off season that started with the failure to beat Lehigh in the first round (second) of the NCAA Tournament and culminated with the United States Olympic Basketball team capturing a gold medal under the leadership of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Aside from some early failures in recruiting, Duke ended with far more successes landing Amile Jefferson and then Rodney Hood, who transferred from Mississippi State. Mason Plumlee opted to stay at Duke for his senior season and the obvious images of a elated Lebron James and the other 11 members of Team USA hugging the Duke’s coach can only mean more good things to come down the road in recruit. At least it couldn’t hurt.
It has been a productive off season with two members of last season’s team getting drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. The remaining players have been busy in tournaments and camps refining and or developing new facets to their games but one theme seems to be forming from the players: The 2012-2013 team will be closer and are determined to prove that last season’s unceremonious exit from the NCAA Tournament was a fluke.
But will closeness equate to being better? Well at least to one prognosticator, ESPN’s Bracketology “expert” Joe Linardi, it won’t as he has Duke pegged as a No. 4 seed in his latest and far too early predictions into the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
But like those predictions it is far too early to guess how good this Duke team will be though they should be a closer unit as whole thanks to the adversity with which last season ended.
Seth Curry stirred the speculation pot a few weeks ago when he essentially said the same thing. Many took that to mean that the Blue Devils weren’t close last season and many fingers were pointed at Austin Rivers as the culprit, though Curry not once mentioned his former backcourt mate who left Duke after his freshman season for the NBA.
Many saw Rivers as a distraction and bad for the camaraderie in the locker room, though regardless of what I thought of him as a player, I have a hard time believing that Krzyzewski would tolerate but so much derision in a locker room of any team he coached.
Still with Rivers gone their is a vacuum that opens up room for scorers and Curry, a senior should be one of those filling that role. The returning players and the new guys coming in are already building bonds.
Quinn Cook played with new arrivals Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hood in the NC Pro-Am held on the campus of NC Central this summer and began the process of building chemistry with them. Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton as well as Curry also participated giving themselves the chance to build more chemistry with each other.
Cook also played overseas with Marshall Plumlee in the Four Nation’s Cup in Estonia. Cook is expect to fight Thornton for the starting point guard position, a position that was shaky last season at best.
A combination of the loss to Lehigh and the new infusion of players, two of which (Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee) were on the team but redshirted, should breathe some new energy into a Blue Devil team that at times last year just played flat and uninspired even in games where they clearly were the most talented team.
Krzyzewski, as he did after his first stint coaching the USA to a gold medal in Beijing, should bring more energy and some new ideas on how to make this year’s version of the Blue Devils better and it likely will start with attitude.
Duke played in far too many close game for the average high strung Duke fans like myself, to tolerate. And at times they just didn’t seem to play with the kind of passion that the Blue Devils program is known for.
This coming season begins with some real challenges with a solidly competitive Battle for Atlantis Tournament as well as the highly anticipated match up with defending National Champions, Kentucky in Atlanta.
So there is a strong possibility that this season could begin like last season ended, with some adversity. However, the lessons learned from last year’s struggles as well as the energy of the new players and a coach who had a golden summer of his own should make this Duke team more equipped to handle the pressure.