clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jim Sumner On Operation ACC Basketball!

There is a military axiom that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. So things could change. Duke could continue its unfortunate run with injuries. The separation between the top and the bottom of the rotation could increase. Mike Krzyzewski could change his mind.

But the plan discussed at Sunday's Operation ACC basketball is one that will delight most Duke basketball fans. Duke is going to go up-tempo, run on offense and pick up its defense further out. And they are going to go deep into the bench to do so, attacking with fresh players.

Mike Krzyzewski's work with the fast-paced United States national team has rekindled his love affair with the fast break. Not that it ever went too far away. Krzyzewski reminded listeners that his Duke teams frequently have been among the nation's leaders in scoring average. But Greg Paulus' foot injury at the beginning of practice last season torpedoed that option. Not knowing how long his only true point guard would be out, trying to blend four freshmen into the lineup, and minus any recruited seniors, Krzyzewski decided to dial it back, running a conservative half-court offense that gave a young and injury-plagued Duke team its best chance to win.

But that was last year. This year? "We have a team that has the ability to play the way we want to play," says Krzyzewski. "You have to play up-tempo defense before you can play up-tempo offense. If the other guy doesn't want to dance, then you have to figure out a way to make him dance. But we have enough players to play up-tempo and we have the right players."

Who will be playing that up-tempo ball? David McClure is not quite 100% recovered from his knee surgery. Krzyzewski says he is about two weeks away from being cleared for all activities. Brian Zoubek is still regaining the conditioning he lost when he sat out the summer with a broken foot. DeMarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus, and Marty Pocius are as healthy as they have ever been. Krzyzewski expects soon to have 11 ACC-caliber players, a luxury that Duke has not had for some time.

Two players have emerged as first-among equals. Krzyzewski expects senior captain Nelson to give Duke "steady play like a veteran. Use his leadership. He should affect every stat line, impact the game in every way. He's our best perimeter defender and just a good guy to have on the team."

Nelson is embracing his captaincy. Its his responsibility to "teach the habits, teach the culture. Lead by example." Nelson, the only Duke player selected to meet with the media, likes what he's seen so far in practice. "We have a lot of players who can play multiple positions. The competition in practice is the best we've had since I've been here. It's making us better players and it's making the team better. We aren't a big team but we have lots of depth and versatility. The best way to exploit our advantages is to get out and run and share the ball. Our goal is to dictate the pace of every game and make the other team worry about how they are going to play us. "

Then there's Kyle Singler, the precocious freshman from Oregon. Krzyzewski says Singler "is really good. He does not play like a freshman. He's earned the respect of every player on the team. He plays every play. He does not have a weak area."

Nelson confirms Singler's versatility and adds that Singler "lets the game come to him. He can score 30 if that's what the team needs, he can have 10 assists if that's what the team needs. He can defend, he can rebound."

The rest of the rotation is being established practice by practice. Nelson says that Paulus is showing increased quickness on defense, while Krzyzewski notes that Paulus is the team's best long-range shooter. There will be times when Paulus will play off the ball on offense.

Freshman Nolan Smith will challenge for a starting spot, not because of any deficiencies in Duke's returning starters but because he's that good. Smith provides superb on-the-ball-defense, while his tenure at high-profile Oak Hill Academy has given him rare poise for a freshman. Krzyzewski points out that all three freshman come from winning programs and expect to win. Speaking of that third freshman, Nelson says that Taylor King's range extends to 30 feet, even 35. Nelson sees Duke blending a slashing attack that will break down defenses and clear out room for three-point-shooters to spot up with lots of open space.

Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer will play significant roles. Krzyzewski says most observers don't realize how badly Henderson was bothered last season by a series of nagging injuries early in the season. He never really got into shape. Henderson is healthy now and practicing better than at any time last season. Henderson is Duke's best athlete and needs to be more assertive to take advantage of that athleticism. Krzyzewski points out that is crucial for Duke's perimeter players, especially Nelson and Henderson, to grab defensive rebounds and start fast breaks. He says that any of Duke's perimeter players can and will start fast breaks off rebounds and steals.

And don't sleep on Scheyer. His understated style causes some to overlook him but Krzyzewski points out that Scheyer has a high basketball IQ and is a winner. Having Smith in the program frees Scheyer from having to play point and allows him more freedom to run the floor looking for openings. Like Henderson, Duke wants him to be more assertive on offense, especially getting his shot off quicker.

McClure? A utility man, valuable for his ability and willingness to do lots of things. Pocius is part of the perimeter rotation but at this point does not appear to be challenging for a starting spot.

That leaves the big men. Nelson claims that Singler is much stronger than people believe and both Krzyzewski and Nelson expect King to play some 4, even 5. Nelson relishes the idea of Singler and/or King hitting from downtown, drawing bigger defenders away from the basket and opening the lane for attacks.

But Duke expects either Thomas or Zoubek to be on the floor most of the time. Krzyzewski says Thomas is "a unique, high-energy player," Duke's most versatile defender, able to guard anyone from the 1 to the 5. An up-tempo game plays to his strengths. Zoubek is a more traditional big man but Duke does not plan to modify either its offense or defense when he is on the floor. And no, Duke has not spent one second of practice this year working on a zone. Nelson says flatly "Duke does not play zone."

What is Duke doing in practice? Lots of situational scrimmages. That is, the coaches define a score, time left, foul situation, and other variables and play to the end of the game. Nelson says Duke did not make the tough plays at the end of the game last season and that has to change. One of those tough plays is knocking down clutch foul shots, a priority this season. Nelson spent much of his injury down-time working on foul shots, hour after hour, and looks forward to converting fouls into points this season.

Nelson sums it up. "Last year was unacceptable. Guys don't come to Duke to be mediocre. Guys come to Duke to win championships. We have all the ingredients necessary to be a championship team."

Krzyzewski? "The game will humble you all the time. Last season wasn't bad but it was skewed because of the way it ended. We were beaten up, emotionally and physically. We have more depth, experience, and talent. We should be better this season than last season, maybe a lot better."

Other notes.

The ACC will institute a Men's Basketball Scholar Award and call it the Skip Prosser Award. The league also will establish ACC Scholar-Athlete Awards for the other sponsored sports. The golf award will be named for former Duke golf coach, the late Rod Myers. The ACC has had a football award named for Jim Tatum for some time.

Mike Krzyzewski thinks the bench-decorum-enforcement controversy is overblown. Since there are no major rules changes this year, he compares this to a week when only one movie is released and every talks about it because it's the only new movie. He seems certain he will have no problem with the new emphasis.

Krzyzewski spoke at length on the idea among some that Duke is evil. He singled out ESPN for their poll on most despised Duke players and asked why ESPN doesn't have a poll on most popular Duke players. "When you win big, people get tired of it. You are going to be hated by somebody. Locally it can go to another level because we aren't the state school. The fact that I've been at Duke for a long time leads to misperceptions. I can handle it but it's not fair to our players."

Krzyzewski discussed the lacrosse situation and acknowledged that it had hurt the university but the damage to the three wrongly-accused players so outweighs any adverse affects on the basketball program that he can't complain.

Krzyzewski thinks that players should be able to go directly from high school to the NBA, pointing out that he worked with NBA players this summer who skipped college without suffering any career damage. He said that with a smile. But, if a player commits to college, it should be a two-year minimum. Two years, with summer school, puts players close enough to a degree that finishing up later is a viable option.

Krzyzewski likes what Syracuse has done, naming Mike Hopkins as Jim Boeheim's successor. He thinks a seamless transition enhances continuity. He would like to explore that possibility with Duke but has not done so.