A program that usually rises and falls with its seniors now revolves around redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood and freshman phenom Jabari Parker.
What coach Mike Krzyzewski wants is for the other players to blend in with them.
He said Hood and Parker “really have a chance to be outstanding, and then what we have is a group of players that has to learn to adjust to those two.”
The Blue Devils enter as the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference once again, and they’re a popular pick to reach their 12th Final Four under Krzyzewski.
For that to happen, the upperclassmen will have to grow comfortable in their supporting roles around Hood and Parker, one of the nation’s most heavily pursued recruits out of Chicago. Hood sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi State, where he averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds, and was praised by Krzyzewski as “many times was our best player” last year during practice.
Parker has “measured up to the level that I want right now, and as long as he continues to do that and show improvement … if he didn’t show improvement, then I’ll be disappointed,” Krzyzewski said. “But I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.”
Five things to know about Krzyzewski’s 34th season at Duke:
VERSATILITY WILL BE KEY: The Blue Devils don’t have anything that resembles a football depth chart because so many players can play so many positions and Krzyzewski said “it’s not like one guy is trying to beat out another guy.” Hood considers himself a shooting guard on offense and a forward on defense, and the 6-foot-8 Parker is capable of playing multiple spots. That should make it tough for opponents to match up with them.
SPEEDING IT UP: The Blue Devils plan to take advantage of that depth and versatility by going at a much faster pace and playing from baseline to baseline. Krzyzewski said this team reminds him of his late 1990s and early 2000s teams “when we were very athletic – really athletic.” That worked pretty well in 2001 – Duke won its third national title behind Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier.
SHELVING EGOS: Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston have been role players throughout their Duke careers and have been overshadowed by bigger-named teammates from Day 1 – remember, they were part of the same recruiting class as eventual NBA rookie of the year Kyrie Irving. So they say they have no problem putting their egos aside for the good of the team as seniors. “It’s easy – everybody wants to win,” Thornton said. “When you want to win, you want to do what the coaches tell you to do, and what they tell us is to do what you can do. … If you’re going to score, score. If you’re going to play defense, play defense. But do it the best you can.”
X-FACTOR AMILE: Forward Amile Jefferson could be in for a big year because of his ability to play off of Hood and Parker. Krzyzewski said he “may complement those two guys better than anybody on our team.” He expects opposing teams to focus on stopping Hood and Parker and will be “guarded by a man and a half” each. Jefferson – a high-energy 6-9 sophomore – could take advantage of that lessened attention and put up big rebounding and second-chance-scoring numbers. He scored 15 points in an exhibition win over Bowie State.
DAWKINS IS BACK: The only current Duke player who has a national championship ring is Andre Dawkins – a fifth-year senior guard who sat out last season while he dealt with his sister’s death during his freshman year in 2009-10. He’s changed jersey numbers – he’s wearing Kelly’s old No. 34 after three years in No. 20 – but showed he still has his 3-point touch in the team’s only public intrasquad scrimmage of the preseason. He spent significant time running with the first string during that scrimmage, though sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon started the first preseason game.