Coach K on Tre Jones return, new freshmen
Tre Jones opted not to waste anyone’s time, especially his.
With accomplishments yet to be experienced as a college basketball player, Jones set aside any NBA draft prep in early April to set about preparing for his sophomore season at Duke.
“I definitely could have tested the waters,” Duke’s sophomore point guard said. “But I had no intentions of leaving. I just felt like I had a lot more to accomplish here. I wasn’t ready to leave after this year.”
Jones’ freshman season ended a win short of the team’s goal of making the Final Four. Michigan State ousted the Blue Devils 68-67 in the NCAA tournament’s East Region final at Washington, D.C.
Though it ended a sterling 32-6 season that included an ACC championship, it left Jones distraught and in tears. He knew he wanted more.
“Definitely an impact,” Jones said. “Our main goal coming in here was to win the national championship. So not winning that had an impact on me.”
A week later, while the Final Four was being played near his hometown in Minneapolis, Jones announced he would play for the Blue Devils next season.
On Wednesday, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called the decision “huge” for his program.
Jones was one of the nation’s top on-ball defenders last season, averaging 1.9 steals per game as he set the tone for Duke’s overall defense.
He also averaged an impressive 5.3 assists per game, getting the ball to classmates Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. They combined to average 57 points per game and all three have left for the NBA, where they are expected to be top 10 picks.
Jones, though, didn’t think his game was ready to join them.
“A year ago when I was coming into college,” Jones said, “I wanted to improve on everything throughout my game and I feel like there are still a lot of steps I can make here at the college level.”
Krzyzewski wants Jones to look for his own shot more this season. Jones averaged 9.4 points while making 41.4 percent of his shots, including just 26.2 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“He’s got to be a guy who looks for his shot,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously we had a sensational group last year. You want to find those guys all the time. But Tre needs to be that consistent scorer.”
That means pushing his scoring average over 10 points. Krzyzewski believes Jones is capable of averaging double figures in points and assists this season.
“That will be difficult in assists but it’s possible,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m expecting a lot. But it’s a goal, not a dream. He’s capable of doing it.”
Jones is getting his body ready for the challenge. Since the season ended he’s had corrective hip surgery on his right hip as well as a surgery last Friday to correct a hernia.
Jones had the same corrective surgery on his left hip a year ago prior to his freshman season.
With the K Academy fantasy basketball camp having brought former and current Duke players and coaches back to campus for the week, Jones is in town working through his rehabilitation from the surgery.
He’ll stay in Durham all summer and everything points toward a full recovery, he and Krzyzewski said.
“I’m feeling well and I’m back working out,” Jones said. “I’m getting going now.”
So he’s getting healthy and expected to look for his shot more. But that’s not all for Jones. Krzyzewski also expects his leadership role to expand.
“The main thing for me is for him to be a more vocal leader,” Krzyzewski said. “I think as a freshman that’s hard and he was good. He understood what was out there and obviously had a heck of a year. I need him to be more verbal and more vocal in running group and also demanding in how certain things are run.”
Duke returns seniors Jack White and Javin DeLaurier, its two captains from last season. The 6-10 DeLaurier put his name in the NBA Draft, went through workouts and attended the G League Camp.
But he removed his name this week before Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline to retain his college eligibility.
So with Jones, White and DeLaurier, Duke is set up to have strong internal leadership.
As is always the case, the Blue Devils’ freshmen will have large roles. The group is led by 6-10 center Vernon Carey, 6-9 forward Matthew Hurt and 6-5 wings Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley.
“Hopefully they interact with the upper classmen,” Krzyzewski said. “A lot will be expected of them, especially the two big guys because we do not have a lot of depth at big. Again, we will play a style that will be suited to what we have. We are really excited about Wendell. He’s a winner and plays everywhere on the court and (adding) Cassius late, athletically and basketball-wise he can contribute. I think a lot more balance and hopefully be a deep team and a healthy team.”
Jones’ return figures to be the key to it all.