When the Blue Devils took the court Monday, there was a renewed sense of energy.
One reason for that is that Duke had two off days and two light days of practice following Wednesday’s 119-54 exhibition win over Livingstone. But more than that, the Blue Devils were back to full strength, and just in time for Friday’s season opener against Siena.
After missing all of last week due to a groin injury, Matt Jones was back out on the perimeter, a welcomed, calming influence.
“Matt has been our biggest leader and biggest talker,” Grayson Allen said. “One, because he has been playing a lot of point guard, so he has had to do that. And so when he was gone, that was a big hole in our leadership and communication.”
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Allen did his part to try and fill that void, and he signaled out freshman point guard Derryck Thornton as the young player that has made the most strides in the talking department (there is no quicker way onto the floor under Mike Krzyzewski than to communicate well, especially on defense). And while Jones is the vocal leader in the backcourt, Jefferson helps fill that role closer to the basket.
“Amile is a huge voice for us from the inside, and a voice of confidence,” Marshall Plumlee said. “Him being down (was) a learning opportunity. You have to look for the silver lining.”
Jefferson’s absence, due to a sprained ankle in the Livingstone game, gave freshman Chase Jeter more run, which will probably pay dividends down the line. Allen said he has seen Jeter finish stronger around the rim, a skill he will need to remember as the season progresses. Plumlee and Jefferson won’t play 40 minutes of every game, so it’s in Duke’s best interest for Jeter to be a serviceable backup.
With Jefferson and Jones now back, the young Blue Devils have survived their first wave of adversity. There will be plenty more to come.
“We know the long and hard process you have to go through to get there,” Allen said, referring to the national title that last year’s team claimed. “And Coach K does as well. Starting a new year fresh with a new group of guys, we know everything we are doing now is leading up to a long journey.”