Duke has been here before. A year ago, the Blue Devils opened the season with a complete and utter dismantling of Davidson, with Jabari Parker living up to all of the hype in his Duke debut.
Friday followed the same script, a thorough 113-44 destruction of Presbyterian, with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow living up to all of the hype in their Duke debuts.
“Last year, our first game against Davidson, it was the exact same way,” Duke guard Quinn Cook acknowledged.
So it’s worth taking a second to remember just how good Parker and Duke looked to open the season, and just how badly it would end.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But only for a second.
Because this is clearly a different Duke team, deeper to be sure, and built on a sounder foundation with Okafor anchoring the middle of the court. The Blue Devils have athletes and they have depth and they weren’t afraid to use all of it against Presbyterian.
“We haven’t been able to play defense the way I would like for a while,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We were not a very good defensive team last year. The year before we were very good but in a different way. The year before that we were not a very good defensive team. We’ve made a real commitment to getting back to our roots. That’s the vision I have for this team.”
Okafor’s debut was as keenly anticipated as Parker’s and it was nearly as productive, although nowhere close as mind-blowing. Parker scored 22 points in 23 minutes, making all three of his 3-point attempts and looking utterly unstoppable. “First game in college, are you kidding me?” Krzyzewski asked after that one.
Instead of Parker’s array of stepback jumpers and show-stopping dunks, Okafor’s dunks were pure power and his post moves as simple as they were devastatingly effective. At one point Okafor held the ball, in one hand, high above his head, his outmatched opponents orbiting around him.
Okafor scored on dunks in transition and with various moves from the right block, to his right and to his left. He finished with a team-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and four assists, and if any of the ACC’s defensive big men were watching, they surely had a gnawing sense of trepidation.
If Okafor’s debut wasn’t as jaw-dropping as Parker’s, some of that has to do with how explosive Parker was and some of that has to do with how many of Okafor’s teammates demonstrated Friday they have something to contribute. Okafor was one of six Duke players in double figures.
“The only thing I know that’s going to happen is, at times, we’re not going to make shots,” Duke forward Amile Jefferson said. “That wasn’t even what was making us so good. It was our defense. That’s something we can do night in, night out. Our guys came out with a lot of energy, and if we can do that I think we’ll be fine if our shots are going in or they’re not. We have a lot of depth, a lot of talent. It’s a different style of basketball.”
Duke hadn’t started three freshmen on opening night since 1983, more than three decades and four national titles ago. All three finished in double figures. So did a fourth, Grayson Allen off the bench. Along with the six returning players, it’s as deep a talent pool, at both ends of the court, as Duke has had for a long time.