A year ago this week, Duke basketball started practice with a talented young roster expected to compete for a national championship.
It didn’t take long for it to all come unraveled. Before the first week of October was out, Harry Giles needed arthroscopic knee surgery and would never be 100 percent health in a Duke uniform.
Before October was over, Jayson Tatum would land awkwardly on his foot in practice and suffer a bad enough sprain that he didn’t play until December.
It’s a tough list for Duke fans to relive. Even though the Blue Devils won the ACC Tournament last March, they never lived up to their preseason No. 1 ranking. They failed to advance out of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend.
So here we are again, only minus the aches and pains at this point.
Empty injury list
The Blue Devils opened practice for the new season on Sept. 29. They’re already ahead of last season because the entire roster is healthy and able to practice.
NCAA rules stipulate Duke has 40 days to get in 30 practices before opening the regular season on Nov. 10 at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Elon.
With everyone healthy, the Blue Devils are spending their time fully on the work needed for the roster full of new players to mesh together.
Grayson Allen is Duke’s lone player who started more than one college game last season.
“We have one guy back and, really, everyone else is new,” Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. “We’re talented, but it’s on paper.”
Freshmen Gary Trent, Jr., Trevon Duval, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter and Jordan Tucker are all expected to play major roles on this year’s team.
Their ability to get comfortable playing together — and quick — will determine if the Blue Devils’ record and accomplishments will match their potential this season.
Focus on Bagley
Bagley is on a particularly accelerated schedule. The 6-11 forward finished high school a year early to enroll at Duke in August so he could be eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft.
He and the Blue Devils learned in early September the NCAA Clearinghouse had approved Bagley to play for Duke this season.
As many obstacles as Duke had to overcome last season with injuries, it didn’t have this unusual situation. But Bagley, having arrived on campus just five weeks before the official start of practice, is expected to fit in just fine.
“He’s been great,” Capel said. “His teammates have welcomed him. He’s an easy guy to play with because he doesn’t need the ball. He’ll go get the ball. It’s been really good.”