Sometimes it pays to be in your seat early.
Usually, members of the media wait in the press room until the national anthem is played, then we rush to our seats on press row before tipoff. At halftime, we migrate back to the press room for coke and cookies and a chance to exchange opinions about the first half of play.
I'm usually as guilty as anyone of "pressroomitis", but for some reason I can't explain, Saturday night I tore myself away from the Georgia-Florida game that we were all watching on the press room TV and went out to my press row seat for pregame warm-ups.
I'm glad I did - I was treated to a Brian Magid flashback.
For those too young to remember, Magid was a guard who played for Maryland in 1976 and 1977 before transferring to George Washington. He was a marginal player who averaged just under 4.0 points in his two seasons, but he was a legendary long-range shooter.
Before one of his two games at Cameron, Magid came out early (before the formal pregame warm-ups) with a couple of his teammates to shoot around. The lower stands were packed with students who engaged the Terps in a little good-natured verbal jousting. Magid ignored the Crazies and began to launch some ridiculously long one-handed set shots. There were no 3-point lines on the court at the time, but Magid was clearly shooting from beyond the modern arch.
After about 15 minutes, a student jumped out of the stands and laid a dollar bill on the court at a spot that was maybe 25 feet from the basket. Magid ignored it for a few moments, then almost casually sidled over to the bill and launched a shot. When it swished, he picked up the bill and stuck it in his waistband - like a stripper putting money in her g-string.
The crowd roared and, soon, another student raced out and laid another dollar bill on the floor - a few feet farther out. The same scene was replayed two or three times until finally a student came out and placed his bill on the midcourt line.
Magid ignored the challenge for the longest time. He continued shooting from 20-25 feet, mostly, until he was ready to return to the locker room. But just before leaving the court, he backed up to the dollar at midcourt. He launched the 45-footer to the cheers of the crowd ... it swished, he picked up the buck and raced to the locker room.
Saturday night, the Duke team came out together and warmed up for 5-6 minutes at the end nearest the student entrance. At that point, they split and the Blue team for the scrimmage headed to the other end (in front of the grad students) and began their informal shoot-around.
That's when freshman Taylor King did his best Brian Magid impression.
King started a few steps behind the 3-point line at the top of the key. He'd shoot and a manager beneath the basket would rebound and feed him another ball. After every shot hit, King would back up a step and fire again. On about his fifth or sixth try, he was beyond 30 feet - shooting as effortlessly as he does from 15. The crowd was chanting "Taylor King!" before he finally missed on his sixth of seventh shot. A few moments later, King moved to the left wing, where he planted himself a good 8-10 feet behind the 3-point line and started again. This time he didn't move back after every shot, but he did hit five in a row before he missed.
All that was missing was a student racing out or the stands to put a dollar bill on the floor.
When the game started, King continued his dazzling display. Barely two minutes into the game, he took a pass from Greg Paulus in transition and pulled up and hit a 3-pointer - basically from the same spot as he had been shooting from in warm-ups. He missed a 3-pointer from the same general area on the next possession, but just seconds later, got another chance and nailed one from well over 25 feet.
Two possessions later, King hit a 3-pointer from the right corner. He missed another long try, but after Gerald Henderson made a great swooping rebound on a DeMarcus Nelson miss, he took the inside-out feed from Henderson and dropped his fourth 3-pointer in just seven minutes. He added a hook shot over Kyle Singler and another corner-launched 3-pointer before the 15-minute half ended.
At that point, I was thinking of Jerry Wainwright's description of King. The former Wake Forest assistant coached the Blue Devil freshman last summer in the Under-18 World Championships and described King as "a stick of dynamite."
I think the first seven-eight minutes of the Blue-White scrimmage showed exactly what Wainwright was talking about. King finished the first 15-minute half with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting (5-of-7 3-pointers), three rebounds and a steal. He was the biggest reason that the Blue team led 41-29 at the break.
But if the first half demonstrated why King will play a major role this season, the second half of the scrimmage demonstrated why King still has a way to go to be a star.
The 6-6 freshman was 1-of-7 from the floor in the second 15-minute half (0-for-5 from 3-point range). He added three more rebounds and another steal and at times, he helped Greg Paulus break the White team's fullcourt pressure.
I've seen message board suggestions that King was tired (he did play all 30 minutes of the scrimmage without a break) or that he was the victim of some good defense by fellow freshman Kyle Singler.
There's probably validity to both suggestions, but may I suggest that it's also possible that King - like most long-range gunners - is a streaky shooter who can be blazingly hot one minute and frigidly cold the next. How often did J.J. Redick go through stretches when you thought he'd never miss again ... and stretches where it looked like he couldn't see the basket (remember his finale against LSU?).
For what it's worth, I was watching King during the brief halftime warm-ups (hoping for another Magid Moment) and was not hitting consistently as he was before the game. And his first two misses early in the second half came on wide open shots.
For the game, King hit 5-of-12 3-pointers - which is 41.7 percent, about what you'd want a prolific 3-point shooter to hit (Redick was 40.3 and 42.6 in his two best seasons; Shane Battier hit 41.6 for his career; Trajan Langdon hit 42.6 - only Christian Laettner, who took a lot less 3-point attempts, was significantly better).
Magid was a marginal player who left Maryland after two seasons because he couldn't get on the floor, despite his long-range shooting skill. Of course, he played in the era before the 3-point shot, so its understandable that Lefty Driesell preferred to pound it inside to the likes of Steve Sheppard and Larry Boston. And he had John Lucas and Brad Davis in the backcourt - and they had a much greater variety of skills than a one-dimensional 6-2 guard who was slow, couldn't defend and owned a mediocre handle.
Is King equally equally one-dimensional?
I know some critics think so, but I don't. He does have physical limitations, but he also has an innate inside toughness that should come in handy for an undersized team. I shudder to think of him trying to guard K.C. Rivers or Gavin Grant on the wing, but I could see him matched up in the post against a Brandon Costner or a Ryan Pettinella or a Shamari Spears or a Trevor Booker. And it would be fun seeing those guys chase King out to 30 feet on the other end!
One final point about King before I move on ... I read a poster who suggested that King had a "slow release" on his shot. Now, there are a lot of criticisms that might apply to the freshman sharpshooter, but to question the speed of his release is astonishing. It's like saying that Peyton Manning has a slow release on his passes.
King not only launches quickly, he launches high; his release point is over his head - and with his long arms and 6-6 height (combined with his willingness to launch from intercontinental distances AND his quick release), he's a tough guy to defend.
I don't want this to sound like I'm nominating King for the Hall of Fame or for jersey retirement. I just know he won't have much problem getting his shots off this season ... whether he hits a high enough percentage and does the other things necessary to play a major role ... well, that's still to be determined.
At halftime, I thought the story of the scrimmage would be King.
I was wrong.
To me, the ultimate story of last night's scrimmage - and the reason for the Blue team's eventual 69-64 victory - was the duel between junior Greg Paulus and freshman Nolan Smith at the point.
It turned out to be a classic illustration of the benefits of experience vs. the benefits of raw talent.
Paulus is a wily veteran, under control and moving much better with a healthy foot this season. He's still nowhere as quick as Smith - although he usually did a better job of blocking dribble penetration by Smith than Smith did in blocking Paulus' penetration (the freshman drew three fouls trying to block Paulus' drives).
Smith had a very shaky first half (2-of-7 shooting) with no assists and two turnovers. Both his baskets came in transition - one after a beautiful strip of Paulus in open court.
The freshman was much more effective in the second half, mostly in his ability to get to the basket in transition. He finished with 19 points, but just one assist.
After the game, Mike Krzyzewski avoided comment about individual players (suggesting he needed to study the film), but when a reporter asked about Jon Scheyer and his failure to get more than eight shots off, Krzyzewski suggested that Smith's inexperience was one of the reasons.
"I thought Jon really well - he was guarded by DeMarcus Nelson," Coach K said. "DeMarcus Nelson is one of the best defenders in the league and he could concentrate on Jon because the other wing was either [walk-on Jordan Davidson or walk-on Steve Johnson]. And they didn't find him some times. Nolan did very, very well, but when he's playing on that team, he needs to know where Jon's at all the time. Because Jon was open a number of times ... and they didn't see him."
On the other hand, Paulus did a good job of getting the ball to the scorers on his team. He was credited with just five assists (although he could have had more) and did a good job managing the Blue offense throughout the game.
The difference between the two point guards was never more evident than in the final five minutes after the White tied the game at 57 on a four-point play by Scheyer.
Smith had a lot to do with the White team's comeback - both his offense and defense flourished in the open court. But the main weapon in the comeback was Singler, while the most experienced player on the floor for the White team was Scheyer.
Yet, down the stretch, Smith didn't get either player the ball. Instead, of the next four White shots after the game was tied, Smith set up walk-on Jordan Davidson for a pair of shots and he missed twice on his own on jumpers.
At the other end, Paulus set up King for an open 3-pointer (although he missed and Henderson scored on a follow shot), then got the ball inside to Brian Zoubek, who was fouled and hit one of two free throws.
Henderson scored without Paulus' help on a tough jumper, but the next time down - after Henderson missed a jumper and Zoubek rebounded - Paulus set up Henderson for a dunk to stretch the lead to 64-59. After Lance Thomas converted a 3-point play to bring the White team back to within two points, Paulus put the game away by hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
In the final seconds, Paulus had one sequence where he looked like Marques Haynes as he dribbled through the White defense. He finished the scoring by driving on Smith and scoring.
Forgive the extensive play-by-play - this is, of course, just a preseason scrimmage and not the ACC title game. But I thought it was an impressive exhibition of game management - an evidence of why Paulus still has an edge on the more physically talented Smith.
Of course, the beauty of it is that the two players are not in competition.
"Having Greg and Nolan at the point gives us great depth," Krzyzewski said. "We should have somebody fresh there all the time."
It also helps that they have very different skills. I don't want to read too much into one public scrimmage and the handful of practices and pickup games I've seen, but it appears that Coach K can use Smith to kick up the tempo and to turn up the defensive pressure, while Paulus will be used to manage the game on the floor and provide another strong 3-point threat (after finishing strong from behind the arch last year, he picked up in the scrimmage by hitting 2-of-3 3-point tries).
However, the intriguing question to me is how much time the two point guards will spend on the court together?
"I don't know," Smith answered when I asked him in the locker room. "We haven't played together yet in practice. Mostly we go against each other. I think we're making each other better. Maybe we'll get to play together in one of the exhibitions coming up."
Coach K has never been adverse to using two point guards together - remember Jason Williams and Chris Duhon? And Smith played most of his high school career alongside a great playmaker (Ty Lawson in 2006 and Brandon Jennings in 2007). I suspect Duke will start the season with Paulus at the point and Smith coming off the bench as his backup.
But I suspect - and I'm just guessing here - that it won't be long before Smith's role expands. I think we should look to how Will Avery was used in 1998 and how Chris Duhon came on late in 2001 as a model for how Nolan Smith might be developed.
Blue-White Games are notoriously poor indicators of the coming season. I think the problem is that the brief scrimmage is a snapshot of an ongoing process. Also, by dividing the teams relatively evenly, you get very different rotations than you'll get when the team plays as a whole. You have players forced into very different roles.
So, trying not to read too much into what I saw, let me suggest:
-- The difference between Gerald Henderson last season and this was not the fact that he made some remarkable athletic plays - his block of Kyle Singler's dunk would have become a historic play had it happened in a real game.
I think it was a little more meaningful how strong and confident he looked going up for his jump shot. I'd warn against getting too carried away by the fact that he was 3-of-3 on 3-pointers (plus another two from just inside the line). What IS impressive is how he gets so much elevation on his jump shot, that he can usually shoot it over a defender in his face. That's a gift that David Thompson used to exploit - not that Henderson is anything like David Thompson.
However, the most impressive thing about Henderson's game was his strength and energy at the end of the 30-minute scrimmage. Henderson, who played every second of the game without a break, scored six of the Blue team's final 11 points and looked just as fresh down the stretch as he did in the beginning.
That's a HUGE difference between last year and this. A year ago, Henderson had a preseason injury that prevented him from getting in shape. After that, he was only able to play well in short spurts. There is some question as to what was bothering him - he recently said the diagnosis of anxiety-induced asthma was incorrect - but there's no question that he was limited all season by his lack of endurance.
That doesn't appear to be the case now.
"Last season I didn't have much of a preseason," Henderson said in the locker room after the scrimmage. "It's a big deal that I could start even with everybody else as far as conditioning. I remember last year, I was struggling through this game - just being tired throughout the whole game. This year, at certain points everybody gets tired, but you learn how to play with it."
That lesson should make Gerald Henderson a much more effective player this season.
-- The reports of the breath of Kyle Singler's game appear to be justified.
The 6-9 freshman started slowly. He missed three of his first four shots and seemed bothered by Zoubek's presence inside.
But he quickly adjusted and began using both his body and the rim to protect his shots. He was very effective on the drive and he made some nice passes. Overall, he put up a solid stat line - 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, nine rebounds and two assists.
He mostly guarded fellow freshman Taylor King, which I suggest is a unique challenge - there's nobody in the ACC anything like King that he'll be asked to guard. I think we'll have to wait and see what kind of defensive force Singler will become.
-- It's probably unfair to try and read too much into Brian Zoubek's performance. He's still not back in shape after off-season foot surgery, yet he went 30 minutes without apparent distress.
To me, the most disappointing thing about his performance was that he has not conquered the hesitation he always seems to display when catching the ball in the post. Again, I don't want to read too much into one scrimmage - but I wish he'd be more decisive with the basketball. Somebody should show him some old tapes of Antwan Jamison.
On the other hand, I thought he put his size to good use at the defensive end. His size clearly bothered the White team inside. He does a good job of staying on the floor and keeping his arms over his head. The countermove for the offense is to initiate body contact and then go up for the shot, trying to draw a foul.
The three ACC refs who worked the scrimmage were very inconsistent about calling that contact a foul or letting it go. That's going to be crucial to Zoubek's contribution this season. Forget his offensive game - he can set screens and try to score on offensive rebounds. Defensively, he can be a very useful player if he's allowed to play. And, again, the key play that will determine whether he's on the floor or whether he's on the bench is that play where the opponent bodies up against him, then goes up for the shot.
-- Speaking of fouls, poor free throw shooting hurt Duke last year. Overall, the two teams combined to hit 16 of 24 free throws last night - a mediocre 67.0 percent.
As always, it depends a lot on who is shooting. Smith and Scheyer combined to hit 7-of-7 - all in the clutch in the final minutes. Singler was an okay, but not great 5-of-7. Henderson missed his only two attempts.
Neither Paulus nor Nelson, whose FT percentages will be vitally import this season, went to the line.
Again, just one scrimmage ... but keep an eye on it.
Everything written above is the opinion of a veteran sports writer. Take it (or leave it) for what it's worth. If there's one thing that 35-plus years of covering ACC basketball has taught me it's the fallibility of my own opinions.
However, I would suggest that one thing came out of the scrimmage that was a bit more substantial than anything I have to say.
At halftime, Mike Krzyzewski took the microphone and talked to the crowd about the team. He was pumping up the Crazies and encouraging the students to make a commitment of support to this team. In the course of his speech, his enthusiasm for this Duke team came through.
Afterwards, it was evident in his postgame approach to the media.
"Our kids are really playing hard," he said. "We're just a much better basketball team than we were last year - older, deeper and more athletic."
Later, he added:
"I'm pleased how well our guys have picked up the system," he said. "Defensively, they go after each other really hard. My team's had a good fall so far. I like my team."
That's been a consistent theme from Coach K since the start of practice. He's been remarkably upbeat about this team and this team's prospects.
I'd certainly trust his judgment over my own.
To me, that was the most important thing to come out of Duke's Blue-White scrimmage.
NOTES - There was a strong student turnout, basically filling the lower stands, while the upper stands were barely half full. Apparently, the students were seated by class and some had been designated to cheer for the Blue team and some for the White - it was disconcerting to see Duke players harassed at the foul line by the own students. ... President Richard Brodhead introduced the team before the scrimmage - and botched it. He forgot Greg Paulus and later (more forgivably) mispronounced the name of assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski ... Duke will play two exhibitions in a 48-hour span this week, taking on Shaw University (coached by Robert Brickey) on Thursday night, then facing Division II national champion Barton College at 5 p.m. Saturday (following the noon home football game with Clemson).