Quinn Cook turned his attention to the 2014-15 season on March 21, 2014.
That was the day his junior season ended, with Duke’s loss to Mercer in the NCAA tournament round of 64. First, he sent a text message.
“After they lost to Mercer, he texted me right after that game, letting me know he was ready for something special,” Jahlil Okafor said. “That let me know that he was serious. And that’s why I was coming here.”
The next day, Cook took action.
“We lost on Friday,” Cook said. “Me and Rodney (Hood) were in the gym Saturday. We didn’t make any excuses, like, ‘We need a week off, it’s been a long season.’ I can remember that me and Rodney Hood were in the gym the next day.”
Cook worked diligently in Durham all summer, and the freshmen arrived at the beginning of July. Instantly, Cook could tell this group was different. The group jelled quicker and better than the other freshmen-dominated teams Cook had been on, with Austin Rivers in 2012 and Jabari Parker last season. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was gone most of the summer with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup; Cook and the rest of the team aimed to impress him with how much they had progressed by the time he came back.
And once Krzyzewski returned, there was no mention of Mercer, ever, to his team this season. He did mention it to reporters during his pre-NCAA tournament news conference, telling a story of a letter he received from a Duke alum. The letter suggested he tell his team three words: “Belmont, Lehigh and Mercer.” Krzyzewski said he could have suggested the words “Kansas, Michigan, Arizona and Butler,” but he wasn’t interested in reminding this team of past failures or successes.
After all, this is this Duke team’s first (and only) time together in the NCAA tournament.
“These kids do not live in the past, especially a past that’s not theirs,” Krzyzewski said before the round of 64 game against Robert Morris. “Half our team doesn’t have a past in the NCAA tournament. So it’s really important to be in the moment that your team is, and our guys are excited to play and we’re ready to go.”