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Random Thoughts from the Duke Beat

BDN wishes Austin Rivers a Happy Birthday! He will always be remembered for his buzzer-beating three point shot over the extended arm of Tyler Zeller and Duke archrival North Carolina.  Heart Breaker.

“Let’s do this,” said diving maestro Nick McCrory, who grew up in Chapel Hill but attends Duke, and he now owns a Bronze Medal from the XXX Olympics. Do you think Chapel Hill is happy losing one of their own to Duke of all places? Congrats Nick!

Also in diving:  Congrats to Abby Johnston, who won a Silver medal. I wonder if the Duke Stores and the Duck Shop are printing up “Duke Divers Rule” t-shirts.

Fencing National Champion Becca Ward of Duke was named ACC Female Athlete of the Year. Ward got my vote, as did linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College for Male Athlete of the Year.

Also electorally speaking, the ballot I cast at the ACC Kickoff event for the projected ACC football standings matched the final results in balloting. Of course, these projected standings are rarely on the money come year’s end.

While we’re talking pigskin, Duke opens fall practice for the 2012 season this coming Monday.  Positions to watch in the pre-season? The middle of the defense and the wideouts, where guys will need to step up and fast.

All eyes will be on the seniors as well. Can QB Sean Renfree bring his game full circle this season? Local Durham product Desmond Scott has been taking snaps at wideout, yet he is also the last Duke running back to rush for more than 100 yards. Good thing the Blue Devils seem deep in the offensive backfield.

Back to hoops:  So, if Shane Battier is playing congas for Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band in a performance, can we get an encore at a local club in Durham? One can wish.

The Duke Women’s Basketball team is preparing for its European tour.  They will spend the first few days in Paris. Life is tough. Actually, it may not be all quiche lorraine and boeuf bourguignon for the ladies, as their days of wine and roses will be limited somewhat due to injuries to Chloe Wells (leg), Richa Jackson (knee), Elizabeth Williams (leg), Amber Henson (knee), Katie Heckman (questionable – knee). #BuildingDepth

Yes, Duke will have two pre-season top 10 basketball teams this coming year.  Maybe even top 5.

Back in London, even while substituting liberally, Team USA rolled past overmatched Tunisia. In games like this, motivation and focus are challenges for the staff.  If anyone can keep our team locked in, it’s Coach K.

Speaking of Coach K, you just know his work with the NBA’s best really hurts recruiting. If you really fall for that, I have a coupon for half off the purchase of London Bridge.

How do we know Duke assistant coaches are all over the nation’s top prospects while K, Collins and Wojo (not a law firm) are in the United Kingdom? Because BDN Premium continues to be out there on the beat with them. Join today and find out who Nate James and Jeff Capel have been watching.

Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee took a break from the N.C. Pro-Am to play in the Four Nations Cup tournament in Tunisia, of all places. Cook was named to the All Cup team but Plumee was his saucer. It was good experience for both young players.

Alex Murphy got some serious burn recently too. The redshirt freshman was one of two “go-to” guys for the Finnish National Team in the recent U-20 European Championship tournament.  The team had little depth, so Murphy played big minutes and really showed off his scoring abilities despite being double-teamed for much of the way.

Bobby Hurley tweeted this yesterday:  “Proud 2 watch the “Fab Five” perform & bring home the gold! Who would have thought that the “Fab Five” could it get it done.”   See! I am not the only one who tweets how I feel on occasion. For those who missed it, the shot was directed towards the Michigan Wolverines’ “Fab Five” of the early 1990′s.

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update – Where does Duke go from here?

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

In our latest update, Blue Devil Nation Premium recaps what has happened recently on the recruiting trail and gives you an idea of what to expect next.

It wasn’t that long ago that many were writing the Blue Devils off after being shocked by Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  For several weeks after the upset, there was only criticism. But three months have now passed, and the dark skies have cleared considerably, as Duke has added several key pieces for the future in incoming freshman Amile Jefferson and transfer Rodney Hood.

Amile Jefferson has arrived on campus.  He will spend plenty of time in the weight room, for there is a big leap from high school ball to the high major college game, and Amile needs to get stronger in order to contribute in a big way.   Jefferson will have the luxury to play behind Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly in his first season while learning the ropes, but the coaches will give him every opportunity to play when he is ready.

The Duke Men’s Basketball staff continued its recent momentum on the recruiting trail, landing coveted Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood this weekend. Hood is right around [private] 6’8″ and is long, lean and athletic. He is an outside/in player, meaning his game is geared towards the perimeter; he likes to get touches just beyond the free throw stripe, from which he is comfortable taking it to the hoop or popping the mid-range J. His ability to knock down those mid-range jump shots draws bigger players away from the hoop, keeps the opposing defense honest, and opens up things for his teammates. Hood is also a good defender and likes to get after it by using his length to his advantage. While he did not dominate the SEC as a freshman, Rodney was a very steady force on a veteran team.

Hood’s game has changed little since I saw him on the AAU trail, with the exception of some natural physical growth.  But his frame can still use some muscle, and that is what Duke Strength and Conditioning Coach Will Stephens will focus on as Rodney sits out his transfer season at Duke. One of the things that impressed Hood on his visit was the Duke facilities, which are NBA-quality, and frankly a far cry from what he was used to in Starkeville. Sources also say he liked the structure of the team and its organization, something that he found lacking at MSU.

For the record, we here at BDN never wavered from the position that Hood was a Duke lean, and by now you guys should know how to interpret my cryptic messages enough to have figured this one out.

Rodney will be on campus this coming Wednesday, July 4th, and he will participate in the N.C. Pro-Am.  We’ll head over to that event provided we can stand the ridiculous heat.

Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is already on campus and getting accustomed to his surroundings. He is hanging with the guys, including Nolan Smith who is in town. Quinn Cook arrived today as well, and he is ready to hit the ground running after spending a lot of time with Nolan in Portland. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston will be back around the 4th of July as well, and all should play in the Pro-Am.  Seth Curry played in the opening night of the event and played well.  He and some teammates even picked up Sulaimon at RDU yesterday.

Ryan Kelly has fully recovered from his injury and Mason Plumlee is looking stronger than ever.  Both benefited from their time at the Amare Stoudemire Camp, and they have both been working on adding new shots to their offensive arsenals.

Alex Murphy is stuffing the stat sheet for Finland’s National Team this summer.  The staff has been very impressed with his play and progress since he’s arrived over a year ago.

Mike Krzyzewski and the staff circled the wagons after the Lehigh loss and decided they wanted more athleticism and toughness, and I believe they are on the road to reshaping future rosters in that way. But don’t get caught looking ahead, for they are more than a little excited about this season’s team, especially because Coach loves flying just under the radar on the national scene. The staff feels this year’s team will be able to defend the perimeter better and is excited about using the length of Murphy on the outside along with Sulaimon, Thornton, Curry and Cook.  One thing does seem odd though: Murphy and Marshall Plumlee have a year in the program under their belts, and seem like old-timers compared to Sulaimon and Jefferson.  Yet all four of them will be getting their first real minutes when the Blue Devils tip off the season.

The coaching staff is very happy with their recent recruiting successes, but there will be no rest at all. After spending some time with their respective families, Mike Krzyzewski, Chris Collins and Steve  Wojciechowski will head to Las Vegas on the 4th to work with the national team. So while they will only see the new kids on campus in passing, there are no worries, for Nate James and Jeff Capel will break them in before going back to hitting the recruiting trail hard themselves.

So where does Duke stand now with other recruits? Which direction will they go in? First of all, the staff can now afford to be a bit fluid in its approach, meaning the strategy can most certainly change depending on how some dominoes fall, but for now, let me share how I feel things are shaping up.  These are educated guesses.

The top targets are always the most talented and that means Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. However, the addition of Hood makes Randle, who is more of a banger, the top priority. Duke is all-in on Randle and they’ve made good inroads through Krzyzewski making regular calls, with Capel taking the lead assistant role. Duke will of course face the Tar Heels until the end on this one, and they too have gone all-in.  Some would even say that Randle may tip the balance of power in the rivalry. But keep in mind that UNC has other offers out and a bevy of bigs on their roster, while Duke can make him realize he is their man, and there are no others. When I say “no others” for Duke, I mean the Devils are not pushing hard with a lot of other big men at this time, but of course that could change. Randle has reshaped his body in the off-season, but what a lot of people do not know is that it was Mike Krzyzewski who made a suggestion for this to happen. If we’re not the leader for Randle, we’re certainly one of the leaders.

Meanwhile, Parker has been flirting a lot with Michigan State, but with a player of his stature, Duke will most certainly hang around.

Duke will also remain hot on Semi Ojeleye and quite frankly, I think he is the Blue Devils’ to lose, and they feel he is as enamored with them as they are with him. The bottom line is the kid is a perfect fit. This situation looks good, and it may only be a matter of time before he pulls the trigger — and it may even come soon.

Austin Nichols is a Duke-type big that would replace the loss of Ryan Kelly, so they are on him and could turn up the heat a bit more in the coming months. Nichols is being hit up hard by other schools too, but Duke remains in decent shape.  The Devils are also still interested in Nichols’s AAU teammate, shooting guard Robert Hubbs.

The picture is a little less clear past these two.  Al Freeman has faded a bit but remains a possibility. Duke could chase another big man, but are not doing so now.  We are completely out of the picture with scoring point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber,  who was never formally offered.

The Blue Devils still have interest in Ish Wainright and Marcus Lee as well.  I still think it may be hard to pry Lee away from the west coast, and the need for Wainright could diminish should Ojeleye pull the trigger for Duke.

Everything is still good with 2013 commit Matt Jones, although I can hear many of you getting worried about us being too loaded at that shooting guard spot.  Well, we are.  But it will play out — as it always does.  I’ll be discussing this later.

As for players beyond the class of 2013, we’ll cover that the next go-round.

To summarize, there is an overall positive feel around the program right now.  Recruiting is in a good place.  Duke and Coach K will remain in the limelight all summer, as Team USA goes for gold in London. We’ll cover several more recruiting events this summer and the Pro-Am, and we continue to work behind the scenes on site changes, including a facelift.

Thanks for being a member of Blue Devil Nation Premium.  Go Duke! [/private]

Taking a Look at the Duke Freshmen

With Amile Jefferson’s announcement he would be attending Duke University, Duke’s recruiting efforts for the 2012-13 season came to a successful end. Jefferson, a power forward, joins combo guard Rasheed Sulaimon in a class that also includes forward Alex Murphy and center Marshall Plumlee, two players who redshirted last season.

While ESPN ranks Duke’s 2012 class at number 11, that ranking only factors in Sulaimon and Jefferson. Including redshirts Murphy and Plumlee, as part of the incoming class, results in a very strong group, which certainly deserves a Top 5 ranking. Duke has been unfairly criticized recently, by certain elements across the recruiting world, as having been left behind. Results certainly outweigh the rhetoric.

Balance is a nice characteristic of this class as it contains a combo guard (1/2), combo forward (3/4), power forward (4) and center (5). Another characteristic is talent. In the final RSCI rankings for 2011, Alex Murphy was ranked 49 with Marshall Plumlee checking in at 61. For 2012, Rasheed Sulaimon is 17 while Amile Jefferson is 20. RSCI has not finalized their 2012 rankings.

Let’s take a look at each incoming player.

Alex Murphy (6’8” 220): Last summer Duke fan site message boards were buzzing about the possibility of Murphy breaking into the starting line-up. Comparisons to Kyle Singler were common place. After suffering a concussion in practice, Murphy fell behind in his preseason development and decided to redshirt. Considering he left high school a year early, the decision passed the common sense test.

The exciting element of the story is Murphy was talented enough to compete for a spot in the starting line-up 12 months ago. With a full year of practice and participation in the strength and conditioning program under his belt, Murphy is the leading candidate to be the Blue Devils starting small forward in 2012-13.

In regard to the redshirt season, associate head coach Chris Collins recently commented, “The biggest gains that we saw with Alex throughout this season were with his confidence and his strength.”

My expectation is Murphy will be in the starting line-up at small forward from day one. Additionally, when Coach Krzyzewski decides to go with a smaller line-up, Murphy is strong enough to slide into the power forward position.

Rasheed Sulaimon (6’4” 180): After winning the 3-point shooting competition at the McDonald’s All American game, Sulaimon proceeded to score 18 points including going four for eight on 3-pointers to help the West beat the East 106-102. At the Jordan Brand Classic, Sulaimon made three of six 3-point shots and scored 13 points as the West beat the East 99-95.

As talented an outside shooter as Sulaimon is, two different skills are what excite me. First, Sulaimon demonstrated significant defensive ability during three All Star games. Additionally, he displayed an ability to run the point. Those two skill sets compel me to compare Sulaimon’s potential to Nolan Smith.

My expectation is Sulaimon will come off the bench in the early season while competing to break into the starting line-up. Whether he eventually starts or spends the entire season as a reserve, he will play starters minutes as a freshman due to his talents on the defensive end of the court.

Amile Jefferson (6’8” 200): In the official press release announcing Jefferson’s decision to attend Duke, Coach Mike Krzyzewski stated, “We are ecstatic about Amile joining us. He is going to be able to help us right away.”

At the McDonald’s All American game, Jefferson recorded eight points, three rebounds and two steals in 14 minutes of action. Moving past the statistics, and just watching the game, Jefferson demonstrated versatility and smoothness on the court. He did not dominate, in fact he did not even standout, but to the seasoned eye, he looked like he belonged.

My expectation is Jefferson will average low double digit minutes per game as a freshman, perhaps as many as 12 to 15 minutes. With his length and low post offensive skills, Amile will be a key contributor in relief of Ryan Kelly. Over the course of his career at Duke, Jefferson has the potential to develop into another in the long list of versatile forwards to succeed as a Blue Devil.

Marshall Plumlee (6’11” 225): The younger brother of Miles and Mason, and McDonald’s All American is reputed to be more of a true low post player than either of his older brothers. Gaining muscle mass should be a major objective for Marshall over the summer and with an entire year already spent in a college level strength and conditioning program he should have plenty of success.

However, from a High School Hoops article I wrote in December 2010, after watching Christ School play Quality Education Academy, the following sentence stands out, “On offense, Plumlee operated mainly out of the high post and delivered a couple of nice passes for assists.” Duke will need Plumlee to operate out of the low post, while Ryan Kelly mans the high post, so hopefully my observation of his tendencies as a high school senior were more a function of his team’s offense and less a function of his comfort zone.

My expectation is Marshall will see consistent but limited minutes in relief of older brother Mason and to a lesser degree Ryan Kelly. His objective over the course of next season should be to gain invaluable game experience to facilitate his moving into a starting role as a sophomore. Marshall projects to be a four year player who will excel as a junior and senior.

Alex Murphy reflects on his redshirt season at Duke

BDN caught up to Duke freshman, Alex Murphy who chatted about the day in the life of a redshirt.  Murphy has had an adjustment to not playing for the first time in his life this season but says this year will pay off.  His concentration has been on getting stronger in the weight room and learning the Blue Devil system and while he thinks he could have helped this years team, he’s happy with the decision that was made and plans on being at Duke for a long time to come.  Murphy also speaks to possibly playing for the Finnish National team this summer and more in this one on one interview conducted just before the North Carolina game in Cameron.