Marshall Plumlee was still dripping sweat when he came to meet the media Monday, fresh from Duke’s first practice of the week. Judging by the look of him, there was no shortage of effort expounded.
And that’s been true of the whole team, too.
“They all do a good job bringing a lot of energy and effort,” Plumlee said of his teammates. “Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is going to work with us on being a little more efficient, a little smarter with some of the energy and effort. We can get a little sharper.”
So that’s the goal for the young Duke team as the season opens Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Siena: work smarter, not necessarily harder.
“Sometimes you’re trying to run through the wall, and you should just take the door, as Coach says,” Plumlee said.
Having the necessary energy and effort is step one on the ladder to success, no doubt, so that’s a plus that the Blue Devils’ coaches don’t have to worry about that. But as Plumlee knows all too well, just working hard doesn’t guarantee the desired results. When he was younger, coaches openly talked about needing the big man to slow down so he could be more effective.
“I can relate more than anyone in terms of what the freshman are going through figuring out how to slow down and how to think through things,” he said with a laugh. “It can be a frustrating way to play when you’re going too fast and you’re not producing anything for the energy and effort you’re going through.”
At this level, you have to stop and think sometimes.
Duke sophomore Grayson Allen
Grayson Allen, a sophomore who qualifies as a veteran on this team with just four returning players, also learned the hard way about needing to slow down. It took Allen until the last home game of the season, against Wake Forest, to have his breakthrough moment on the floor, scoring a career-high 27 points. He used that as a springboard for a successful NCAA tournament, including eight straight points when Duke was down nine in the second half of the NCAA championship game.
The keys for him in cutting down the learning curve were gaining more experience and talking more on the floor.
“At this level, you have to stop and think sometimes,” Allen said.
Krzyzewski said at ACC media day that Duke’s upperclassmen – Plumlee, Allen, senior Amile Jefferson and junior Matt Jones – are Duke’s best players.
“That doesn’t mean they’re our only good players, but they’re the ones ready,” he said.
For the Blue Devils to be successful this year, they will surely need major contributions from at least some of the heralded freshmen. Brandon Ingram will start and be expected to play a large role from Day 1. Derryck Thornton is the only true point guard and has a high ceiling on both ends of the floor. Luke Kennard has the capability to be one of the team’s best shooters. And Chase Jeter is going to have to provide quality minutes when Jefferson and Plumlee need a break.
Allen said on Monday he thought that day’s work was the best yet for the freshmen as a collective group, as they came closer to striking the proper balance between playing hard and playing smart. It will undoubtedly be a work in progress as the year progresses. But having the effort and energy is a good place to start.