Hope springs eternal at the beginning of every basketball season.
And the feeling in Cameron Indoor Stadium on the first official day of practice was no exception.
“I think you’re going to love our team this year,” Mike Krzyzewski told the assembled crowd at the open practice. “Hopefully we’re going to stay healthy and win a lot.”
It would be foolish to read too much into one two-hour practice window, especially one 42 days away from the season-opening game on Nov. 13. But there is one thing abundantly clear: There will be no carryovers from last year to this year.
“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.
“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
The starting five and rotation will sort themselves out in the coming weeks. On Friday, there were constant mix-and-match teams, players flipping from white jerseys to blue jerseys and back again. Like some Duke teams of the recent past, there appears to be a deeper rotation of perimeter players than frontcourt players. Unless the Blue Devils are going to go quite small at the power forward position, those two spots will be manned primarily by Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and freshman Chase Jeter.
Plumlee and Jefferson have the benefit of experience, in terms of both basketball IQ and physical strength, over the lean 6-foot-10 Jeter, who is listed at a surprising 240 pounds. At one point, all three went up for a rebound. By the time their feet reached the floor, Jefferson and Plumlee were the ones trying to corral it.
Krzyzewski took the opportunity for a few teachable moments with Jeter, as well as with the team as a whole. Typically, the longtime coach is more of an observer, letting his assistants handle the more hands-on instruction, but Friday was an exception. And Krzyzewski took a few opportunities to stress one of his favorite points to the Blue Devils: the importance of talking on the court.
“We can’t have a team of not-talkers,” he told them toward the end of practice, encouraging them to push through tired and maintain a high level of voice and play, especially on defense.
And speaking of defense, there were plenty of periods that included a full-court press. Point guard Derryck Thornton showed off his slick handle throughout the practice (and his ability to finish with a slam), and oftentimes Grayson Allen was the one defending him. That would be a different role for Allen, who played off the ball offensively and defensively last year.
Thornton and Allen make up part of a crowded perimeter – Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Brandon Ingram are all capable players. Ingram, at 6-9, appears to be this year’s versatile wing player, much more in the mold of Rodney Hood than Justise Winslow (who found a nice home at the 4 for Duke’s championship run). It’s doubtful Ingram will see any time at the 4, but he will present matchup issues for opponents on the perimeter. Ingram can shoot it from deep and finish at the rim. And all five can handle the ball.
As practice wound down, Krzyzewski was pleased with his team’s effort. The mistakes, like leaving a trapped player out to dry along the baseline, are correctable. The potential of guys like Thornton and Ingram, at both ends of the floor, is tantalizing. And the dreams of playing well into March are just beginning.