Coach K: We're making some big turns ... I like that
There aren’t many college basketball programs where a 26-win season that featured a conference runner-up finish would spawn big changes.
Duke, though, refuses to be just any college basketball program because Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski is loathe to relax when he believes better is available.
So because Duke suffered the indignity of failing to win an NCAA Tournament game for the second time in three seasons, Krzyzewski is keenly focused on finding a better way.
“There will be some physical changes here by the end of the summer,” Krzyzewski said. “There will be playing changes when you see us play next year. Not wholesale, we are averaging 30 wins a season over the last five years. But you have to adjust and this is a time when you don’t make a little turn. We are making some big turns. I like that.”
Led by first-team all-American freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore forward Rodney Hood, Duke went 26-9 last season and lost to Virginia in the ACC Tournament championship game.
Expecting to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils instead were upset by 14th-seeded Mercer 78-71 at Raleigh’s PNC Arena.
Since then, the program has seen important, though mostly expected, changes. Parker and Hood declared for the NBA Draft and are both projected as first-round picks.
Longtime assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski became Marquette’s head coach. Krzyzewski filled the staff void by promoting Jon Scheyer, a first-year special assistant last season, to the full assistant position.
“He keeps us a little bit more current,” Krzyzewski said of Scheyer, who completed his Duke playing career helping the Blue Devils win the 2010 NCAA title. “He’s a young guy. We think he’s done a great job with our recruiting. He’ll be handling the perimeter. It’s a little bit different way of coaching, a little different look.”
Jeff Capel has been promoted to associate head coach with Nate James remaining as an assistant coach.
Duke still has guys who played under Krzyzewski comprising its assistant coaching staff, but the makeup is allowing for a fresh look that Krzyzewski said the program needs.
“We are going to change the way we do a few things or how we run a practice, how we do our game preparation,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s been a very busy spring adapting to the newness of the culture you are in and also the newness of the different staff.”
In conjunction with that, he envisions his next Duke team being more mentally nimble, able to adjust on the fly to produce better results.
“I’d like for us to be a smarter team,” Krzyzewski said. “Not that we were dumb. But smart in an instant. Smart while things are going on. Being able to make changes while the game is going on. We weren’t a team that could do that last year. I would hope that we would be able to do that and that means that we can do a little more.”
Unlike last season, when Duke used a pair of 6-8 guys in Parker and Hood who were most comfortable on the perimeter along with the 6-9 Amile Jefferson in the frontcourt, the 2014-15 Blue Devils have the potential for a more conventional look.
In the middle will be 6-11 Jahlil Okafor from Chicago, one of the nation’s top incoming freshmen. Jefferson returns for his junior year to provide help in the paint. Another freshman, 6-6 Justise Winslow, is expected to contribute at forward as well.
Krzyzewski is confident in his backcourt, which returns senior point guard Quinn Cook and junior Rasheed Sulaimon. Sophomore Matt Jones saw plenty of playing time as a freshman.
Big things are also expected from a pair of freshmen, point guard Tyus Jones and shooting guard Grayson Allen.
But the Blue Devils must play better together in order to last longer in the NCAA Tournament next March.
“As soon as they step on campus we have to start building our chemistry,” Sulaimon said. “You can have as much talent as anyone in college basketball, but if you don’t have that mesh with everybody you can lose in the first round. So that’s what we are going to focus on when they step on campus.”
The four freshmen are due on campus in about four weeks so they can take part in the second summer school session.
As for the early part of the spring, Krzyzewski believes steps have been made that will lead to an even better season.
“It’s been a really good spring,” Krzyzewski said. “It started off poorly, and too soon, but since then it’s gone very well.”