CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Mike Krzyzewski: The Leader of Leaders

Today’s Profile by Bermuda Bob

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Coach K Profile Collage

I have long been unpopular with fans outside of Duke for taking the stance that Coach Michael William “Mike” Krzyzewski is the best College Basketball Coach of all time. I say that to the exclusion of each and every one of the acknowledged greats.

The problem I usually have is that this is where people want to bare their fists and debate vociferously … and they stop listening. My purpose here is to try and finally be heard on why I make such a seemingly outlandish claim.

My logic says that each of the previous greats were only great in their day and age, which is plenty to accomplish. Let’s just think of:

Phog Allen beginning in the early 1900’s … to Adolph Rupp beginning in the 1930’s … to John Wooden beginning in the late 1940’s … to Jim Phelan beginning in the 1950’s … to Dean Smith and Bobby Knight beginning in the 1960’s, right down to Coach K and Jim Boeheim beginning in the 1970’s.

Each coach has had to win within the confines of what the game was during their tenures. They also had to deal with how college basketball evolved.

Unfortunate as it might seem to comprehend, there were programmes led by renowned racist coaches who not only refused to recruit black players, but also refused to play against schools that did.

Going back to my earliest personal recollections, there was Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes. Both would have been so heavily recruited today that it might cause the NCAA’s Oversight Committee to have a nervous breakdown. They were not though.  It was because there were only a handful of “major” programmes then.

Those days saw no Three Point Shot, and there were coaches still active today that opposed the “trifecta.”

Unbelievably, there were coaches who had players who could dominate via dunk, but voted to rule it out. Thankfully, cooler heads eventually prevailed and reinstated what might very well be the most exciting, and surely a crowd favourite, score of all time. It can also be a momentum shifter !!!

Then there were coaches who so mastered control of the clock, with a mind numbing number of passes before shooting, that the Shot Clock was introduced.

There was a time when Referees called infractions such as “Palming,” “Back Court,” a “Moving Pick,” or even “Walking.” When two (2) players held the ball at the same time, they were whistled and a “Jump Ball” was executed on the closest Foul Line. There was no “Possession Arrow.”

These great coaches of over 100 years, and all those others I didn’t mention because of space restrictions, had to deal with seemingly Neanderthal players, uncomfortable venues, and little or no physical training. They went from games on radio, to black and white television, to taped games broadcast on the weekends, to colour television, to internet streaming.   They usually travelled everywhere on a bus.

Their situations were as different as the style of uniforms from then to now. There was no Spandex, no moisture-wicking undergarments, or the extra padding of today. Back then, there were knee-pads, which also were used on elbows. Mouth guards were for football players.   “Sneakers” were called “Cons” and came in only two (2) styles and colours.

So, here’s my claim. None of the teams or these coaches of yesteryear could hold a candle to today’s college basketball. It is an existential impossibility for each era.

Players of yesteryear were not in the type of shape today’s player is. Yesterday’s player would not have been exposed to the level of play today’s players have been by the time they get to college. Freshmen, or “Frosh” were not allowed to play on the “Varsity.” Players would not be as game savvy as today’s players either.

Yes, John Wooden won an incredible number of games (80%) and is loved for his wit and wisdom, and his refusal to allow his players to curse. Today’s acceptable “trash talking” by both players and coaches would have made him blush. That’s why some say he was too much of a “Goodie Two Shoes.” For my money, he ought to be in a category of his own. It was his stewardship of the college game that got us to today’s game.

My problem is that comparing yesterday’s programmes to those of today is simply not accurate nor faire. So let’s quit comparing statistics because numbers only tell a modicum of the story, and since each is unique unto itself, any comparison is mere uninformed conjecture.

I’ve been known to say that not even an All-Star UCLA team could hold a candle to the same bunch of players in each of the last 30 years. I know, I know … that’s considered some type of sacrilege, but it’s the truth.

Today’s players are as different as the uniforms of yesteryear. They are in better shape because of better conditioning, coaching, and facilities. They are sharper shooters. They are also tougher, more motivated, and even bigger.

Then there’s Coach K …  A guy who has led four (4) teams to National Championships. He did so with players who were not always the highest ranked. What set them apart was that each and every member of those teams had accepted his vision for them.   A vision of how to win and being everything you can be.

Then there’s Coach K …  A guy who places a premium on matriculation and expanding one’s horizons by giving back to society, and he leads by example.

Then there’s Coach K …  A guy who has seen so many of his former players go on to coach that the list seems endless, because it keeps expanding every year.

Then there’s Coach K …  A guy who has brought back the dignity of Team USA back to where it belongs.

Then there’s Coach K …  A guy who is proud of his West Point background and the discipline it instilled in him. I consider him a Patriot, and so does the Association of the US Army. They just bestowed their highest award, the 2014 George Catlett Marshall Medal upon him.  That’s General George Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense of World War II and afterward.

Then there’s Coach K …  A husband, father, grandfather, and patron of children’s charitable efforts right down to the (Jimmy) V Foundation.

I doubt that there has ever been a better standard-bearer and “Godfather” of College Basketball” than Coach K.

So, instead of making empty and unfaire comparisons to predecessors, why not let’s just recognize those former greats. Acknowledge them with high kudos for who and what they were when active, and by era.

That then allows me to say that Coach Michael William “Mike” Krzyzewski, AKA “Coach K” is the greatest active college basketball coach.

It is not because he has a plethora of wins and needs only 17 victories to reach 1000 wins. It is because he has learned from the greats, and shepherded the evolution of the college game. He has risen above some of the regrettable trends the college game has seen, and been vocal about the need for change.

The past few seasons have not been as illustrious as some of the preceding ones. Some have wondered if it is for a plethora of reasons, some with credence and others just circumstantial. I agree that I’ve scratched my head on more than one occasion.

Some have postulated about the number of years he will remain at Duke, if he has changed his approach to the game, and who might be his successor. They are all great topics for debate, and I have weighed in on many occasions, enjoying the hypotheses of others.

The more important thing for Duke fans is that for now and the foreseeable future, he calls Duke his home and where his heart is.

That’s good enough for me !!!

Rock On, Coach !!!

 

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CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Quinn Cook

Today’s Profile is by Rowan Shiell

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Quinn Cook Collage

Quinn Cook is Duke’s lone Senior, one of two players remaining from the #2 ranked recruiting class of 2011. There were five recruits in that class: Austin Rivers, Marshall Plumlee, Michael Gibinije, Alex Murphy and Cook.

During their time at Duke, the Blue Devils had two first round exits, once in their Freshman season when they lost to Lehigh, and another loss to Mercer in what would have been their Junior year.  The furthest they have been in the NCAA tournament is the Elite Eight.  Prior to their arrival, Duke won three straight ACC championship titles.

Now Alex Murphy and Gibinije have transferred. Austin Rivers played a season before leaving for the NBA. Marshall Plumlee is still around but the jury is still out on him.  He initially Red Shirted and has not played much to date, so no one has a clear idea of what he is capable of on the court.

However, with Cook, no one is prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he had decided to transfer for his Senior season, he would probably have left to a collective sigh of relief.

Last season was meant to be Cook’s coming out party.  He had previously played in the shadows of Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.  He even made a heartfelt video about wanting to be a leader after having spent the summer in Durham with his teammates.

Then the season started, and Coach Krzyzewski didn’t immediately anoint Cook his undisputed leader. In fact, he had based his team around top ranked freshman, Jabari Parker and Red Shirt Sophomore, Rodney Hood, who was surprisingly named as a Captain, over Cook.

There were rumours the previous season about Hood being the best player in practice, and Jabari Parker, who was basically on a season’s lease, was a projected NBA draft pick.

These two were exceptional players, however, knowing that the Point Guard is the most important position in college basketball, you would have thought that Cook, who was also the top returning scorer, would have been given some elevation rather than just being seen as an afterthought at the season opening press conference.

“It’s not like one guy is trying to beat out one guy — basically, you’re trying to blend,” Krzyzewski said. “The two guys you initially want to blend with are Rodney and Jabari because they’re two very talented and versatile players.  So that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

The plan to blend with these two exceptional players looked promising in the first game of the season as Duke had four 20-point scorers in a game, for the first time in school history, as they took Davidson down, 117-77.  Sophomore, Rasheed Sulaimon, who started as a Freshman but was now coming off the bench, had 20.  Parker and Hood both scored 22. Cook looked as if he had taken that extra step to elite level with 20 points and eight assists.

However, the next game gave a clearer picture of the season to come.  Duke ranked #4 in the preseason played #5 ranked Kansas and their elite recruits of Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins.  Parker was exceptional again, on one side of the court, where he scored 27 points but defensively he was a sieve. His assignments Perry Ellis, scored 24 points and Wiggins scored 22 points to pace Kansas, as they ran away with the victory in the second half, 94-83. Hood had 11 points.

Cook scored 10 points and dished out 4 assists in 36 minutes. Even though Coach K hadn’t anointed Cook a leader, clearly he was prepared to play him big minutes. Cook’s scoring slump wasn’t the cause of the loss, the Jayhawks had outrebounded the Blue Devils 39-24.

Duke had set out to reprise USA Basketball’s model of playing their best five players, but that does not work in college basketball, especially if the designated “Bigs” can’t defend the opposing Frontcourt. A similar thing happened in loses to Arizona, Clemson, and at Syracuse (the return game at Cameron was a gift from first year ACC coach, Jim Boeheim).

Every player had some fault or the other, but their positives may have overshadowed their shortcomings, except for Cook. He may not have been named a Captain, but he was held accountable for the shortcomings of the team. He wasn’t a scapegoat.

Kenny Smith recently said “The success of a Point Guard will come from the fact that he understands how to play with people and still be an individual.” Cook struggled with this balance immensely.

Smith also said that controlling the tempo of the game was just as important as rebounding, defending, assisting and scoring, for a point guard. When the game got tough, Cook would try to shoot his way out instead of trying to get players like sharp shooter, Andre Dawkins, involved, or finding the “hot hand.”

The Clemson game in January was a prime example. They out rebounded Duke 48-30.   The three frontcourt players for Clemson, finished with “double-doubles” (scoring and rebounding). Hood had 20 points but barely registered any other statistic in 30 minutes of play. Parker had 15 and seven rebounds.

Cook played 40 minutes and finished with seven points and eight assists. He was 3-of-14 from the field, as Duke lost by 13. The game got away in the second half, once again.

That started a downward spiral for Cook who always seems to slump in January. That shooting slump eventually got him consigned to the Bench. However, the 6’2” guard responded positively, in the first game from the Bench, scoring 21 points in a victory over Boston College.

Duke would go on to win seven of their next eleven games but it wouldn’t get any better for Cook, until he scored 23 against Mercer, in a valiant losing effort, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

By that time there were rumblings of better days to come because there was a package deal that would address all of Duke’s problems. Rebounding and game control goes with perimeter defense, in one swoop. This package deal signalled Cook was once again the outsider, only he is now a Senior.

Back in November, Jahil Okafor, the top recruit in the class of 2014, committed to Duke with his good friend Tyus Jones, a Point Guard who many see as the saviour to Duke’s Backcourt issues. Justice Winslow would eventually commit and Grayson Allen, who had already committed months before, made this recruiting class one of the best of the 2014.

Before the “one-and-done” rule, most Top 10 ranked kids had a very good chance of making an NBA team, somewhere down the line. Now if they are Sophomores, it is considered that something went wrong. Hence, it would be to their advantage to choose a school where they can show case their talents, and not have to wait behind upperclassmen for their turn on the court. If Tyus Jones, arguably the top Point Guard in his class, chose Duke, it is beyond imagination that he was going to fight for playing time.

Then there is the other aspect to this type of the deal. The school that a player picks will have do everything it possible, to make sure that the said player meets or exceeds expectations. If players that are expected to spend a year in college are around for much longer, then it only hurts future recruiting as other schools may use this against them.

This could be the real reason that Jones recently went on record to say he does not see Cook as a rival. If certain promises were made to him before he committed, then he would more than likely see Cook as someone who can help him that than deter him.

“We’re both trying to play in the backcourt at the same time and with each other we feel … we both bring different dynamics to the table that can help our team be good,” Jones said, as reported by Yahoo. “We’re looking at it as a positive rather than a negative. It’s a positive to have two point guards on the floor, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Ryan Harrow had a tough time at Kentucky before he transferred to Georgia State, where he had his best season, scoring 17 points a game and dishing out 4.2 assists. Thus, helping Georgia State win the Sun Belt title. He also played with another capable Point Guard, Devonte White.

Quinn Cook could have taken a similar option, as Harrow, by transferring to another school with less pressure, but he chose to stay. That says that he wants to be at Duke, which makes them better. Cook has never really had any competition, the last two seasons. Tyler Thornton was more of a running mate than a rival. Maybe this is what Cook Needs to keep him sharp throughout the whole season.

“I never looked at it as competition,” Cook said. “I get it – I get the Tweets, the Instagram posts. ‘Jones coming next year’ ‘Cook to the bench.’ That obviously motivates me, but I don’t put that against Tyus. Tyus isn’t saying that.”

Playing two point guards at the same time isn’t a bad thing. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright just led UConn to a Championship. Coach Krzyzewski played Chris Duhon and Jason Williams together, during the 2001 Championship, and John Scheyer and Nolan Smith split the duties in the last Championship.

It is fascinating how much Quinn Cook’s time at Duke mirrors Smith’s. The exception is the latter is a Champion who made that extra step in his Junior season and will always be cherished by the fan base. Cook has yet to make that step but his time isn’t done yet. No one is more appreciative of an extra year than the Senior.

“I’m glad that college is four years,” He said. “I’ve got one more crack at it, and I want to make the best of it. I’ve just had this fuel in my mind and in my body all summer to leave as a winner.”

The greatest sports heroes aren’t those that had immediate success, but the ones that eventually overcame their inner demons to succeed.

 

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Rasheed Sulaimon

 This Article by Bermuda Bob

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Rasheed Sulaimon Collage

Rasheed Sulaimon was heavily recruited out of High School and came to Duke, playing every game as a Frosh.  That was the year Duke reached the Elite 8.  His future looked bright as the odds-on favourite to pair with Quinn Cook in the BackCourt, but something happened along the way.  He apparently fell out of the favour of Coach K. The reason was the fodder of great speculation.

The truth of the matter was that he was subverted by Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood being cemented into starting roles.  He fell into a quandary as to what his role was expected to be.

Who will forget the game when he sat for the whole game, compared to his role in keeping Duke in their first conference game at Syracuse.  It seemed the tale of two players in one mind and body.

I have not been shy about my worry about the psyche of a player, recruited heavily by Duke, only to find themselves see a player recruited behind them to a starting position.  I’m not criticizing the kids who are recruited such as Jabari Parker, but ask you simply to put yourself in the kids’s shoes.  In the Sports Illustrated article about Jabari last season, there was a reference to Jabari’s mother being able to insist on a meeting with Coach K.  It makes me wonder if each player’s parents can do the same.

So, after a stellar Freshman season, a query of a Sophmore season, Rasheed finds himself, once again, needing to accept a role having to prove himself behind a player recruited behind him.   Once again, I’m not down on that Frosh, I’m just wondering how much a kid like Rasheed is oblidged to be able to accept.

This is one of the unexpected and unreported downsides of the “one-and-done” debacle.  It is apparent that to get those great recruits each year, “representations” of some sort are made.  So, what must go thru a player’s mind, when year after year he is subverted to a player who comes to Duke, have no intention of matriculating ???  Now, put yourself in Rasheed’s shoes.  He did not come to Duke as a “one-and-done” recruit.  He had a wonderful Freshman season.  Then he discovers that regardless of how well he plays, the Starting role he expected is summarily handed off to an incoming kid, who has no intentions of staying at Duke any longer than he has to.  No wonder some speculated that he came back to school less than the Coaching Staff might have expected.

In recent comments by Coach K, we hear things like “I think Rasheed is in a real good place, I think at times you, as you are growing as a young player, you see yourself in only one role. You don’t see yourself in the most productive role. I think right now he sees himself in what would be his most productive role.”

I’m sorry folks, but that does not sound like a resounding endorsement, nor affirmation. I know it leaves me, and most likely Rasheed as well, echoing the words of GrandPa in the movie “MoonStruck who, when asked why he was crying proclaimed, “I’m confused.”

There are two basic tenants, that are well documented in Duke Basketball:

  1. The players must buy into Coach K’s vision for them.
  2. The players must prove themselves each week in Practice.

So, once again, let’s listen to what Coach K has recently said about Sulaimon: “I think Rasheed is in a real good place, I think at times you, as you are growing as a young player, you see yourself in only one role. You don’t see yourself in the most productive role. I think right now he sees himself in what would be his most productive role.”

As a long-time fan and observer, all I have to depend on right now is what is being released in carefully molded snippets. Assistant Coach Jon Scheyer recently noted that “Rasheed needs consistency.”  

Then again, Coach K adds: “He is our best on-ball defender.  At 6-4, he’s an outstanding athlete.  That’s what he does the best.  So concentrate on that, as your staple, your foundation. Then the other things will come.  And how does that fit in to the other things that we’re trying to do ???”

Gosh, I hope that’s something positive because right now, it appears that Rasheed is the proverbial “6th Man” who is expected to come in off the Bench and put fires out … I hope !!!  He is too good a player to be just giving the Starters a “blow.”

By now, you have a pretty good idea that I’ve long been a fan of Rasheed “Su-Su-Su-laimon” as I have been know to Tweet when referring to times when he excels.

I am known for noting that incoming players are nothing but a blank sheet of paper because they come to Duke and face some of the roughest competition in college basketball. We have no way of knowing if they will rise from being the center of attention in High School. If they do, then it’s going to be a fun year, if they don’t, then my prediction of the downside of the “one-and-done” recruit comes to pass.  One only needs to recall Lehigh and Mercer as proof of my contention.

The prevailing thought right now is that Rasheed will rise from ashes and emerge a stronger, more versatile, and smarter veteran player on a team that desperately needs the leadership I hope he will be allowed to bring.

Rock On, ‘Sheed, Rock On !!!

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Justise Winslow

Today’s Profile is by Rowan Shiell

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Justise Winslow Collage

With the graduation of Tyler Thornton, Duke is in search of a defender. All five players defend, but all the best teams have that guy who goes out every night with the intention of giving his defensive assignment a bad night.  Thornton was all heart but Justice Winslow has the desire and will to succeed as one of the best defenders in the ACC next season.  Here is the ESPN scouting report for the Freshman.

  • Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess.  His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend Point Guards through Power Forwards.  The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team’s best offensive threat.  What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.

The last sentence says it all.  Years gone by, Duke’s teams were able to get themselves back into games where they had an unfavourable start.  Not any more, the norm now is if they start the game badly it usually ends badly.  The reason being that they just did not have that defensive mindset to get back into games.  There isn’t that point in the game where you could almost guarantee Duke a token run anymore, you just hope for one as a fan.

It doesn’t help that the NCAA changed a few rules to encourage higher scoring, which took a lot away from the game defensively. No hand checking, or more precisely the defender cannot initiate any kind of contact with the offensive player without incurring a foul.  So, if a team doesn’t have a rim protector, or a player who takes pride in limiting his assignment, by moving his feet, it is game over (this could explain Mercer and Lehigh).

If they have that one guy who can effectively limit his mark then the knocked down effect would be a huge payoff.  If an opposing team can’t rely on their best player because he is having a bad night, due to said defender, it could throw them off.

As a Freshman, Rasheed Sulaimon was a superb defender but somehow regressed as a Sophomore.  If he can get back to that form and Justice Winslow meets or exceeds the hype, Duke would be in a good position, with two elite defenders, which will elevate their teammates’ defense.

The ACC is much stronger with the addition of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh last year, and Louisville this year.  These teams bring some outstanding guards and wing players not to mention their tradition of winning.

On top of that, the Blue Devils still have to deal with the usual conference suspects such as North Carolina, Virginia, and NC State. Teams such as Clemson and Virginia cannot be overlooked either, as their coaches have them on the rise.

Duke is going to need an elite defender to stop or impede the likes of Kaleb Joseph, Jerian Grant, Cat Barber, Justin Jackson, and Marcus Paige, just to name a few.

Think of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was a great defender for Kentucky in 2012, when they won the championship, or go back a little further to Luol Deng, who helped Duke to a Final Four in his lone season at Duke in 2004.

Deng was a shut down defender with a nice mid range jumper.  While Winslow’s shooting is seen as a work in progress, he is a strong dribble penetrator, however, if his defense lives up to the hype, anything he can add offensively would be like a full tank of gas in a 2014 Mustang.

“He is just competitive, says Tyus Jones.  “He is a lockdown defender. I think he is one of the best defenders on our team.”

Jones also says that he thinks that Winslow is a great rebounder, which is very valuable because one of Duke’s weaknesses is frontcourt depth.  Behind Jahil Okafor and Amile Jefferson is just Marshall Plumlee.  If any of those guys gets into foul trouble, the versatile Winslow maybe an obvious option considering scouts think he can defend power forwards as well.

One of the reasons that make Winslow such a talent is that he is a second-generation basketball player. Usually when we hear about Houston’s Phi Slama Jama, it’s mostly about Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler but a basketball team is more than two individuals.

Ricky Winslow, Justice’s father, played with those two Hall of Famers as a Freshman and would go on to score over 1500 points in his four years at Houston.  He was drafted 28th, Second Round at the time, by the Chicago Bulls in 1987.

Sadly he didn’t get to play with a young Michael Jordan, but did play briefly for the Milwaukee Bucks before carving out a respectable career overseas.  His daughter, Bianca, who is currently a junior at Houston, was born in Italy.  Thankfully, for Duke, Justice is blazing his own path.

You know I have always imagined playing at the collegiate level,” says Winslow.  “So when it happens it will be surreal, in a way, but hopefully I won’t be too nervous. I am excited to be playing in front of the Crazies and in the best arena in the country.”

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Amile Jefferson

Today’s Profile by Rowan Shiell

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Amile Jefferson Collage

Going into his Junior season, Amile Jefferson seems to have been overlooked. Sure he was a top recruit who committed late to Duke among a lot of fanfare, but to date he seems to have just blended in. First it was the Mason Plumlee show. Then last season it was all about Jabari Parker, and to a slightly lesser extent, Rodney Hood.

This season Jefferson can’t hide, not that he did previously but a major contribution is required from him if Duke wants to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Even though he was injured over the summer and was off the court, he stood out enough, while Coach Krzyzewski was on USA duty, to be made a Captain upon the return of Coach.

Expectations are high for Duke with the arrival of four heralded Freshmen, but they can’t succeed without their upperclassmen. They have zero experience playing college basketball. So they are going to need help transitioning to a more disciplined and structured type of basketball.

That’s where Jefferson comes in and from all reports, he seems to be on the right track. A hip injury kept him off the court but he is fine now, ready to lead a relatively new squad into action.

Tyus Jones is hyped as one of the best pure, passing Point Guards in his recruiting class, if not the best. If he measures up to an inkling of his hype, Jefferson, who is very good at picking off defenders and rolling to the hoop, will fit with him smoothly.

After playing with Mason Plumlee, as a Freshman, Jefferson should get along perfectly with Jahil Okafor, who is considered not only the best Center, but the top recruit by ESPN in the class of 2014.

Duke will have a traditional team. Unlike last year’s experiment with players in their correct positions, except maybe Quinn Cook. He traditionally plays “Lead Guard,” but may start at “Off Guard” but that’s a minor concern as Cook can play both positions.

The Blue Devils should tick the boxes, for three-point-shooting, post play and mid range shooting. Three requisites of a potential championship team, which makes them harder to stop.

If a team can only shoot Threes and you take that away, so what are you left with ?  Not much, but if they can score inside and hit the midrange shot, it makes that team harder to pin down. This is basketball at its simplest terms.

The mid range area is where Amile needs to exceed to help Duke. Okafor is considered an elite Post player, so Jefferson will have some freedom to either take that mid-range jumper or pump-fake his man for a drive to the hoop. He is very good at finishing around the hoop. If he can hit that jumper consistently, it will keep the Defense from double-teaming Okafor in the post, giving the freshman ample room to do his best damage.

On the defensive end is where an entirely different struggle awaits the 6’9” forward. With a 7-foot wingspan, he should make a great help-defender, but as a one-on-one post defender he struggled to hold his position at times, hence his propensity to Foul. This has been Jefferson’s Achilles Heel. Last season, he had the highest Field Goal Percentage, by far, among his teammates, and struggled to stay on the court due to early foul trouble.

One of his best games was at Syracuse, where Duke lost in Overtime, but by that time Jefferson was reduced to a glorified cheerleader. He scored 14 Points, grabbed 7 Rebounds and dished out 5 Assists, but was eventually disqualified after picking up 5 Fouls. Syracuse was then able to take advantage of mismatches inside to win the game.

If anyone is primed for a breakout season it is Jefferson. If he can stay on the court and get 10 shots per game the return would be enormous for Duke, seeing that he made 64% of his field goal attempts as a Sophomore. He does need to improve his Free Throw Shooting though, as he made 50% of his attempts, last season. The silver lining here is he only attempted 2 per game.

Despite the wide criticism of his slight build, Jefferson doesn’t need to add further weight as he has the same build as Lance Thomas, who did a great job for Duke at around 220 pounds. So you have to figure Jefferson is fine as he is. Anthony Davis played at a similar weight at Kentucky and was named Player of the Year.

At the moment Coach Krzyzewski is very high on the junior captain.

“I think Amile has a huge role on this team,” Krzyzewski told the Herald Sun. “He is our best on-court communicator.  He talks well.  It’s a huge plus.  I’m not saying he’s Battier but that’s what Shane did.  He communicated the game as it was going on. You don’t have to wait for a time out.”

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Matt Jones

This Article by Bermuda Bob

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Matt Jones Collage

Last year, Matt Jones came to Duke as the #22 ESPN Frosh, known for his catch-and-shoot abilities. He got to play in 32 games for just 235 minutes. Many believed he would be just another Duke shooter in the mold of so many greats that roll off fan tongues.  Then came the real world – the regular season.

In the conundrum that was the 2013-14 season, Matt was called on to play stalwart defense and occasionally shoot.  Many wondered if he was going to become one of those players who would be called on to fulfill Coach K’s very different vision for them.  When a player is open to accept that vision, they almost always become better than their wildest dreams.  Obviously, Coach K saw the defensive side of Matt that was just the opposite of his High School career.

There’s an interesting irony to this. You see, Matt’s older sister, Jordan, who plays for Texas A&M, has been the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the SEC All-Defensive Team in her Junior year.  She has set a single season record for Assists, and can boast a “Triple Double.”  Obviously, Coach K is hoping that the proverbial apple has not fallen far from the tree.

This Sophomore year will prove to be either a frustration or a fulfillment of Matt’s recruitment.  I say that because he is expected to play behind Senior Quinn Cook, Junior Rasheed Sulaimon, and Frosh Tyus Jones on the depth chart.  Yes, you see where I’m going, another upperclassmen almost automatically subverted to a guy recruited behind him in his position … well almost.  If Matt can continue on the path that Coach K set him on last season, he could be as valuable as defensive guards like Tyler Thornton, WoJo, and Nolan Smith !!!

So, does that diminish his profile ???  I guess I’d answer that with a question.  Did it diminish Lance Thomas while he participated in lifting the National Championship trophy in 2010 ???   Lance came to Duke as a prolific scorer at St. Benedict’s in Newark, NJ.  His transformation was lauded by all, except his High School Coach, who has the temerity to question Coach K’s intentions.  In Matt’s case there is nothing but support from his base, maybe even a bit of sibling competition with his sister.

Since this series of articles are written before the season starts, it is difficult to be absolutely sure what vision Coach K has for Matt amongst his compatriots.  One thing is certain, he brings a comfortable depth to the BackCourt that allows for a flexible rotation.  That flexibility comes from Matt’s original scoring abilities.  Those are like riding a bicycle, so an excellent defensive performance coupled with the ability to shoot always makes him dangerous to the opposition.

My proof is that Matt started four (4) times in ACC competition last season. We all know that Coach K puts a premium on who earns that right.

I am hoping for this to be a building year for Matt.  More game experience, more minutes, more production, and a cementing of his reputation at Duke for the next few years.

Rock On, Matt !!!

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Marshall Plumlee

This Article by Bermuda Bob

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - PlumTree #3 Collage

In 2011, Miles, Mason, and Marshall all donned Duke uniforms and it became the third time in college basketball history, and first time at Duke, that three (3) brothers were all playing for the same team. In recognition, I created the nick-name “PlumTree.”

So, Mason was “PlumTree” #1, Mason was “PlumTree” #2, and Marshall is #3.  It is in no way a slight or insult in any way, or to any of the guys.  I have the utmost respect for what they have achieved both on the Court and in the classroom.  They are a testament to their upbringing and family values instilled by Leslie, their Mom and Perky, their Dad.

Most folks do not know that there is a “PlumTree” #4, their baby sister, Madeline Lee Plumlee.  She is a 6’ standout VolleyBall star, who plays “Outside Hitter.” This fall, she enters Notre Dame.

Getting back to Marshall, his Freshman year, he was Red Shirted after playing in three (3) exhibition games in China, and CountDown to Craziness.  The idea was that  brothers #1 and #2 could handle the “bigs” assignment, so saving #3’s eligibility for down the road would benefit both Duke and #3.

When Marshall came back to his next year – academically a Sophomore – just before the teams’ first official practice, a Stress Fracture in his left foot was detected.   He was able to come back in December, but only saw limited action in 19 games for a total of 50 minutes.

#3’s performance last season – his Junior Academic year – got him into 30 games, logging 254 minutes. In those appearances, he demonstrated a new versatility.  He pulled down 65 Rebounds, 17 Blocks, and scoring 38 Points.  This was a very optimistic performance and a great surprise only dampened each and every time Coach K pulled him out, only to be marooned on the Bench.

Many times committed fans wondered out loud why #3 was not getting more floor time when each time he played, he excelled greatly.  I recall one game where he blocked a shot, controlled it, made a perfect outlet pass, and hustled the floor to be fed the ball for a thunderous dunk.  A “TV Time Out” ensued, and Marshall was rewarded with a seat back on the Bench … his former chair not yet having begun to cool.   Frustrated fans, like myself, yelled at their televisions in vain.  We lit up Twitter with the equivalent of raised arms, palms up asking the Nancy Kerrigan lament, “Why, Why, Why ???”

Then came, what traditionally minded fans like myself worry about, a Frosh being recruited BEHIND Marshall with the understanding that he – Jahil Okafor – has the presumptive edge as the Starting Center. It makes me wonder what #3 is thinking.

*  –  Was the handwriting on the wall already that Coach K did not have much faith  in his abilities ???

*  –  Would he EVER get the chance to prove why he was recruited ???

*  –  Should he consider transferring to another programme for more playing time as Mike “Silent G” Gbinije and Alex Murphy did when their hopes of significant playing time were dashed ???

One tradition that all the Plumlee gents brought to Duke was an emphasis on academics first and basketball second.  Each being afforded one of the finest educations in America.  So, to that end, it was clear that Marshall was staying for the long run.  I presume that since he has an extra left after this coming season – his academic Senior year – he will go to Graduate School at Duke as others before him have.

So, what reasonable expectations do we have for #3 this season ???

I honestly do not have a clue.  He gives Coach K an excellent option should Jahil Okafor find Foul trouble, or even be platooned with him in times of intense play.  Marshall, unlike his older brothers, is quite comfortable and effective in the traditional role of a back-to-the-basket post-up Center.

I still hold out hope that Marshall will get his time to shine and fulfill the reason for his recruitment. In the many videos and references I have seen of and about him, he seems like a great kid.  So, I’d love to seem him get that chance, and when it comes, I’ll be rooting loudly along with many other fans in great delight !!!

Rock On, Marshall !!!

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Jahil Okafor

Today’s Profile is by Rowan Shiell  

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Jahil Okafor Collage

One constant among teams that play in Final Fours is a “Big” that can take care of business on both ends of the court. Sure there are exceptions because quality big men are few and far between, but that’s what Brian Zoubek brought to Duke in 2010, Anthony Davis for Kentucky in 2012, Greg Oden for Ohio State in 2006, and Kevin Love in 2008.

Except for Zoubek, a late developer, all these guys were ranked at the top of their recruiting classes. As a matter of fact, ever since Dwight Howard went straight to the NBA in 2004, and thereafter the “one-and-done” rule was implemented, every big man that was ranked first in his class played in a Final Four except one – Nerlens Noel, who got injured, to be fair.

That’s why expectations are so high with Jahil Okafor’s enrollment at Duke for the coming season. He has all the accolades: Illinois “Mr. Basketball,” Parade National Player of the Year, McDonald’s All American, ESPN Top Recruit among others, and now CBS has named him their Preseason Player of the Year. It may be premature hyping a Freshman such as Okafor, but he is totally OK with it. He seems to embrace the pressure.

“When I step on the court, it really doesn’t matter if I’m a freshman or a senior,” Okafor told CBS. “It’s basketball, and I’ve been playing basketball my entire life. So, I feel extremely confident about going out there and playing against anybody and feeling unstoppable and being just as dominant as I have been in my previous years of playing basketball. So somebody saying I can’t [be National Player of the Year] because I’m a Freshman is kinda ludicrous to me.”

If this was any other player we would point out that “… playing basketball his entire life …” isn’t necessarily a requisite to succeed in college basketball, but when you add Okafor’s physical attributes and talent to the equation, then we can see why this freshman is so confident.

He is 6’10” with a great touch around the basket. Think of a bigger, stronger Jared Sullinger, who was dominant from Day One at Ohio State, except that Coach Krzyzewski doesn’t think there is any comparison to his prized freshman, at least not in the coming season.

“With Jah, you’ll see,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s good, and he’s been accepted pretty much right away [by his teammates] … because there’s nobody like him. There’s no comp.”

Zagsblog took exception to this, pointing out Kentucky’s Karl Anthony Towns, Cliff Alexander who is at Kansas and Myles Turner at Texas as being on the same level as Okafor. They also quoted an anonymous NBA Scout who thinks that Coach K wants to compete with John Calipari in recruiting, and because he can’t get as many recruits as Kentucky does, so he goes full throttle in promoting the ones that do attend Duke, however at the end of all that the Scout agreed that Okafor is indeed a unique talent among his peers.

This is college basketball and every team tries to get the best recruits, so this isn’t exactly a personal battle between Coach Krzyzewski and Coach Calipari.   More likely, Coach Krzyzewski is trying to motivate Okafor, after all, the better the Freshman does, the better it will be for Duke. As he pointed out earlier, no one has higher hopes for Okafor than Okafor. You can’t put any additional pressure, nor promote someone any further, if they are the #1 recruit !

With Duke’s propensity to shoot the Three Pointer, Okafor brings some much needed balance to the Blue Devils with his inside play. Duke has waited a long time for a player like Okafor’s calibre, so, if the team chemistry is right, the coming season will definitely be one to watch.

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Semi Ojeleye

This Article by Bermuda Bob

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Semi Ojeleye Collage

Sometime after last season, I recall explaining to someone that Semi’s last name was pronounced essentially the same way you say the name of the harvest wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, swapping the “B” for an “O.”

Then the person asked how to spell his name, and I could not do it any more than I could spell Krzyzewski without a cheat sheet.

For the record, “Semi Ojeleye” is his name, and while I nervously joked that I didn’t know the spelling of his name because he only played 80 minutes last year, the truth of the matter is that I expect him to be a major contributor this season.

Semi (correctly pronounced as “Schemmi”) was born Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye in Kansas.  His father came to the USA from Nigeria to pursue an Internship and Residency at Kansas University Medical Centre. His mother is a Registered Nurse.

He graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a 4.0 GPA, as his school’s Valedictorian, and National Honor Society member. He started all four (4) years in High School, averaging 38 PPG, and was lauded as the Parade Magazine Player of the Year, and Gatoraide’s Kansas Player of the Year.

Semi excels in every aspect of the game.  He is an elite defensive player with great rebounding prowess, playing well beyond his size.  He can score both inside and from outside the Three Point Arch. He is also known for his incredible leaping ability, fitness, and strength.

I have always joked that I want to live long enough for “inter-active” television where fellow viewers could hear each other’s rants during the game.  If you owned a television with this yet-unavailable ability, you would have heard me begging and pleading for Coach K to use Semi more last season.  To me, he was the perfect player to come off the bench and make a difference. Instead, Semi got to perfect his splinter extraction prowess.

As is our custom, we try to give readers a well-rounded history of each player we are profiling, thus our collages for each player. Try as I did, I had trouble finding a wide variety of action photos of Semi, and I believe that photographers had the same problem fans did.  By the time it was noted that Semi got on the floor, he was back to pulling splinters.

So, once again this year, I worry that the term “practice player” is already being used to describe Semi like a bad tattoo.   I know the profiles of teams have changed since I first became a college basketball fan decades ago, but I have a hard time with subverting an upperclassman. My compatriot of this site, Ro Shiell, constantly tells me things aren’t the same any more, and I agree with him.   I end up asking the rhetorical question back … “So, why recruit him if you’re not going to play him ???” Therein lies the rub.

Ever since I have been a Duke fan, I have heard the advisory that each recruit has to “buy-in-to” Coach K’s vision for him.  Coach has been known to ask players to become very different type of players than they were when they came to Duke.   Lance Thomas might be the best example. He was an offensive juggernaut in High School, but Coach K wanted him to become a defensive stalwart. He obliged and Duke won a National Championship.   Who could possibly question such results ???

None of us know what Coach K’s vision is for Semi, or if Semi accepts it. I could not understand it if he did not, so I presume he has.

I can tell you that it is very evident that it is on Semi’s mind.  My proof is that he has changed his uniform number from 20 to 30.  The reasoning ???  Well, just about every Duke player to don the #20 uniform, has had rough goings, erratic careers, or even injuries. On the other hand, Seth Curry and Jon Scheyer wore #30.  I rest my case, and obviously his as well !!!

As I did last year, I will take this opportunity to log-in my hope that Coach K will use Semi more this season because I maintain it is terrible to squander the contributions he can make in REAL competition.

I want everyone in the ACC and NCAA to understand that he is:

S-E-M-I     O-J-E-L-E-Y-E

Rock On, Semi !!!

 

CountDown to the “CountDown …” – Tyus Jones

Today’s Article is by Rowan Shiell

SDBB - 2014 Profiles - Tyus Jones Collage

In 2006, Mike Conley Junior and Greg Oden, the top ranked pure Point Guard and Center, respectively, chose to attend college together. They had played on the same high school team, winning three consecutive championships, so it was a slam-dunk to continue playing in college.

These are two players that do not directly compete with each other. One plays inside and the other played on the perimeter. The big man needed the Guard to feed him the ball and the Point Guard needed the Center to finish plays and protect the paint. A symbiotic relationship that saw Ohio State, their college choice, all the way to the NCAA championship game.

It took about seven years before a partnership like this was repeated when Tyus Jones and Jahil Okafor, committed to Duke. Unlike Oden and Conley, they didn’t play on the same high school team. They lived nearly eight hundred miles apart, but they got familiar with each other on the AAU circuit and later cemented their friendship playing for Team USA, according to Duke Report.

It is a wonder why players never make their recruiting a team affair. Kentucky does pull in the top recruits but that is a testament to the coaching staff. An ally on the court and a friend off, it will help make the transition to college go a little more smoothly.

“They’ve been around each other. They understand about playing for something bigger than yourself.” “Said Coach Nate James. “It’s an opportunity to play for something outside your AAU or high school program.  Sometimes guys just don’t get it. By those guys being on that stage and playing for something so much bigger, coming here, obviously, playing with Duke on your chest, that’s pretty big. Right away, they understand they have to work hard and give of themselves.  They have been a joy to be around.”

Ohio State did lose to the defending champions Florida; not saying that this will end the same for Duke, but it would be a significant improvement after the Mercer loss in the tournament.

Tyus Jones is widely considered the key to next season as Duke has many offensive weapons, but are still looking for that one player that could connect the pieces.

“I really just try to play with poise,” Jones told Duke Report. “Being the Point Guard, you really have to be under control, be able to lead your team, so you can’t really be frantic out there.  I feel you have to command the game. I’m really a pass-first Point Guard.

All this is evident in this thirty-seven minute clip.  You can see Jones in his element, warts and all, much unlike a highlight video that normally shows only the best plays.

In the video, he seems so cool he is almost freezing. The ball never stops with him as his eyes are always scanning the court and looking for the next play.  He doesn’t force passes, or over dribble – a crime Duke Fans are only too familiar with. He keeps the game fluid and balances his teammates’ touches.

It is not all great though as he seems to apply his ‘cool’ demeanour on defence, which probably won’t work in college, because a more intensive approach to that department is required. Occasionally, he shows the ball too much and gets stripped (OK, twice!).

However, he is still a work in progress and one can only hope that the kinks in his game can be ironed out by the time the season starts.

Jones models himself after Chris Paul, but he has a lot more in common with Conley than the way they attended college. They are both listed as 6’1” and dribble in the same upright position, head up, except Conley is a southpaw. Though this doesn’t hamper Jones, as he seems to be comfortable finishing or passing with either hand.

When Conley arrived at Ohio State, he had only one Guard to beat for a starting position, just like Jones, even if it was considered a foregone conclusion that he would start.

Jamal Butler was named Ohio’s Mr Basketball coming out of high school. His total Assist record for The Buckeyes was only recently eclipsed by Aaron Craft. As a Sophomore he had averaged ten points and almost five assists and was ready for that expectant leap between the Sophomore and Junior seasons when Conley showed up.

Needless to say, Conley became the Starter, but Butler averaged more than 30 minutes per game that season and was the team’s best free throw shooter.

Quinn Cook is arguably a better player than Jamal Butler, or at least he was projected to be. He hasn’t made a firm mark on his Duke story yet. As the only Senior on the team it is widely speculated that Jones will have to go through Cook to star at Duke, except Jones doesn’t see it this way. As he recently went on record saying, he hopes to play with Cook rather than have him as a rival, according to the Star Tribune.

Having two Point Guards on the floor worked very well for Ohio State, hopefully, it will for Duke.