On Monday, Jahlil Okafor was named the A.P.'s Preseason Player Of The Year. On Tuesday, he plays his first game.
|If you shop Amazon, please start here and help DBR|
|Drop us a line|
Like everyone, we have high expectations for Okafor, but people should have learned from Harrison Barnes: you have to actually get on the court and do it first.
In other words, it's a lot better to be the Player Of The Year after the season than before.
Young Okafor gets to start making his case on Tuesday, when Duke faces Livingstone in the Blue Devil's first exhibition.
Livingstone won last year's CIAA Tournament and made a solid showing in the D-II Tournament as well.
It's a relatively short trip - the Blue Bears call Salisbury home - and the team should bring a fairly good crowd with them.
Livingstone lost both guards from last year's team, Mark Thomas and Jody Hill, so there's a lot of work to do to replace them.
It's hard to find a lot of information about Livingstone, and no offense to the Blue Bears, but an exhibition is usually about the home team.
For Duke, and Duke fans, it's a chance to see the freshmen in a competitive environment for the first time. Okafor, universally seen as a huge talent, as suggested by Monday's A.P. honor, will probably be a dominant force, although you have to factor in freshman nerves. It is his first performance in Cameron after all.
And after him most eyes will probably go to point guard Tyus Jones to see what he can do. High school reputations are great, but you still have to step up. Unlike his big buddy, Jones will be one of the smaller guys on the court. He won't overpower anyone; he has to outrun and outsmart people.
Justise Winslow is going to be fun, particularly with some of Duke's other defensive talents. Duke hasn't had a player like him in a while.
And while those three got most of the attention, Grayson Allen is highly talented as well. He also seems to have a great attitude. He may surprise everyone.
Meshing a group like this with the upperclassmen could be tricky, but everyone seems to be wildly positive about that.
Duke returns Amile Jefferson, who will start as Coach K sees him as the best communicator on the team, Rasheed Sulaimon, who is both a ferocious defender and a guy who can create his own shots, Quinn Cook, co-captain with Jefferson, Matt Jones, who Krzyzewski said never had a bad practice last year, Marshall Plumlee, who improved by leaps and bounds in limited time and after struggling with injuries, and Semi Ojeleye, who came to Duke at 6-6 and who is now listed at 6-8.
Any of these guys could work their way into the starting lineup. Duke isn't as deep as is Kentucky, where Jon Calipari plans to run his guys in platoons to get everyone fair minutes, but Duke is pretty deep.
Perhaps more importantly, it's a versatile team. You could put any number of combinations on the court for any number of situations.
And what's more intriguing to us is the defensive potential of this group. The perimeter pressure should be really intense.
The journey starts on Tuesday.