What do you think is the key for success for the 2014-15 Duke Basketball team? Most who are chiming in before tip-off are pointing towards the freshmen maturing. I buy into that to a small degree for there will be moments when they eventually hit a wall. But these young men are already quite mature and I feel the challenge lies in another key area.
The reason I say that is because college basketball is younger than ever. Add to that, the freshman coming in are older than ever. The type of freshman that come into Duke are far from green and this seasons class bares witness to that more so than most.
Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow all played on the Nike EYBL circuit and that means they’ve played a heck of a lot of basketball. These three also played for USA Basketball where they travelled afar leading their team to a Gold Medal. Make no mistake, travelling quickly broadens ones self and most 18 year olds have never put in so many miles. And then there is Grayson Allen. While he didn’t play in the Nike circuit until late, nobody doubts his lack of shyness after winning the McDonald’s All American Dunk Contest while rocking a Duke jersey. In the pre season Allen has shown the ability to come off the bench adjust quickly and score in bunches.
The bottom line is that while these young men have yet to play a regular season college basketball game, they are already seasoned. That’s quite evident in the fact that three of the aforementioned will be in the starting lineup from day one for Duke. This group is the most mature class I have seen in some time. And for what it’s worth I am talking since Mike Krzyzewski’s breakthrough class which included current Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie and David Henderson to the modern-day.
The aforementioned eighties class was young in basketball years because the AAU circuit and USA Basketball was a shadow of what it is today. Heck, coaches have been unable to truly play the “young,” card since the now trendy “snark” journalism was born with the likes of Jim Rome and that was a long time ago now.
That said, don’t expect to see Coach Mike Krzyzewski play the “young,” card this season. And if he does? Well, that would spell trouble and means things aren’t going well on the court. Now, before you say he has already played the young card, let me clarify by saying he’s said on a few occasions that his team played “young,” but he hasn’t in recent memory called his team young.
What the Duke Coach knows is one of the main keys to the season is developing communication which leads to chemistry.
That said, communication is “the key,” to the coming season more-so than anything else. What is communication within the Duke Basketball system? Well, its many things, but it starts with talk. Behind every championship team at Duke has been vocal leadership and players who talk it up while they’re on the court.
A lot of times, talking on the court doesn’t come naturally to players, even the best ones and it has to be coached into them. Many a player has had a great skill set, yet failed to reach their potential due to simple communication issues. Most recently, current Duke Coach Jim Scheyer and Nolan Smith led Duke to a national championship four years ago. Neither of those guys were big talkers coming into Duke by nature but they developed that skill set.
While watching many games on the Nike AAU Circuit involving Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, I saw extremely talented players. But none of them were especially vocal.
Tyus Jones was the ultimate point guard who operated in a most smooth and efficient manner, but led more by example with his play. Justise Winslow was just a cool customer, finding ways to do it all, but he too, was basically a quiet player on the court. Even Jahlil Okafor was much more of a “Just do it,” guy than he was vocal . Lastly, Grayson Allen let his dunks and athleticism speak, but he was more apt to give off a smile than he was to chat it up.
Coming into the season, seeing whether this talented quartet advanced in the area of communication was one of the things I wanted to keep an eye on. The mere fact that Duke named the outgoing Amile Jefferson and the quick to always have something to say Quinn Cook as captains further cemented in my mind that this too may have been an area of concern for the staff.
In witnessing the first practice of the season one thing stood out to me the most. As I was making verbal notes on my recorder I began to wonder if I could decipher them later, for there was plenty of background noise in Cameron. As it turned out the recordings were inaudible due to practice chatter in the backdrop and that was a sign that my concern had been addressed.
During the practices and pre season games I witnessed, it became clear to me that at this time, the message that you had to talk on the court had taken root. It’s obvious that this had been an emphasis from the staff while Kryzweski was bringing home another Gold this past summer with USA Basketball duties.
Talking on the court of things like calling out picks and switches and the rest doesn’t come easy for some but it is one of the cornerstones of success at this level. Every Duke team that has done special things and brought home championships talked it up along the way,
So far, so good in the pre season. The freshman are talking more than I’ve seen them do before and the veteran players are helping them to understand the Duke way. Talking the game up leads to chemistry and communication leads to good things. If the team continues to take this part of the game seriously it will bode well for the 2014-15 season. Communication is the one thing which could be the key to playing in Indianapolis come April as one of the last four teams standing.