Last year, Duke struggled offensively from the beginning. If the Blue-White scrimmage was any indication, that won't be a problem this season.
Taylor King put on a show in the first half, nailing several long-range jumpers and at one point outscoring the white team by himself and leading the team to an early 27-9 lead. He cooled off considerably in the second, scoring only two points, but the point was made: this guy can shoot, and you can't leave him alone. Ever.
Kyle Singler scored 23 points and grabbed nine boards to lead the White team. While King started off with a J.J. Redick impression, Singler built his case slowly and steadily. He almost matched King's point total late in the first half, and we heard several people look up and murmur, surprised that he had scored so many points. It didn't seem like it. While King is primarily a scorer, Singler's game is more rounded at this point. He made a number of sharp passes and while part of the reason King cooled off may have been fatigue (there were no substitutes other than walk-on for walk-on), another part of it was surely Singler's defense. He really got into King's face after his initial outburst and played him very tight.
Nolan Smith, the freshman guard, acquitted himself fairly well, scoring 19 points in his Cameron debut, but on several occasions, Greg Paulus schooled him and Smith picked up three early fouls trying to keep up. It's not that Paulus is a better athlete; he's not. But he's more experienced and he's paid some heavy dues in his career to date. Smith has some catching up to do, but our guess is he'll grow up pretty quickly. His physique reminds one of Johnny Dawkins, but he's not as explosive as Dawkins was. But he has the potential to be a superb defender, and his offense is pretty good, too. He'll end up getting a lot of points off of his defense as well. He started kind of slow in the first half, but in the second, he had some breakaways and showed some great speed.
Smith is very limber and on a couple of occasions, he looked as if he might have put his legs too far apart and was about to fall down. But he is wiry enough to do that, and to still bounce back and be in position. He's going to be fun.
He is a bit on the thin side, as we suggested, but Singler and King are both huskier than you might expect freshmen to be. They're both big enough to bang down low even if they don't end up spending a lot of time there.
Like Smith, Lance Thomas is built on a lean frame, but he has gotten stronger over the summer. He still has to show better judgment at times - he tried to shoot under Brian Zoubek's shoulder which didn't work out too well - but he's on the right track. And he can run like the guards, too, so he'll get his minutes. He also brings a ton of energy, and with more talent and experience surrounding him, he won't need to attempt as much. If he rebounds and plays defense and does it well, he'll be a huge asset. Anything beyond that, this season, is gravy.
Perhaps the most improved player from last year is Gerald Henderson, who moved like a big cat, moving along like everyone else, then suddenly accelerating or elevating, then striking. He had one stunning blocked shot, quite a few aerial maneuvers, but, unlike last season, he was always, always, under control. There was concern last year that he wasn't grasping the system as quickly as he might have and that he tended to improvise when it wasn't such a great idea. That's over. Henderson was superb in every aspect.
Among other things, he made Jon Scheyer's life pretty miserable. Pretty much everywhere he went Scheyer found Nelson in his hip pocket, and he only shot 2-8. His stint as point guard last season paid off, though, as he had five assists.
Greg Paulus, who was incorrectly introduced by President Brodhead (who took the floor to introduce the team), didn't need to score as much as he did last year, since he had Henderson, King, and Nelson to handle that, and he got to run the team and defend, which is probably more to his liking. We got the feeling at times last year that he shot reluctantly, because no one else was getting it. Saturday evening, he was more conventional point guard. He didn't show any lingering effects from his foot injury and played a solid floor game.
DeMarcus Nelson also played a quiet but very solid game. He defended, rebounded, and passed, ending up with 10 points, five boards and four assists - not a bad outing at all.
The only guy who we wish had had a better outing was Brian Zoubek. Still recovering from his foot injury, he showed some rust. Still, he had 11 points and 10 boards, and he's the only guy on the team who can block a shot without leaving his feet.
Overall, this is a very athletic team, and a very fast team. It features a number of talented offensive performers, and enough athleticism to really chase the ball around. There will be some mismatches when Duke plays teams with bigger post players, but mismatches work both ways. Someone is going to have to guard King, and King, alone, means zoning Duke is a very bad idea.
Duke also has Scheyer, who will benefit greatly from King's presence and the defensive attention he'll demand. Singler, Nelson, Paulus Smith, and Pocius, when he's back, can all hit from outside. The only guys who really can't go outside are Thomas and Zoubek.
The outside shooting will really open things up, as will the lack of zone defenses, and the other team's big men will have to chase people around, instead of banging up against other big men. With the advent of the new, pro/Euro offense, and the emphasis on running and shooting, and Duke's traditional desire to ram it right down the middle, this team is going to try to wear people out, and they have the tools to do it. It's a vastly different group from last season, partly beacause of the new kids, but partly because the returning players have improved.
Notes - Coach K took the microphone at the half and spoke to the crowd, urging them to be part of the team, and speaking passionately about how the basketball program has never followed anyone's lead and the importance of Duke being Duke and not trying to be anything but Duke...the audience might be forgiven if they thought he was talking about more than basketball...he called on the women's team to rise and urged everyone to attend the Sunday Blue-White game to see the Cameron debut of new coach Joanne P. McCallie...President Brodhead introduced the team and reversed junior Paulus and senior Nelson...in attendance: former Duke greats Robert Brickey and David Henderson...Brickey was presumably scouting for Shaw's trip to Cameron in a few days...