How the Duke women’s basketball team plans to build on its bounce-back season

Duke guards Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown react during the first round of the NCAA tournament last March
Duke guards Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown react during the first round of the NCAA tournament last March bthomas@heraldsun.com

Coming off an important bounce-back season last winter, the Duke women’s basketball team gets an early start on winning big again this season.

The Blue Devils will take a foreign tour to Italy from Aug. 14-23 where they will play three exhibition games.

After missing the NCAA tournament in 2016 for the first time since 1994, the Blue Devils recovered to go 28-6 last season. Duke played its first two NCAA tournament games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, beating Hampton but losing to Oregon.

Two important redshirt senior guards, Becca Greenwell and Lexie Brown, return to lead the Blue Devils. Senior forward Erin Mathias also returns.

Duke added 6-4 center Bego Davalos, a graduate transfer from Fresno State, in the offseason.

“It’s a terrific class, a strong class of seniors,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

Duke added four freshmen, including high-scoring 5-9 guard Mikayla Boykin from Clinton. On the interior, 6-4 Madison Treece and 6-3 Jade Williams figured to be counted on immediately. Another guard, 6-0 Jayda Adams, rounds out the class.

“With four seniors and four freshmen, plus all the players in between, it’s a wonderful combination,” McCallie said. “We’re excited to be together and have the experience culturally as well as the games.”

Their Italian trip includes stops in Rome, Florence and Venice. The Blue Devils will play exhibitions against the Netherlands national team in Rome, an Italian all-star team in Florence and the Celje Basketball Club from Slovenia in Venice.

NCAA rules allow the team to practice up to 10 times before leaving for the trip. McCallie doesn’t anticipate using all 10, though.

Greenwell and Brown are scheduled to be at USA Basketball’s Women’s U-23 National Team Training Camp, which will take place July 31 through Aug. 4 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. So they won’t be back on campus until the team is less than 10 days from its departure for Italy.

“We’ll probably get in seven to eight practices prior,” McCallie said. “We’ll just see how it works out.”

One key player who will be on the trip but won’t be able to participate in games or practices is Kyra Lambert. A starter as a sophomore last season, the 5-9 Lambert tore her ACL during Duke’s NCAA tournament win over Hampton in March and remains in the recovery stage.

McCallie said Lambert is progressing well in her recovery and could be ready when practice starts in October.

Two injured players who can play on the Italy trip are guard Haley Gorecki and center Emily Schubert, who both missed all of last season.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC