Duke Senior Captain Tyler Thornton represented Duke University during yesterdays ACC Operation Basketball and he took time out to talk of the Blue Devils trip to New York with Blue Devil Nation.
DURHAM, N.C. – Redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood and senior Tyler Thornton have been named team captains for the 2013-14 season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced at a preseason press conference Friday. Hood and Thornton are both first-time team captains for the Blue Devils, who open the season with an evening practice Friday.
Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, is widely regarded as one of the top wings in the country. He was tabbed as a preseason honorable mention All-America by USA Today and has quickly established himself as a locker room leader for the Blue Devils. As a freshman in 2011-12, he earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs. Hood becomes just the third sophomore to be named team captain at Duke. Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus were named team captains, along with DeMarcus Nelson, as sophomores for the 2006-07 season.
“It means a lot to me to be named captain, just for the coaching staff and my teammates to have that much respect for me,” Hood said. “I’ve just got to be me and continue to lead the younger guys and lead by example. Coach doesn’t want me to do anything I haven’t been doing. That’s one of the reasons I am captain, leading by example and helping my teammates when they’re in need. I’m not going to try to create a new identity just because I’m playing now.”
Thornton has been a consistent presence in the Duke rotation throughout his career in Durham. The Washington, D.C., native is a hard-nosed defender with knack for making big plays at key moments on either end of the floor. Thornton enters his senior campaign averaging 3.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in 104 contests (28 starts).
“It’s an honor, especially with the list of guys who were captains before me,” said Thornton, “This is my senior year, and we’ve got a great team that can do a lot of amazing things. It’s an honor to be a captain and be a leader of these guys.”
Duke hosts an open practice to the public Saturday, Sept. 28. A 90-minute portion of the practice will also be broadcast live on GoDuke.com from 10-11:30 a.m. The Blue Devils play the annual Blue-White Scrimmage Friday, Oct. 18 as part of Countdown to Craziness as well as exhibition contests against Bowie State (Oct. 26) and Drury (Nov. 2) before opening the season Nov. 8 at home against
INDIANAPOLIS – When Tyler Thornton came off the bench for Duke he knocked down a three pointer in short order. As it turned out, the only points Thornton would score but his defensive play was crucial in the Blue Devils 71-61 win over Michigan State. Thornton had two steals and he played a solid floor game in his 26 minutes. While he was no the star of the game, his play was critical in helping Duke advance to play Louisville in the Elite Eight.
Duke won its 22nd game of the season by defeating their arch rival North Carolina 73-68 last evening and while it wasn’t the prettiest of games compared to classics past, it was still the kind of affair that was hard-fought and victory earned.
In the first half, UNC knocked Duke back a bit with a departure from their normal strategy by going small and the Tar Heels took a four point lead into the locker room. Their play allowed them to take the Cameron crowd out of the equation but for whatever reason, I never felt the Blue Devils were in major trouble. The team may have seen it differently in that during post game locker room interviews, they were drained.
Mason Plumlee spoke in a raspy low voice, perhaps horse from yelling, Cook looked as if he was about to fall out. There was exuberance but all seem just happy to have come out on the winning team. Emotions. They can take a toll in this kind of game and you add the intangibles of it being another late start, still a bit of jet lag and simply the demands of school can tire even the youngest of men.
Many felt North Carolina gave it their best shot and many felt it would b a blowout loss going in, but history teaches up, almost anything can happen in these games. This has been a rather disjointed version of the Tar H eels this season where chemistry issues abound but they showed a lot of fight and heart last evening but by games in, so did Duke and that enabled them to remain in the regular season hunt in the ACC.
The Blue Devils struggled from the three-point stripe in th first half, hitting just one, but they knocked down five in the second half. Of the six made three pointers, none were bigger than any from Tyler Thornton. Oh, that’s right, he had half of them. Thornton hit the Blue Devils first three pointer and up until that point they were pushing, so seeing that one drop helped their psyches. Thornton was praised in the post game press conference by Kryzyzewski.
“Tyler is just a winner; he is a really tough kid. I like him because he can get angry. I think anger is an emotion that can get you past being tired and gets you past a lot of things.”
Thornton had been a bit quiet in previous games but he picked a grand stage to help lift what Krzyzewski and I alluded to earlier, that this was a tired team. And the Tar Heels are also a deeper team than Duke, especially in Ryan Kellys’ absence. Before I go on, this is where I say that Krzyzewski reiterated that there was no time-table for Kellys’ return and he even made reference to “if,” he returns.
While again, it was not the prettiest of wins on the court, the victory for Duke keeps them at or near the top of standings and rankings They now ride a six game winning streak and have adjusted to life after Kelly, but it is clear that they will need a bit more consistency from their cast to continue th roll with perhaps their last ever trip to Maryland coming up.
The victory over North Carolina allowed Krzyzewski to tie Adolph Rupp for the third most victories at one school and that made me think back on a lot of classic games past. While last evening may not be at the top of my memories list during his 76th birthday bash, wins over your arch rival are always tantalizingly sweet. And if you missed it, last night was Coach K’s 66th birthday and he can never not like the gift of beating Carolina.
The cool thing for Duke fans is that he shared that gift with all of us.
This and That Department
- I watched the replay from the ACC Network which is a fresh alternative to ESPN on occasion and enjoyed the broadcast. Speaking of ESPN, Dick Vitale once again came down to chat it up with the Cameron Crazies but no ride through the crowd this go round.
- National media turned out last and I sat behind Dick “Hoops” Weis or at least until half time where he bailed, perhaps due to the over exuberant Cameron Crazies which sit directly behind, er … on us. Jeff Goodman, Pat Forde and several others were there as well in what is almost a social atmosphere for the rivalry.
- The Cameron Crazies were good, understandably excited and nobody put words in their collective mouths last evening. Sorry, I could not resist. This comment of course is in reference to the accusations of so many who were not at the recent Duke vs NCSU game. To this day, not one single media member attending that game, objective as they are have come forward saying they heard, “the chant.”
- After trailing 38-31, Duke went on a 16-5 run. The Blue Devils went on another 11-4 run featured three Duke three pointers and or half their total of six made attempts.
- Quinn Cook turned the ball over more than usual in the first half but his four steals helped make up for it. Cook has now earned 22 consecutive starts. Cook also teamed with Curry to grab 11 boards from the guard spot.
- Rasheed Sulaimon drew a key charge during the Blue Devils comeback and he nor ranks second on the team with nine total taken on the season. Hairston leads the team and for what it’s worth, the injure Ryan Kelly is often at the top of this category when healthy.
- Duke distributed fliers pushing Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon for season honors. Plumlee is being pushed as an ACC Player of the Year candidate and All American candidate as is Curry. Cook and his stats are being offered up for the All ACC team and Sulaimon as a freshman All American candidate.
- Prospects Theo Pinson and Harry Giles watched the game from behind the Duke bench last evening.
Next on our class-by-class preview of this year’s Blue Devils is the junior class, which consists of just two players, guard Tyler Thornton and forward Josh Hairston. The third original member of the class was a guy you may remember, name of Kyrie Irving. Irving was always going to be the obvious star of the class, and though he only played 11 games in a Blue Devil uniform, he did not disappoint – either in his on-court play or the kind of teammate and representative of Duke University that he was and continues to be.
Neither Thornton nor Hairston has the natural ability to be a superstar at the high-major level. But both have made valuable contributions to the team in their first two years, Thornton in particular, and both still can carve out significant roles going forward, depending on their own play as well as the dynamics of the team.
It was actually Josh Hairston who was the more highly regarded prospect coming out of high school in Fredricksburg, VA. The 6’7” forward was the #32 rated prospect in the RSCI composite rankings. Just for context, the four guys rated directly above him were Roscoe Smith, Meyers Leonard, Trey Ziegler, and Dion Waiters, and the player ranked just below him was Terrance Ross, the excellent wing who enrolled at Washington.
Josh saw limited minutes as a freshman, however, getting just 6 mpg, scoring 1.4 ppg and getting 1.2 rebounds and assorted other minor stats. Duke had four other frontcourt players in Kyle Singler, Miles and Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly who were not only more experienced than Hairston, but frankly, better players, and Coach K was just not inclined to give much PT to his ninth man (tenth when Kyrie played) and fifth best frontcourt player.
Tyler Thornton, 6’1” out of Washington, D.C. was not even ranked in the RSCI top 100 players in the high school class of 2010. Nobody would’ve been all that surprised had he been nailed to the bench as a freshman, given that Duke had Kyrie and Nolan Smith, as well as Seth Curry on the roster, none taller than 6’2”. But then Irving got hurt, and Thornton got some play. He only averaged 10 minutes per game, and his numbers were nothing to write home about. At the offensive end, Ty sometimes got overwhelmed by the size and athleticism of the opponent. But what he did was establish himself as an aggressive on-ball defender, a hustle player, and a kid with a nose for the ball.
As sophomores, Thornton’s role expanded much more significantly than did Hairston’s. Ty started 19 ballgames last year, and whether or not he started, Coach K used him in a variety of roles. This was partially due to the fact that K was tinkering all season with the lineup and, truth be told, never found many combinations that he was comfortable with. Thornton played point guard, he played off the ball, and he even guarded some small forwards when Duke employed a 3-guard lineup.
Perhaps his most memorable game came early in the year, in the Maui Invitational final against Kansas. Thornton, never known for his three-point shooting, hit one with just over a minute to go to give Duke the lead, and then threw in another, off-balance three to beat the shot clock with 20 seconds left in the game, and ice it. Folk hero time.
Over the course of the year, Tyler continued to establish himself at the defensive end, as he worked hard to harass opposing ballhandlers. He did get beaten into the lane too often, though, and his 6’1” frame left him susceptible to bigger guards shooting over him. And he was frequently over-aggressive, as he fouled out of four games, including the Lehigh debacle, and had four fouls in eight others. The kid hustles every minute out there though, and Coach K clearly values that. He also values leaders, and has said that one of the reasons he plays Thornton is because of his leadership qualities.
On the offensive end, though, Thornton did not bring nearly as much to the table as did Duke’s other guards, and this contributed to some of the team’s struggles. He did not force the defense to react to much of what he was doing. He does not have the quickness, the handle, or the athleticism to get into the lane, either to get his own shot or to set up others. And most of the passes he throws are relatively easy ones on the perimeter, rather than penetrating passes that hit teammates at advantageous spots on the floor. He shot 38% overall from the floor, including 35% from three point land, but only 28% on three pointers in ACC regular season play. Duke was so confused and out of sync that Thornton somehow hoisted 13 threes in the ACC tournament game against Virginia Tech (hitting three), and then reverted to the norm against FSU and Lehigh.
What about Josh Hairston’s sophomore campaign? Well, he only got 8.5 mpg and contributed 2.7 ppg and 1.4 rebounds. He only scored in double figures once, against Western Michigan, and only got more than 10 minutes of burn in three ACC games prior to the tournament. The only frontcourt players ahead of him were the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly, yet Josh was not able to break into the regular rotation. Essentially, at 6’7” and 235 pounds, Josh was not quick enough or athletic enough to play the small forward position, and he’s not tall or long enough, or athletic enough, to play effectively down low. He’s a tweener, one who plays below the rim, and with an uncertain jumpshot from 15 feet. Consequently it’s been tough for him to find a role.
Another hindrance to Josh’s development has been the fact that he has not been in top condition. By his own admission in a recent Chronicle article, he is now in the best shape he’s been at Duke, and he also says that he understands that Coach K couldn’t give him minutes in the past because he wasn’t in shape and would tire quickly. While it’s somewhat disturbing to have a player not in top condition during the basketball season, it is at least encouraging that Josh is now being up front about the problem, he’s taking responsibility for it, and – at least according to him – remedied it. Hopefully it will mean a leaner, meaner Josh Hairston, one who can get up and down the floor and regain the explosiveness in his game.
By all accounts, Josh is a terrific kid and a great teammate. He has embraced the role he’s had his first two years, and been completely supportive of the guys playing ahead of him. But this is an important year for him. Will he continue to be basically a bench guy, one who gets real minutes only when other bigs are in foul trouble? Or will the newly in shape, rededicated Josh Hairston learn to harness his energy, calm down a little out there, play hard without forcing anything, and just use his experience and his understanding of the system to be a steadying influence on the floor?
What is fair to expect from Thornton and from Hairston heading into this year? It certainly appears that Coach K intends to start Quinn Cook at the point, Seth Curry (depending on his injury status) at the 2-guard, and to bring Thornton off the bench. That’s a good thing for the team. Most observers, including this one, believe that Ty is much more effective as a 10-to-15 minute per game energy guy, one who can come in, harass the opposing point guard, force the other team to really work to run its offense, and on offense simply not make mistakes and take only open 3-point shots. That type of contribution from a point guard works in the type of limited minutes I just suggested; as a 25 or 30 minute player, not so much.
Hopefully, Alex Murphy will eat up the major minutes at the 3, and Coach K won’t need to insert Thornton at that position, where it is obviously not a natural fit for his body type or his skill set.
While it is often the case that a team is best served when its best player(s) are its leaders, Tyler appears to be the type of kid who can be a respected and effective leader even if he comes off the bench and plays limited minutes. That’s rare, and valuable. Coach K respects his leadership qualities, and with Ty now being an upperclassman, I would think his teammates would look to him even more than they did in the past.
As far as Josh goes, he’s going to have to battle for minutes. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that being in shape will help him. Of course Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly will get (and deserve) the lion’s share of the big man minutes. According to Coach K, Marshall Plumlee was in the top 6 before he suffered the stress fracture to his foot. Marshall’s absence for the next 6 to 8 weeks provides an opportunity for Josh to prove he can contribute to this team in a meaningful way. But Amile Jefferson is going to be fighting for time too, and though he is a different type of player than Josh, they both could fit in at the 4 when Ryan is sitting or when Mason sits and Ryan plays the 5.
When he gets his opportunities, Josh is going to have to hustle; he’s going to have to body up bigger guys on defense; he’s going to have to be smart and be aware of what’s going on defensively so he can make the appropriate rotations; he’s going to have to block out better than he has, in order to make up for being shorter than most opponents. On offense he’s got to slow down and make better decisions. I haven’t seen any practices or other pre-season action, but I hope he’s worked on his shot. It’s been flat since he arrived in Durham, and his putting a little more air under it and giving himself some margin for error on that jumpshot would help too.
It’s really going to be an interesting year for both members of Duke’s junior class. Tyler Thornton may be the most natural leader on the team, and Duke is going to need him in that role for sure. Helping the Blue Devil defense return to its accustomed level would be a huge contribution as well. But if Quinn Cook is healthy and playing well – and early indications are “yes” to both — and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is ready to make an impact as well, Tyler will have to make his contributions in relatively limited minutes.
For Josh Hairston, this year may be a crossroads of sorts. He’s an upperclassman now. Can he fight his way into the rotation and actually help this team win games? Or is he destined to remain lower on the depth chart and contribute mainly at practice and in a support role? We will soon find out.