Duke chases sixth title with class of likely 1-and-dones
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Grayson Allen was part of one star-studded freshman class that won a national championship at Duke. He’s also been on a young team that flamed out in the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend.
So the senior guard knows what works and what doesn’t.
And he’s confident this team resembles 2014-15 — and not last year’s enigmatic group.
“The great thing is, they all have great attitudes,” Allen said. “They’re all extremely talented, from top to bottom, so I’m really looking forward to what we can put together. But we’ve got to put it together.”
Things clicked perfectly during Allen’s freshman season, when he teamed with one-and-dones Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones to claim Duke’s fifth and most recent national championship. The players all entered the NBA draft after one year in college.
It didn’t quite work last year when the Blue Devils tried to do the same thing, loading up with one-year players Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson. That crew capped off a drama-filled season by being overwhelmed in the second round by a South Carolina team that advanced to the Final Four.
Duke never has the luxury of low expectations, the price of building one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport and of perpetually having McDonald’s All-Americans ready to replace the ones that move on to the pros.
This year is no different, with promising freshmen Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III — who graduated a year early to start college , and presumably move to the pros, a year ahead of schedule — taking over and looking to blend with a thin cast of upperclassmen. Allen is the only returnee who played more than eight minutes per game last season.
“The fabric of a junior-senior team at Duke in the past is very difficult to replicate to the level of the same fabric,” Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have a good fabric, but it’s different.”
Some things to know about the 2017-18 Duke Blue Devils:
THEY’RE BIGGER: This Duke team will barely resemble the guard-heavy groups that made J.J. Reddick, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Jones recognizable names. The strength of these Blue Devils will be on the interior, with Carter (6-foot-10), Bagley (6-11) and sophomore Marques Bolden (6-11) anchoring the front line. Krzyzewski says this will be “a big team, but an athletic team” and conceded that “we’re not the outside shooting force that we’ve been in previous years.”
ALLEN’S LEARNED HIS LESSON: Allen returned for his senior year with a determination to avoid the questionable play that made him a lightning rod over the past two seasons. He’s a captain again after he was stripped of that role following his third tripping incident in less than 12 months, and says he “can’t focus on the one-on-one stuff” with opponents and instead must keep his cool and lead this young team.
INEXPERIENCED UPPERCLASSMEN: The Blue Devils will need some upperclassmen to step up for perhaps the first time in their college careers. After Allen, the most experienced returning player is Bolden — who played all of 157 minutes during a freshman season marked by injury — while Antonio Vrankovic averaged 7.8 minutes in 2016-17. “Guys that played limited who are sophomores or a junior need to be empowered to express their culture because they know it,” Krzyzewski said. “They just don’t have the so-called credibility of playing time, but they have the credibility of being in our program.”
KEY GAMES: Duke gets its customary early season test from Michigan State on Nov. 14 in the Champions Classic in Chicago and drew Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in its marquee nonconference games. As for the games everybody anticipates — the Blue Devils visit archrival North Carolina on Feb. 8, then play host to the reigning national champions in the season finale on March 3.
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