During the Final Four last April, Mike Krzyzewski said his Duke Blue Devils program has adapted to the “one-and-done” aspect of college basketball recruiting by trying to start player relationships before they even get to the Durham, N.C., campus.
Or as Kentucky coach John Calipari calls it, “succeed and proceed.”
“We try to develop even a deeper relationship with them,” Krzyzewski said during media day at the Final Four this year. “You want to know them better because you’re only going to have them for a shorter period of time.”
As Blue Devils continue to grow and thrive as young NBA stars year after year, Coach K isn’t putting some spin to try and make young players feel comfortable with playing for the 68-year-old Hall of Famer.
A master of intelligent basketball, Krzyzewski’s great focus on guidance and young professionalism at Duke is now the perfect priming point for emerging stars. It is the type of leadership that is often association with the game’s top coaches.
After all, it’s not a surprise when the coach recently retired as the coach of the United States men’s national team and will be replaced by another great puzzle-master, Gregg Popovich, following the 2016 Olympic Games.
When players began to shorten their stays in college, top Duke players were staying in school longer than many of their young peers, maybe by choice or maybe out of respect or even commitment.
Now with four new key highly-recruited faces for this season in Brandon Ingram, Derrick Thornton, Luke Kennard and Gorman High grad Chase Jeter joining veteran stars Grayson Allen (a graybeard sophomore), junior Matt Jones, and seniors Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee the defending champion Blue Devils currently sit atop my opening rankings after the first week of the season.
And Duke was fast at it, winning the opening pair of games over the weekend in the 2K Sports Classic, then taking on Kentucky on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Chicago, and following it up with a trip to New York for the conclusion of bracketed eight-team event.
The Devils take on perennial mid-major power VCU at MSG on Friday (4:30 PST, ESPN2) with the winner meeting the winner of Georgetown and defending national runner-up Wisconsin (ESPN), which lost an early-season shocker on Friday to Western Illinois.
In the opener, we like UNDER 145 or so, expecting the score to land in the neighborhood of a 10-point win for the Blue Devils. In the nightcap, we also recommend UNDER 129, as the Hoyas are off a Tuesday beltway battle with Maryland and the Badgers find a way to get the close victory in an ugly game that could negatively showcase the new foul rules implemented this season.
It will make for a good storyline, but with most of the cast from last April’s game gone, the Blue Devils are likely to be a pretty strong favorite. The title game for the tourney, no matter the matchup, is at 10 a.m. PST on Sunday (ESPN).
Southern Utah (+13, 147) at UNLV, Wed., 7 p.m. PT: The Rebels failed to cover in a predictably close opener in a new rules-flavored foul fest against Cal Poly, as is seemingly always the case for UNLV in the preseason. The Rebels got to the line 40 times, which could pose a problem if they shoot only 62.5 percent from the stripe. The good news is 7-foot freshman Stephen Zimmerman was impressive in the opener, and has a deft big-man touch from the line. The T-Birds got the money in the season opener getting 24 against tall Utah. UNLV, 79-71.
Pepperdine (+8, 150) at UCLA (Thur., 7:30 PT): The Bruins won a three-way recruiting battle over San Diego State and Oregon last week for forward T.J. Leaf, from Foothills Christian in east San Diego County. Meanwhile, this group of Bruins already threw in a season-opening clunker, losing at home to Monmouth before failing at home in a 5-point win over that tough Cal Poly quad. Tony Parker, Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford are joined by 6-1 freshman Aaron Holiday. The Waves are coming in off a game on Monday with San Diego Christian, of Santee. UCLA, 80-63.
Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].