There is a precedent at Duke for the extreme level of athleticism on the roster this season, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
There is no precedent for the style the Blue Devils will play this season, because of all the teams Mike Krzyzewski has coached at Duke since taking over Team USA in 2005, this one will be informed the most by his “other” job.
He has integrated aspects of his international experience with NBA players and coaches at Duke over the years, but for the first time he has the kind of players who can really make the whole package work.
Duke will play like an NBA team this season, in part because Duke has a roster that resembles an NBA roster more than a college roster, let alone a typical Duke roster. Not in terms of talent, necessarily, but in the versatility of big, skilled wings like Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood and in the depth that will surround them.
With this collection of players, this year’s Duke will play more like last year’s Miami Heat than last year’s Blue Devils. And if figuring out how to win without a real back-to-the-basket post presence – Amile Jefferson, at 6-foot-9, comes closest – sounds like a challenge, it’s also the same one Krzyzewski faced in London.
That experience comes home now, too. It’s uncharted territory for everyone. Krzyzewski has had teams like this at Duke and he’s coached this style with NBA players, but now he’s combining the two in earnest.
“I’m anxious to see what the heck we’re going to do,” Krzyzewski said.
The comparisons to his gold-medal pals were unavoidable in his season-opening press conference Friday, one after another.
Quinn Cook, for example, is going to have to change his role from a traditional point guard to being more of a defensive stopper, pressuring the ball. Which it just so happens is exactly what Krzyzewski asks of Chris Paul in the red, white and blue.
“Chris Paul can’t play point guard like he does with the Clippers, where he dominates the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s as good as anybody doing that. When he’s with the Olympic team, he’s got to get LeBron and Kobe and Durant and Carmelo. They don’t want to watch him dribble the ball. They want to have the ball. Quinn Cook’s role on this team changes. He’s not going to be your conventional point guard who’s coming down and running an offense.”
When Krzyzewski talks about Parker, the 6-foot-8 freshman who is built like a forward and plays like a guard, he describes his freedom on the court in eerily similar terms to the way he talks about LeBron James’ orchestrating role on the Olympic team.
“He has this freedom of movement, where he’s not positioned,” Krzyzewski said of Parker. “He can play all over the court. He can bring the ball up. He can make plays.”
And instead of a typical Duke rotation of seven or eight players, this team could go nine, 10, even 11 deep, like an Olympic roster where everyone plays. Parker and Hood will be in the James/Kobe Bryant/Kevin Durant/Carmelo Anthony roles and everyone else will fill in around them, doing specific jobs at specific times against specific teams.
“It’s not just going to be a walk up and we’re going to try to run an offense,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s going to be a lot of transition stuff with our team.”
They’ll press, they’ll run, they’ll do all the things NBA teams do. They’ll do all the things Krzyzewski learned from the Olympians at the same time they were learning from him. For the first time, he’ll really have to tools to put all of it into action.