DURHAM — On a day where much of the buzz and talk surrounded future Blue Devils Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, it was Dukes most veteran player that grabbed the spotlight.
Andre Dawkins, who returned to the Blue Devils for one final year after taking a leave of absence from the team last season, made three of his first four 3-point attempts in the first half of No. 4 Dukes 97-64 victory over Florida Atlantic.
Before the season, much had been made of Dawkins return and the issues he worked through while he was away. The official word was that he was taking time off to work through issues associated with the 2009 death of his sister, Lacey. In a recent Sports Illustrated article he revealed that he had been diagnosed with depression.
Most of us have problems. I dont know of anyone who doesnt have a problem at some time in your life, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Hes done a great job in dealing with his situation, staying at Duke, which is what he wanted to do, being a good teammate, and, now, tonight, being a contributor. I would hope he does that ever game.
Up to this point, Dawkins had just played two minutes against Davidson and not at all against Kansas. That was mainly due to a back injury he suffered in preseason practice, Krzyzewski revealed after the game.
When he hurt his back, he missed a number of practices, Krzyzewski said. When he came back, you get out of shape. And for a shooter, you have to be really sharp. Really, for about a week, he wasnt hitting anything. Really just in the last day or so, you could see his rhythm coming back in shooting drills.
But before the game Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Krzyzewski told Dawkins that he was going to play, just to let him mentally prepare. Dawkins number was called early, as he entered the game five minutes after the tip to a loud ovation. He was credited with an assist on a Tyler Thornton corner 3 less than a minute later. And then the next three Duke points came from him.
Squaring up to attempt his first 3-pointer since March 16, 2012, Dawkins let it fly from the elbow, and it swished through, much to the crowds delight. Duke, which never trailed, led 21-5 at that point.
Later in the half, Dawkins hit back-to-back 3s to put the Blue Devils up 47-22. His first second-half 3 had the students chanting Dre all day, and he flashed some ability to finish off the dribble on Dukes next scoring possession, giving the Blue Devils a 77-45 advantage.
Its nice to know that they didnt forget about me, Dawkins said.
He finished with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes off the bench and seemed to enjoy himself, slapping hands with students during the halftime shootaround, and grabbed a referees shoulders from behind as they laughed. For the first time this season, Rasheed Sulaimon earned the start at the shooting guard position. He is battling an illness that has his nose and sinuses stuffed up, but he played well on the defensive end, which was what the coaches wanted. On offense, he had a more quiet night finishing with four points on 2-of-6 shooting.
Hood made the most noise of all in the first half, clearly taking his words after the Kansas loss to heart. He had gotten too caught up in watching Parker first-half dominance in Chicago, and he said he would learn for that and not wait for the game to come to him. The coaching staff reviewed film with him, too, showing him opportunities he had failed to notice.
Hood personally outscored FAU for most of the first half, and he finished the first 20 minutes with 19 points in 14 minutes, going 5-of-6 from the field, but, more importantly, 9-of-9 from the free throw line. As a team, the Blue Devils shot 70.8 from the stripe for the game.
Parker, who finished with 21 points, went 1-for-4 from the line in the first half, missing his first two and then drawing a backcourt foul on the miss. He was promptly subbed out for Josh Hairston.
That was one of a few teachable moments for Parkerin another, Krzyzewski told him, in as many words, to shoot the ball after a no-look, behind-the-shoulder pass sent the cheerleaders along the baseline scattering. Parker responded with a long 2 on Dukes next possession. After the game, Krzyzewski said Parker deferred a little too much to Hoodnow he just needs both to be on at the same time.
This years Blue Devils (2-1) have proved coachable thus far. After lacking offensive flow in the final exhibition game against Drury, they came out and ran Davidson out of the gym with 111 points on 70.4 percent shooting. And after giving up 54 second-half points to Kansas and letting the Jayhawks shoot 60.7 percent in the final 20 minutes, the Blue Devils held FAU to 29 first-half points and 37 percent shooting for the game.
The young Blue Devils are learning. Andre Dawkins could teach them a thing or two about that.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley