In a night filled with fun and entertainment of all sorts, freshman Jayson Tatum was the true entertainer tonight. Duke opens the 2016-17 season with another Countdown to Craziness event. Although the event is a scrimmage and a big pep rally for fans of the Blue Devils, Taytum showed big in his first action on Coach Krzyzewski Court, scoring 18 points on a 6-of-11 shooting effort. The highlight of his night was when he reeled in Matt Jones’ lob for a monster alley-oop to send the home fans in to a frenzy. Here are three things you should know about your Duke Blue Devils basketball team this year:
1. This may be the best team chemistry I’ve seen.
I covered the team that went to the national championship a few years ago and that team probably had the strongest bond I have seen. Well, that was until I had a chance to be around this year’s team. The captains; Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, and Amile Jefferson have all done a great job of leading the young but hungry group of guys that have joined their program this year. Jefferson described the freshman class saying that he has “never seen a group this young that has such an amazing work ethic.” He continued on about the freshmen “I think it is contagious. The way that they work, it helps us to be able to come in and know that we (the captains of the team) do not have to say too much to get them to work hard.” There has now been a culture of hard-work and excellence that has been re-branded at Duke.
The fans were lively as usually and refused to let the five recruits on hand sit by their selves or with Coach K, chanting for each player to make that long 50 foot journey from behind the home bench to the dwellings of the Crazies. Coach K did not coach, but he had a lot of fun on the sideline. The players also had a lot of fun. Coach Krzyzewski expressed his pleasure of the team, saying “Our kids love one another and you can tell. They had a lot of fun tonight and they have really been a pleasure to coach.” That chemistry could end up turning in to a sixth championship banner being hung in Cameron Indoor.
2. Jayson Taytum will take the world by storm.
It did not take long to realize that Jayson Taytum is the real deal, even in a team scrimmage. Taytum, a Saint Louis native, would be introduced during the player introductions waking out dancing and vibing to a song a hometown friend made called Jayson Taytum that started the buzz for the night. As if that was not enough, an outstanding 18 points and a few dazzling plays that generated ooo’s and ahh’s from almost every fan was the icing on the cake. His cat-like quickness allows him to slash to the basket in an effective manner, yet his 6-foot-8 205 pound frame allows him to be strong around the rim. This shows in his 10 points in the paint and six free throw attempts that resulted in five makes during the night. I would expect Duke to look to Taytum for the majority of their scoring looks. They will have multiple ways of getting the ball in the basket, but I can see him carrying the load. “we have a lot of guys that on any given night can score, it just depends on who is open that night and mismatch problems. It really is that coach tells us to be ready to shoot when you are open. We set a lot of screens and have a lot of movement so if you’re open, you shoot it.” I do not expect Jayson Taytum to be open much, but expect for shots to fall for this young man come the regular season.
3. Jack White may be the dark horse of the Duke team.
I watched this man who looked like a mixed-martial artist put on a Duke basketball warm-up shirt and shoot around with the team and warm-up as they were doing.
The funny thing is that I know from the player introductions previously that the guy I was looking at was none other than Jack White. This guy was jacked! The Australian native comes in to Duke at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. After you get over that he looks like he is the wrong sport, his shooting stroke may be as good as JJ Redick’s (don’t jump on me just yet, listen). I watched this guy take shot after shot in warmups and not a miss in sight. It was only fitting that he would come out and hit two three-pointers in as many attempts to finish with six points and 100% from the field. Grayson Allen talked about him and the Aussie working out outside of practice, mentioning “after practice, me and [Jack] are getting up shots. I feel like he competes with me to be the last guy out of the gym sometimes, he really works.” I think that the hard-work that the young man puts in during his free time is showing off despite not coming to America until the beginning of the school year.I would expect his role would be similar to Matt Jones’ role early in is career where he was put on the court for corner threes and defensive purposes.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski stated that there will not be one player that initiates the offense, but it is his best hopes to put “five good players” out on the court at all times. Blue Devil forwards Harry Giles and Sean Obi did not play due to offseason knee surgeries. Both should be good to return in a few weeks, but Krzyzewski will not be in any rush to get them on the court although they would be good assets. Harry Giles is coming in as the #1 overall recruit last year, but tore his ACL during his senior year in high school. “I just wish we could all be healthy, that’s what we are working for. We are looking forward to next Friday playing our first exhibition game.”
The world will be looking forward to that first exhibition game, as they host Virginia State Friday, October 28th at 7 pm.
(Photos courtesy of Duke Athletics)