Off-the-court key to Duke success: Togetherness


With a full roster and a player rotation filled with potential NBA first-round draft picks, Duke’s coaching staff has a tall order to keep everyone happy this season.

So far, it appears the Blue Devils locker room is filled with players as selfless as they are talented.

Injuries to freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden meant players like Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic got playing time in the season’s first few weeks.

Luke Kennard had been a reserve in October practices when the freshmen were healthy. When Tatum sprained his foot, Kennard became a starter and has thrived by averaging 20 points per game over Duke’s first 11 games.

With Tatum and Bolden having returned from foot injuries to play three games this month and Giles on the verge of making his collegiate debut this week, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski joked that fitting all these talented players in his rotation is like working a Rubik’s Cube.

At the same time, he said the team shows togetherness because, simply put, “they like each other,” Krzyzewski said.

Though injuries thinned the playing rotation early, Duke signed six freshmen entering this season and had the fortune to see Jefferson return as a redshirt senior after missing most of the 2015-16 season due to a broken foot.

So Duke is using all 13 scholarships this season — something that’s been rare for the program.

Midseason transfers like Semi Ojeleye in December 2014 and Alex Murphy in December 2013 have caused turnover in the recent past. So far no one from this year’s Duke team has made that move, another sign of the togetherness that the Blue Devils talk about being present in the locker room.

Duke is now working to move that togetherness from the locker room and the practice court to games. Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Blue Devils (10-1) are already one of the nation’s top teams.

Duke has its final two nonconference games this week — at home with Tennessee State on Monday and against Elon at Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday.

After that, the players will scatter to their homes for the Christmas holiday. They’ll reconvene the following week to practice and get ready for the Dec. 31 ACC opener at Virginia Tech.

Getting ready for ACC play means mixing all the talented players into a rotation that keeps everyone happy.

“We’ve got to continue to keep finding minutes for these guys,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve got to put this thing together while we’re playing games.”