With a few minutes left in Duke’s practice Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski walked over to the stands and started signing autographs. He posed for pictures and exchanged fist bumps, too. Several players did the same on their way off the court, too.
It was a fitting end to the day for the loose Blue Devils as they seemed to be in a good state heading into their NCAA tournament opener against UNC Wilmington at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.
It was a day that began with a 9 a.m. wake-up call after a solid night’s sleep.
“Marshall (Plumlee) gets the most. He’s always the first to bed,” sophomore guard Grayson Allen said.
“Old man,” junior guard Matt Jones chimed in next to him at the podium.
Plumlee did get to defend himself.
“Like they say, I’m a growing boy, so I would say at least eight (hours), pushing for nine,” he said.
All jokes aside, the No. 4 seed Blue Devils (23-10) are well rested and refreshed heading into this season’s NCAA tournament.
This is the first and last tournament for freshman Brandon Ingram, who, according to Krzyzewski, will be the latest one-and-done player at Duke. A reporter suggested Ingram might be a one-and-done player, and Krzyzewski responded, “Yeah, he will.”
“He will be affected by the memory of what he does in the tournament,” Krzyzewski said of his message to Ingram. “This is the one time you will be in the NCAA tournament, and to make the most of that opportunity.”
For Duke’s overall program and during the tournament, sleep plays an important role, something that’s of utmost importance given the team’s short rotation.
“We make sure that any of the extra time that we get outside of school and the practice time, we’re in the training room getting extra treatment, whether that’s the cold tub, extra stretching, or any kind of extra body or muscle work with our trainers Nick (Potter) and José (Fonseca),” Allen said. “And just making sure we’re taking care of our body, hydrating outside of practice and making sure we eat enough, and sleep has been really big, as well.”
Plumlee, who has the least amount of depth behind him at his position, has his nightly routine down pat. He’ll use a foam roll or stretch out on his back with his legs up against the wall to stimulate blood flow. Then he’ll sit in bed with his NormaTec boots, which also stimulate blood flow, while watching Netflix. Right now, his series of choice is “House of Cards.”
“Being in D.C. really put me in the mood for that,” he added.
Plumlee and his road roommate, freshman Chase Jeter, do a good job of policing each other on getting to bed at a reasonable time. Down the hall, guards Matt Jones, a junior, and Derryck Thornton, a freshman, opt for ESPN before bed.
“We usually have meetings at night, so probably around 10:30, 11 we tend to shut it down,” Jones said. “Or at least try to. Sometimes adrenaline rushes, it just depends on what you’re going through at the time.”
Team managers help with wake-up calls and actual room visits to make sure the Blue Devils are out of bed on time. Then the day begins.
And while Duke was loose and relaxed Wednesday, the Blue Devils are aware of the challenge the Seahawks will present.
“Can they beat us? They can definitely beat us,” Krzyzewski said.
And Krzyzewski doesn’t have to stress that point to his locker room. His team captains can do that.
“I just basically told them that it could happen,” Jones said. “My freshman year, it happened. We looked ahead as a team, and we didn’t think that it would happen, and it did. And for this team, we’re a young team. So we have to make sure that human nature doesn’t creep in and we look ahead to the next matchup.”
Of course, Jones is talking about Duke’s 2014 first-round loss to Mercer in Raleigh. He said he has vivid of memories from the game that ended that season as he does from the game that ended last season, the win against Wisconsin for the national championship. He remembers the Bears dancing and doing the Nae Nae, which became one of the most popular video clips from the tournament.
“The feeling to go with the atmosphere, being at PNC Arena and kind of just sitting there as a freshman and thinking, man, it’s over with,” Jones said. “Seeing them and their camaraderie, everyone jumping on their bench. It was just a terrible feeling.”
Jones and Plumlee are the only scholarship players available that have lost a game in the NCAA tournament. And for Plumlee, the senior, this is it.
As an avid ESPN watcher, Jones is aware of the fact that UNCW is a trendy upset pick. But he – and the rest of the Blue Devils – aren’t concerned.
“We’ve been here before,” Jones said. “I’ve been here before. We’ve got guys that have been here before, championship-level guys. We’re confident in the team we have this year. Obviously the year has had it’s fair share of up and downs, but at the same time, he have good, young talent, and we have very good upperclassmen leadership. That, together, makes for a very good team.”