Duke’s Countdown to Craziness scrimmage had some nice highlights and things worth talking about but the moment that most people will remember was a scary one: Grayson Allen, in his usual flat-out style, dove to intercept a pass to forward Amile Jefferson.
Unfortunately he took Jefferson down at the knees and the two rolled over, with Jefferson screaming in pain. He didn’t move for a minute or two before finally sitting up.
You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Cameron was as quiet as it ever gets, or about a normal volume level over at the Dean Dome.
Then Jefferson got up and was fine.
That was about the extent of the drama as the white team won 52-37.
The White team was made up of Jayson Tatum, Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Jefferson, Justin Robinson and Brennan Besser. The Blue team was Allen, Javin DeLaurier, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden, Jack White, Antonio Vrankovic and Nick Pagliuca.
Just to underscore, the White team had one freshman while the Blue team had four and Vrankovic, who is a player who is developing but not there yet and Robinson, who came to Duke as a preferred walk-on. Vrankovic and Robinson, both sons of former NBA players, redshirted last year.
Dean Smith used to make a sort of ritual humiliation - that’s not really fair, it was really more of a means of humbling - his freshmen by having them play the upperclassmen, who routinely destroyed them.
They rather quickly realized their place in the scheme of things and The System rolled on.
Although the freshmen made impressions, particularly Tatum and Bolden, it was a bit of the same idea.
Tatum was outstanding. He’s a smooth offensive player to say the least and he has a habit of being in the right place at the right time. That’s a real talent. Larry Bird had it and so did Magic Johnson. It’s not that the ball bounces to you at those times or something like that. It’s you understanding where to be in the flow of the game and Tatum has a bit of that. He can also push the game where he wants it to go with a shot or a pass. For a freshman, his game is strikingly mature.
Of course playing with Jefferson helped too because Duke’s best returning defender wasn’t in his grill the whole time. And he had the benefit of playing with veterans Jones, Kennard and Jeter as well.
On the other side, Frank Jackson, universally penciled in at point guard, had 12 points on 5-8 shooting. Yet he seemed tentative at times - no surprise for a freshman stepping on the big stage for the first time. Marques Bolden showed some solid footwork for a big man but shot 40% from the floor and 50% from the line.
Playing against veterans helped depress his shooting percentage. Javin DeLaurier only took one shot but offense won’t be how he builds a role as a freshmen - Duke has plenty of offense. The White team was 7-10 from three point range and the blue team was 5-11, and that included 2-7 from usually reliable Grayson Allen. Freshman Jack White hit 2-2.
DeLaurier had five rebounds in 15 minutes. He’ll earn minutes if he keeps that up and plays solid defense.
Kennard, who struggled last year from three point range in spite of clear ability, shot 3-4 and finished with 11 points.
Robinson, who we haven’t seen since last year, belonged. He played well and appears a bit taller than last year.
And while Jeter’s stats were modest, he’s clearly matured from last season. His hard work is going to pay off. It’s just a question of how long it takes. He has a great role model in Marshall Plumlee, who became a wonderful player for Duke after not doing much for his first three years in Durham (including a redshirt year).
You could point to Jefferson in a similar way. As a freshman he was forced to play before he was ready and was just hammered when he had to start at NC State. By his junior season he had become a real if quiet force for Duke, and a guy who was willing to step back and let others start because it made his team better and ultimately national champions.
As far as the redshirts got, Robinson is probably ahead of Vrankovic, but like last year, we see little glimpses out of the big guy. So we were surprised to see him jack up a shot from near the foul line, which he made. He has a ways to go but keep an eye on him. He has a feel for the game which his body cannot yet fully express.
If we had to guess, we’d expect Duke to start Allen, Jackson, Jefferson, Bolden and Tatum, but it wouldn’t surprise us at all if Jones started in place of Jackson.
And the offense is probably ahead of the defense, which is pretty typical.
However, there was something that couldn’t fully be accounted for in this scrimmage and that’s the eventual presence of Harry Giles, and his integration will change everything.
Giles dressed for the scrimmage but didn’t play as he’s still recovering from his knee issues. However, he’s a superb defender who’s going to have a tremendous impact on this team.
Put a team out with Giles and Jefferson and the front court defense becomes suffocating. Put a team out with Giles, Jefferson and Allen and the overall defense is tremendous. Add Jones and you have four guys, any of whom are capable of being Duke’s best defender.
That doesn’t happen very often and it’s really rare when you have this kind of firepower.
We’re not making comparisons here so please don’t misunderstand, but when you look at Duke ‘92 or UNC ‘82 or UCLA ‘67, you see teams that had extraordinary talents on both offense and defense. Duke had Grant Hill, who was a brilliant defender. We watched in awe as he broke up a 4-on-1 break in Cameron his senior year. Bobby Hurley was a remarkable passer and a solid scorer; he was also a pit-bull defender. Christian Laettner was best known as an offensive player but he gave no ground on defense. You had to earn everything against him.
UNC had the incomparable Michael Jordan, who was the nation’s best offensive and defensive player, Sam Perkins, who was a remarkable post defender and outstanding offensive center, and James Worthy, who could what he pleased.
And of course UCLA had (then) Lew Alcindor, who simply couldn’t be stopped on offense and who was by far the best defender in college during his one-loss NCAA career.
What we are saying is that Duke has a team that could be extremely powerful on both ends of the court and when you have that, you have the potential for greatness.
Of course, Duke has concerns too. Giles is not ready yet and it’s not clear when he will be. Jackson is not a natural point guard and neither is anyone else on the roster, and that could be a real problem.
Duke has been there before. As far as Giles goes, the Blue Devils have a solid rotation without him (although it will be much better with him). Over the years, Duke has had injuries to deal with including last season with Jefferson’s foot.
And in years past, Duke used “conveyance” to get around not having a natural point guard. Basically it’s the team advancing the ball rather than having a point guard bring the ball up. It worked reasonably well and of course it would be stupid to judge Jackson after 20 minutes.
Even as a tentative freshman in his first action, Jackson had no trouble scoring.
You normally expect a point guard to have a healthy assist total. He didn’t in this game - he had two - but Allen had four, as did Jones, and Jefferson had five.
With any team, you consider the present against the potential future. Duke is in the process of incorporating a talented class, of learning roles, many of which may be an adjustment, and of establishing a group identity.
Over the next eight weeks or so we’ll see tweaks and adjustments as roles are tweaked and weaknesses shored up, and then we’ll see a second, lesser set of adjustments when Giles is ready to play.
If it’s not now, at that point it should be pretty clear: this team will score lots, but it has the potential to defend like few Duke teams in recent history.
And as great as the freshmen may be, with the expection of Giles, most of that defense is going to come from more experienced players.
- Box Score
- Tatum shines at Duke’s ‘Countdown to Craziness’
- Back in uniform: Amile Jefferson displays leadership and versatility at Countdown to Craziness
- Tatum and Jackson showcase potential in Countdown to Craziness
- Duke basketball holds annual 'Countdown to Craziness' event
- Countdown to Craziness recap: Big night at Duke features star turns, scares, short shorts and injury updates