Insights from the 2010 Duke Coaches Clinic

The Duke staff gathers during the recent Coaches Clinic at Duke University - BDN Photo

Last year, I attended my first Coaches Clinic at Duke. Attendance was relatively sparse, probably about two or three hundred people, primarily from the coaching profession. This year, attendance swelled to six hundred or more, with the number of fans in attendance significantly outnumbering the number of coaches. Hot off April’s National Championship, it is safe to say that the Duke Bandwagon is once again the place to be!

Fortunately, one thing about the Coaches Clinic remains constant – it continues to offer an immensely intimate view into the program and an honest assessment from the coaching staff of individual player progress and overall team potential. While many casual fans were in attendance, the event is certainly geared towards the coaching community, as Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Assistant Head Coaches Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins really dove into the X’s and O’s of Duke’s offensive and defensive schemes. At times, the wealth of information was overwhelming, but one can’t help walking away with a deeper level of insight into the program.

The Coaches Clinic itself was a full day event, starting at 8:30am with an introduction by Coach K. He provided a high-level overview of the team, along with some interesting insights into how players have developed and his expectations for the season. Next, Coach Wojo held an hour-long workout with the post players, running through a myriad of big man drills. Coach Collins followed this up with an hour-long session with the guards, focusing on ball-handling acumen and a particular emphasis on finishing at the rim. Following a short lunch break, Coach K reconvened the team for a 2-hour team practice session, followed by an interactive Q&A session with the audience. The night concluded with a more intimate gathering in the Cameron Annex as Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Collins, and Nate James stuck around into the evening hours to address any remaining questions.

Overall, the event was incredibly enjoyable and particularly educational. I cannot overstate how much knowledge is shared during this all-day session; I literally took over seven pages of notes. In fact, I think I saw Mark chuckle at me as I was furiously typing away on my iPad. I’ve summarized my notes below to highlight several interesting items, along with a few notable quotes from the staff and my own personal observations. My goal here is to help bring as many BDN followers as close as possible to the Coaches Clinic experience.

Notable Quotes

“We have depth and we can REALLY shoot the ball. This team can SCORE!” – Coach K
“No need to worry about fatigue on this team.” – Coach K
“Great defensive players have great pivot feet.” – Wojo
“Defense is a dance and this team must learn the steps.” – Wojo
“We are going to be very good this year.” – Coach K
“It is the responsibility of every coach to ensure that if you lose, you don’t beat yourself. If you do that, then you haven’t lost.” – Coach K
“A winner isn’t someone who wins all the time, because no one wins all the time.” – Coach K
Immediately thereafter, K jokes “… although, the last year has been pretty damn good!”
Regarding defense and mental toughness: “Some players naturally have ‘the dog’, and some players need to learn ‘the dog.’” – Nate James

Interesting Items from Coach K’s Opening Introduction

• This Coaches Clinic is being held on the team’s 13th day of practice.
• The full team is healthy, aside from a few players with stitches and Kyrie suffering from a minor cold.
• All 10 scholarship players are really good (and a few are “outstanding”), which makes for super-competitive practices. No scholarship player wants to sit. Because all 10 players get to play, the team can accomplish more in less practice time than a typical team.
• Indicated that he has had success in recent scrimmages with a “last 5-minute lineup” consisting of Kyrie, Nolan, Seth/Andre, Kyle, and Mason/Ryan.
- (I interpreted these comments to mean that Seth/Andre and Mason/Ryan are all part of the “last 5-minute lineup” depending upon match-ups and who’s playing well within a given game. The noteworthy item here is that Kyle slides to the 4.)
• This year’s team projects to be a very-well scoring team, and he is concerned that when a team is so good at one thing (namely scoring), that it’s difficult to convince the players to be really good at something else (namely defense).
• This team can score 90 to 100 a game; he feels we have the best perimeter in the country.
• The team has some good sets in a half-court offense, but he feels the team will be at its best in a running offense.
• Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly are the most improved players since last season.
• Seth Curry is the team’s best shooter, but saying that annoys Andre Dawkins, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith. Coach K seems happy that it annoys those guys, as he wants them all to compete to be the best shooter.
• Kyle Singler weighed 217 at this point last year, up to 235 now.
• Ryan Kelly weighed 206 at this point last year, up to 234 now.
• Called the 2010 National Championship team “as pure of a team” as he has ever coached.
(A crucial strategy for last year’s team was to limit possessions and limit turnovers. Duke had four or five extra possessions each game due to Scheyer not turning the ball over. That team hardly ever deviated from the core defensive strategy; thinks we were the best defensive team in the country last year. Does NOT think we’d be successful with the same system this year. This year the goal is to MAXIMIZE the number of possessions each game.)
• Coach K is not thrilled with the NCAA’s stance on restricting basketball players to only be coached on a seasonal basis. He made an interesting analogy comparing basketball development to a piano player. Both have talented skills that are enhanced by coaching, but it seems silly for the NCAA to restrict the basketball players’ development to only the season where a pianist is permitted to practice year round. K prefers the international system where players can develop within a coached system year round.


Coach K confers with the 2010-11 Duke Blue Devils - BDN Photo

Interesting Items from Coach Wojo’s Post Players Session

• Coached four National Defensive POYs in his time at Duke.
• Wants post players to play big and wide, NOT tall and straight-legged.
• Wants post players to talk, establish themselves as the base of the defense.
• During a high-low drill, Wojo tossed a bad alley-oop pass and quipped “My bad… bad pass, that doesn’t happen very often.”
• Indicates that the most important part of defense is to get the rebound; the team must be hungry to rebound. Last year we won a National Championship because we were the best rebounding team in the country.
• Defensive strategy is to take away points in the paint and take away three point shots; we want the opponent taking contested mid-range jump shots.
• The team should assume every opponent’s shot is a miss. Wants the defense to initiate contact for rebounding, and he strongly pushes the players to rebound with TWO hands.

Interesting Items from Coach Collins’s Guards Session

• Emphasizes that ball-handling drills should be conducted “within the confines of the court” so players internalize out-of-bound boundaries.
• Indicates that the guards must employ “disciplined pressure” on the ball.
• Really focused on ball-handling and finishing strong at the rim
- (Conducted a lengthy drill to emphasize that the guards should be able to finish lay-ups and dunks despite physical contact from the opponent. To simulate a physical opponent, Collins would literally WHACK each driving player with a large foam pad as they were attempting layups and short jumpers. The players made an impressive number of shots despite the contact.)

Interesting Items from Coach K’s Team Scrimmage

• Indicates that free throw shooting has not been good overall in the preseason. Feels this is a quirk, as the team is full of good shooters. Interestingly, the team shot 90+ percent from the line in a recent scrimmage.
• Kyrie opened the scrimmage with an alley-oop pass to Mason. Commented that the best part of that play was how Kyle ran to the corner for a 3, which created the necessary spacing for Mason to get the alley-oop opportunity.
• From a coaching perspective, he likes to give a player credit for a successful play when it happens, not just credit for a dunk or made three.
• Frequently talked up how Miles was making good passes.
• Indicates that we have many shooters, so we are going to be a difficult team to double-team. Consequently, it is critical for the team to understand proper spacing so that we don’t double-team ourselves.
• Indicated that Miles has had a great week of practice and passed the ball very well today.
• Impressed with how well Kyle has talked on the court; not just talking, but giving verbal commands.
• Indicates that Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant all practice at least three separate occasions each day.


Coach K instructs Mason Plumlee - BDN Photo

Highlights from Audience Q&A Wrap-Up with Coach K

• Kyle returned for a senior year in order to refine leadership skills and develop his on-court verbal presence. Emphasized the importance of Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek “talking from the inside out” last season and indicates this team to develop a similar verbal post presence. Young players often find themselves in a position where their mental voice (“I should stand here, play hard defense, box out, etc.) limits their ability to verbally speak on the court. Kids play at their best when they are instinctive, and this also facilitates the ability to speak on the court.
• Asked about the players from last season, Coach K indicated that Scheyer sustained a serious eye injury which only permits him about 30% vision in the injured eye. Unfortunately, this may be a permanent condition. Jon will be playing overseas to see how far he can adapt his game.
• Indicates how he changed his overall team philosophy after his back surgery during the 1996-1997 season. Previously, nearly everything ran through the head coach. While the team was having success, he acknowledges that it was not “the right way” to do things. After the surgery, K made a point to develop great supporting infrastructure and empower assistant coaches and staff to play greater roles.
• While the ultimate goal is to win a national championship, that is not the goal on day one. The immediate short-term goal is to pick up the fast-paced style of play. Emphasizes that the team will have many short-term goals along the course of the year, each building upon the former. If the team can meet all these goals, it will be positioned to compete for the national championship.
• Bluntly predicts that at times our team will occasionally have defensive problems because “we’ll just think we can outscore them.”
- (It is obvious that Coach K is concerned about ensuring this team understands the importance of playing sound defense. This is certainly a point of emphasis in practice.)

Miscellaneous Observations

• Mason Plumlee was very impressive in the defensive drill portions of the workouts
• Ryan Kelly struggled a bit on defense, and at times it was clear that players, particularly Hairston, would try to exploit a matchup advantage when he was guarding them.
• During one-on-one post drills, the team really makes a point to verbally encourage Josh Hairston.
- (I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, but I found it interesting.)
• On one defensive drill, Todd Zafirovski was designated as the primary offensive scorer. He could “break the rules” (i.e., he was permitted to double dribble, switch pivot feet, etc.) Despite this advantage, he never scored against either Plumlee.
• Between drills, the team was often instructed to run suicide-like drills down the court and back. Andre Dawkins won every single sprint the entire day.

Note from author: My name is Terry Rains (also known as Truth on the BDN premium message boards), and this is my first column for Blue Devil Nation. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the article or the Coaches Clinic in general. Also, I welcome everyone’s feedback, both positive and negative.

Note from Mark: Terry has been a part of the BDN staff for a while now and as you can see, his attention to detail and his desire to cover the program is another asset for our loyal readers.  You’ll see more from Terry in the near future.

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