Let's face it, Andre Dawkins' year off was entirely understandable but a bit unconventional. Taking time to come to terms with his sister's death - that she died on the way to see him play for the first time in college must have weighed on him - was, as Coach K said, the right thing to do.
Everyone grieves in their own way. Remember Michael Jordan after his father died? Publicly he seemed totally stoic, but we remember reading that one of his reasons for playing baseball was to honor his father. In his own way, he stepped out of the arena for a time.
Andre returns to a different team. When he stepped away, Duke was starting Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, SethÂ Curry, Tyler Thornton and Austin Rivers. Dawkins, Miles Plumlee and Josh Hairston were the primary reserves. Quinn Cook was still recuperating from his knee injury and Michael Gbinije, who could have had a huge role as a defensive stopper, was the last man off the bench.
Duke had issues in the backcourt and with scoring, so rookie Austin Rivers was asked to take on a disproportionate role as as scorer.
The trio of big men will all be gone, as will Curry. Only Thornton, Cook and Hairston will be back. Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee are both
back but both redshirted during Dawkins' junior year.
So the roster next year will include Cook, Thornton, Murphy, the youngest Plumlee, Hairston, Murphy, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye. Duke's also looking for another big man, possibly a grad school transfer who would be eligible immediately.
Whatever happens with that, this group promises to be versatile, athletic and potentially devastating on both ends of the court.
The new players will all push for minutes. Hood is said to be the best Duke player in practice and many people think he'll start.Â Jabari Parker has said he thinks he can fill Ryan Kelly's role on the team, which would be hugely impressive. He's a highly versatile and well-rounded player. We can't wait to see him.
Some people have called Matt Jones the best shooter Duke has had since the legendary JJ Redick. And we have a sneaky hunch that Ojeleye could end up much, much better than most people expect. At 6-6 and a rock-solid 205 (he looks much thicker), Ojeleye shows up in Durham ready to take on a major role. He's a gifted scorer, but we suspect he may get minutes based on his defense.
Sulaimon established himself as a superb defender last year and you'll have to use dynamite to separate him from his position. He'll start. Jefferson's minutes went up sharply when Kelly was out and he added a different dimension, a bouncy, coltish inside force who was only held back by a lack of bulk and experience. As Al Featherston said here recently, if he can gain some muscle, he'll have a considerably larger role.
What a lot of people may not yet get about Jefferson is that he's a wicked smart player. He periodically did some remarkable things in traffic.
Murphy and Plumlee were at the end of the rotation this season, but there's reason to think that might not last. Murphy showed some wonderful potential and versatility. He has deep range, can drive, block shots and play multiple positions.
Plumlee played very little after his injury, but we watched him closely in warmups. We were immensely impressed to see how quickly he could work a fake and a jump hook. The guy has obviously worked hard. A lot of people have probably forgotten, but when practice started, Coach K said he was basically the sixth man. That wasn't an accident.
Cook had some definite ups and downs, but we saw his best, and his best was damned good. He's a natural point and with this group, he'll have plenty of guys to get out on the break with.
The upper classmen are known commodities at this point: Thornton and Hairston are gutty players who will do whatever is necessary to help the team. Some fans and some posters here ripped Hairston, but he was a solid reserve who helped Duke when Plumlee and Kelly were out. He's a tough defender and he made a number of key plays for Duke. We'll make a prediction now: assuming he's healthy, Hairston will win at least one game for Duke this season, whether it's by rebounding or taking a charge or whatever it happens to be. He's never going to be a great player, but he's plenty good enough to help. And you have to love his attitude.
As for Thornton, we said earlier this year that if we could pick one guy who could stick around for a decade, it'd be #3. He's just tough, rugged and relentless. When he comes in, the game often just...changes. You wouldn't expect that from a 6-1 reserve guard, but he tends to do that.
So where does Dawkins fit in? He voluntarily and understandably chose to fall back. Cook, Thornton and Sulaimon all have established themselves. Jones will likely play as well and Ojeleye offers Duke something they haven't had in a long time: a versatile 6-6 wing who can guard almost anyone on the court.
For that matter, Parker may be versatile enough to play four positions.
What Duke has, in short, is an athletic, versatile team which has the potential to be immensely disruptive on defense and which on offense can spread the court behind a stable of three point shooters and a point guard who knows how to hit someone cutting to the basket. Dawkins will have his work cut out.
There is however a potentially useful precedent for the newly anointed #34, and that precedent is one Ricky Price.
Like Dawkins, Price sat out a year although involuntarily: his time away came for academic misconduct.
Again like Dawkins, when he returned, Duke was a very different team. When he returned, Duke had Wojo, Trajan Langdon, Nate James, Chris Carrawell, Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Roshown McLeod.
Price couldn't return to his previous role as an emerging offensive force. With Brand, Langdon, McLeod and Avery, Duke was an offensive juggernaut. They were so potent that Battier and Carrawell, who both later emerged as significant offensive performers, earned their minutes with defense.
And Price could have too, but didn't, and it cost Duke in the end.
Duke led Kentucky by a wide margin in the regional finals before the Wildcats mounted a spectacular comeback.
If we remember correctly, Kentucky's Wayne Turner repeatedly blew by Wojo. Wojo was a huge presence on that team, but he wasn't big enough or fast enough to stop Turner.
There was someone like that on the roster but Price never got off the bench. It was a shame, because at 6-6 and still perhaps the quickest Blue Devil we've ever seen, Price could have changed that game. Duke lost by just two, 86-84. A couple of stops might've done it.
Dawkins has vowed, via Twitter, to come back as a different player, and we believe him. He hasn't played before a crowd but he has apparently worked very hard. He has spent a lot of time with a trainer and presumably improved his strength, quickness and endurance.
Dawkins' vow, we presume, means that he will be more focused and aggressive and, perhaps, a much better defender and leader.
With next year's team, much like 1998's, there is enough talent to mandate that the better defenders will get the bulk of the minutes. If Dawkins is going to get into the rotation, it'll be because of his defense.
Thursday Tweets from Andre Dawkins about his return:
- Excited to say that I will be a part of the 2013-2014 Duke Men's Basketball Team. Thanks to everyone for the support throughout the year
- This year was tough to be away but I feel like I have grown immensely off the court and am ready to come back and help the team win
- I have changed my number to 34 in part of my admiration of Ray Allen and all that he's done in his career primarily shooting the basketball
- I have changed my number to 34 in part of my admiration of Ryan Kelly. thanks love him too
- I want to get a fresh start and be a different player than I was. In October you will see a different Andre Dawkins
- Andre Dawkins vows to be 'different player' in Duke basketball return
- Dawkins will return to Blue Devils' roster
- 'Different' Andre Dawkins ready to return to court for Duke
- Andre Dawkins to Return to Court for 2013-14 Season
- Senior guard Andre Dawkins will return to Duke program next season
- Duke's Andre Dawkins to play basketball in 2013-14
- Andre Dawkins to Return to Court for 2013-14 Season