CHARLOTTE — Virtually all of the preseason hype surrounding Duke newcomers has centered around Jabari Parker. After all, hes the No. 2-ranked player in the class of 2013. But both Tyler Thornton and Mike Krzyzewski, unprompted, praised another member of Dukes freshman class.
Matt Jones, hes going to surprise a lot of people because of how smart he is, Thornton said. He makes plays.
Jones is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard from DeSoto, Texas (Dallas area). Its his defense that has Krzyzewski most excited.
Matt comes from a great high school program, Krzyzewski said. His coach (Chris Dyer) is one of the best teachers of defense in the country, man-to-man defense. Matt came in way ahead of most freshmen. Way ahead. Hes been a real pleasant surprise.
He can lock you down, on and off the ball.
• Sulaimons competition: Throughout the preseason, Krzyzewski had avoided anointing Rasheed Sulaimon a starter, even though he and Quinn Cook are the pair of returning starters from last years Elite Eight squad. That continued Wednesday when he was asked specifically about Sulaimons role.
Rasheed had a really good freshman year, but we also had no competition because Seth couldnt practice, he just played, Krzyzewski said. And Andre didnt play at all. Now, you have Andre back, Matt is really good and Rodney. You have three guys on the perimeter and Quinn back and Tyler, its tougher for everybody, which is good.
The other thing is, we knew we were going to build our team around three guys last year, the three seniors. So, then you fit in. You fit in really well in a drama. Now, its an action movie or a musical. Something you did with that, you have to adapt to do it here. Hes still in a period of adapting. Hes not the only one.
• Duke Elevate: Right before they left for Operation Basketball activities, Thornton, Krzyzewski, Rodney Hood and the rest of the Blue Devils came back to Durham after spending five days in New York. The trip, named Duke Elevate, featured dinners with prominent Duke alumni, basketball players and businessmen, and trips to places like Harlems Apollo Theater and Rucker park, the World Trade Center and Sept. 11th memorial, Broadway (to see Motown) and West Point. While at West Point, Krzyzewskis alma mater, the team underwent the same gun simulation drills the cadets perform before they take the battlefield.
The thing with that was, no matter if youre on the battlefield or on the court, youve got to communicate, come up with a strategy and execute the strategy, Thornton said. Sometimes the strategy that you thought was going to work, youre in the battle, it doesnt work, talking how to get through it and make adjustments. The coaches did a good job of setting up the activities and different events to help us see that no matter what youre doing, if you want to work as a unit, first of all, you have to be prepared, and secondly youve got to communicate and have the man to the left of you and right of you have your back.
We watched Motown, those guys are in sync dancing, that was great, that was exciting, Thornton continued, explaining the lessons of the trip. Some guys were in 30 different scenes playing different characters. Coach was like, How do those guys stay focused on what theyre supposed to do in that moment, how do they not mess up and think about something else? It was just showing us that what we do is easy. What we do is a lot more simplified. It was a great trip.
The lessons were about more than just basketball.
You can see a lot of things, but when I coach our U.S. team, I try to take them to different places where they can feel, not just hear and see, Krzyzewski said. And if you feel something, you can end up owning it. And if you own it, it becomes yours. On this trip, you get to see and feel excellence. High standards, commitment, just the pride and tradition of all these different entities and how people overcome adversity and how people do it every day. Its all alive, and its real. In a classroom, they can hear words. On this trip, they could feel words. It was a remarkable trip for us.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley