Sulaimon leads versatile group of Blue Devils
This preview and more on Duke and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 3 Duke Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-6 (14-4 ACC)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (884-238 at Duke)
ACC projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
“Our team is going to be built around versatility — guys in multiple positions, probably more pressing and up and down,” Krzyzewski says. “Not that we haven’t gone up and down, but we haven’t created action with our defense. Although we were a very good defensive team (last season), we will try to create action defensively (this season).”
Don’t expect Krzyzewski to talk about small forwards, power forwards and centers — or their accompanying numbers (3, 4, 5).
“It’s just going to be the next player,” Krzyzewski said. “Versatility will be the key phrase.”
Last year, Duke’s front line featured a true center (Mason Plumlee) and a stretch-4 (Ryan Kelly). This year, the key pieces will be a pair of 6-8 small forwards — Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker — who will be asked to do a little bit of everything.
Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, averaged 10.3 points two years ago for the Bulldogs. The former 5-star recruit was one of 16 finalists for Team USA over the summer, but an Achilles injury prevented him from making the trip to Russia for the World University Games.
Parker arrives in Durham as one of the most celebrated recruits in the nation. The Chicago native is a matchup nightmare due to his versatility, and he is known for his unselfish play and high basketball IQ. At 235 pounds, Parker is about 20 pounds heavier than Hood, but that doesn’t mean he will be playing the role of a traditional power forward. Parker and Hood will be used as interchangeable parts.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Hood says. “We are going to have mismatch problems all over the court. We are going to pressure the ball more. We have a lot more weapons.”
Sophomore Amile Jefferson spent the offseason adding bulk to his 6-9 frame. His 7-1 wingspan is a weapon he uses to get in the passing lanes and rebound outside of his area.
Josh Hairston, a rugged 6-8 forward, is a savvy senior who averaged a career-high 12.7 minutes per game last season. A pair of redshirt sophomores — athletic 6-9 Alex Murphy and 7-foot center Marshall Plumlee – will be counted on for quality minutes off the bench.
Freshman small forward Semi Ojeleye is a solid rebounder who can shoot the ball from 3-point range.
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Duke is blessed with a group of experienced ball-handlers to run its up-tempo attack.
Quinn Cook thrived in his first season as the starting point guard, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. Cook improved his 3-point shooting from 25.0 percent as a freshman to 39.3 as a sophomore. He scored 15 points or more 12 times last season but struggled offensively down the stretch, averaging 6.4 points and shooting 26.2 percent from the field over the final five games.
Rasheed Sulaimon was an instant contributor as a freshman, thanks to his ability to get to the basket and shoot from long range. He averaged 11.6 points, a number that could increase significantly as a sophomore.
Tyler Thornton, a hard-nose defender, is considered the team’s vocal leader. He’s shown the ability to hit an open jumper and can be trusted to run the point as well. Andre Dawkins, a key reserve on Duke’s 2010 national championship team, sat out last season as a redshirt. He is a career 40.1 percent 3-point shooter. Freshman Matt Jones might have a tough time finding significant playing time.
The focus will be on 6-8 forward Jabari Parker, whose athleticism and scoring ability already have him projected as a top-five pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. The other freshmen, 6-7 forward Semi Ojeleye and 6-4 guard Matt Jones, also bring athleticism but will have to prove they can score at this level. Forward Rodney Hood, who sat out last year after transferring from Mississippi State, will start from Day 1 and be a significant contributor. Senior guard Andre Dawkins, known for his perimeter scoring, is back after sitting out last season.
Factoid: 30. Duke has won at least 30 games in 10 of the last 16 seasons. The Blue Devils won 30 or more “only” three times in Mike Krzyzewski’s first 17 seasons.
On paper, Duke has only one weakness — a lack of a true post presence. Krzyzewski plans to mask that deficiency by playing a more up-tempo game that will start with pressure defense. The roster, deep and athletic, is built to run.
The Blue Devils are the class of a new-look ACC that now includes Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. If Sulaimon, as expected, takes the next step and Parker and Hood play up to their potential in the frontcourt, Duke will be in the mix for the fifth national title of the Krzyzewski era.