DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Zion Williamson watched from afar as Mike Krzyzewski repeatedly blended collections of NBA All-Stars into Olympic champions.
That’s why he says he and the latest crop of prized freshmen picked Duke. If that plan worked with the U.S. national team, it should work in college.
“It’s kind of why we came to Duke,” Williamson said. “He’s done it with Team USA with great players, and we feel like he can do it with us. So far, he’s shown that he can.”
The Blue Devils have won a championship before with a one-and-done-dominated roster. They’ve also flamed out in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
And as one handful of freshmen cycled out of the program, another has rolled in behind them, hoping to more closely resemble the group that claimed the school’s most recent tournament title in 2015.
This team begins the season at No. 4 in the AP Top 25 — the first year since 2015-16 that they didn’t start at No. 1 — but with the same high expectations that always come at a program that constantly brings in McDonald’s All-Americans to replace the first-round draft picks it churns out.
Gone are all five starters from the team that lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight — including one-year players Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval. Coming in are Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish — who form the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting class.
“They’re good guys, and they knew each other before they got here, and they not only knew each other, they respected one another,” Krzyzewski said. “To get a class like that, you have to have those qualities, but you also have to be secure about who you are … or confident that they … would get better being together.”
Some things to know about the 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils:
Krzyzewski says he’s confident there are no eligibility issues with Williamson — or, for that matter, any of his freshmen. It became a question when the transcript of a wiretapped phone call was released in court during the federal college basketball fraud trial. In it, an Adidas consultant and a Kansas assistant discussed Williamson’s recruitment. Krzyzewski says Williamson and the other freshmen went through a strict vetting process.
GOLDEN STATE BLUE DEVILS?
Krzyzewski says Duke will run the five-out motion offense made popular by the Golden State Warriors and other high-scoring NBA teams to take advantage of the current players’ versatility and court sense. “I would like the game played where you’re making reads the whole game,” Krzyzewski said. “Our game is a game of reads, and when you run a system, you read for your players. … One of the things that five-out motion does, it teaches you to make reads.”
Tre Jones should look familiar — he bears a strong resemblance in appearance and demeanor to his older brother Tyus, selected the most outstanding player of the 2015 Final Four and point guard on the Blue Devils’ most recent national championship team. Krzyzewski says Jones “understands the game as well as anybody as we’ve brought in.”
Duke will have a new look on the bench, too. Jeff Capel, Krzyzewski’s longtime right-hand man who filled in for the Hall of Fame coach in recent years during his health-related absences, is starting his first season as Pittsburgh’s head coach. The Blue Devils elevated assistants Nate James and Jon Scheyer to associate head coaches and brought back former Duke player Chris Carrawell as an assistant.
The biggest shortcoming on this Duke team is experience. No one who played 13 minutes or more per game last season is back, and the leading returning scorer — junior big man Marques Bolden — averaged just 3.9 points.
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