Inside information and observations on college basketball in the Carolinas and beyond from the reporting staff of The Charlotte Observer
Saturday at 1 p.m., while I'm finishing up my drive into the mountains of Southwest Virginia for football, the basketball team will take the floor back in Durham for the season's first exhibition game, vs. Bowie State. Here's a quick list of things to watch for (the final score isn't one of them--exhibition basketball is more about the means than the end)
Pace of play Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has talked about how he wants the Blue Devils to push tempo and get up and down the floor. Tyler Thornton told us scribes at media day that Krzyzewski normally pushes them to double their speed in practice. Last year's Duke team averaged 69.4 possessions per game, which ranked 116th out of 347 Division-I teams. Look for that number to rise.
Now, watching Duke play its first exhibition game won't be the final word on how quick they will go, as much of the second half (if not all of it) will be non-competitive basketball. But it will be interesting to see how many possessions the Blue Devils log in the first half.
Starting five Barring anything totally out of left field, I can tell you which four players are sure bets to start: Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson. That leaves one spot for either Rasheed Sulaimon or Andre Dawkins. As hard as it is to believe Sulaimon might not keep his starting spot from last year, all preseason indications point to Dawkins getting that final spot.
Again, another caveat: who starts in exhibition play isn't certain to stick until the season opener on Nov. 8 against Davidson. Alex Murphy started both of last year's exhibition games. Those were his only starts on the year
Off the bench rotation So after the starting five, who else gets in the first half of the game? Kryzewski has said this team could be deeper than typical Duke teams (which I feel like gets said every year). Maybe, though, with the full-court press that will be employed this year, that will come to fruition. It's hard to imagine Thornton, Sulaimon/Dawkins (whoever doesn't start) and Josh Hairston not logging meaningful minutes, since all did last year. And what about newcomers Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Official visits Really, this should be at the top of my list, because make no mistake about it: the most important thing for Duke basketball this weekend is that the visits of PG Tyus Jones, C Jahlil Okafor and SF Justise Winslow go well. All rank in the top 15 of the class of 2014, and Jones and Okafor are rated No. 1 at their respective positions (with Okafor No. 1 overall as well). Jones and Okafor have long insisted they are a package deal ( more on that here), and Winslow has suggested he would like to play with them, too. Should the Blue Devils land their commitments in November, they will be the early frontrunners for the 2014-15 title, regardless of who on the current team stays or goes.
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-- Laura Keeley
CHARLOTTE -- Remember when Jim Boeheim was unhappy Syracuse was leaving the Big East?
That's all in the past now.
It's not that hard of a transition to come here," Boeheim said Wednesday at the ACC's media day in Charlotte. "If we would have left 20 years ago, I would have had trouble with it."
The Orange were founding members of the Big East in 1979, but Boeheim's time in Syracuse stretches back to 1962. There were rivalries before the Big East, and there will certainly be rivalries now, after its demise.
"Before the Big East, St. John's was our rival," Boeheim said. "We got in the Big East, and Georgetown became our rival, and St. John's still, and then Connecticut popped up, and then Pittsburgh popped up and then Louisville popped up. So, it's who is good in those years, that's your rival. It doesn't take 10 years.
"A rivalry can happen like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "One game, you can have a rivalry, and that's what will happen. Our fans already think Duke's a rival, they sold it out faster than they sold out Georgetown. So they must think that's going to be a rival game. And if it's a good game, then it will be. That's the way those things work. New rivalries will be created instantly. Overnight, there will be rivalries."
Tickets to the Feb. 1 Duke at Syracuse game did sell out in record time, and the Orange have sold about 5,000 more season ticket packages this year compared to years past (about 20,000 this year, Boeheim said). Why?
"The fans are excited about it. They're looking forward to it," he said. "Our fans think they're in a better league. The only thing they're unhappy about is not going to New York City. They're not unhappy about the league at all. They'd just rather go to New York City to play in the tournament. That's all."
And it's certainly a possibility that the ACC Tournament could find its way to the Big Apple in a few years.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski , who has been at Duke since 1980 (four years fewer than Boeheim has been at the helm of Syracuse) echoed his new rival's excitement.
"We love to play in lively places because that means it means something more," Krzyzewski said about going to the 35,012-seat Carrier Dome. "It will be an honor to play there and have a capacity crowd."
- Laura Keeley
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Roy Williams on Thursday gave no indication as to when P.J. Hairston might play again for the Tar Heels but, whenever it is, chances are Hairston, the junior guard, will be in good shape. He has spent a lot of time running of late.
After an off-season of trouble – a speeding ticket in May while driving a rental car tied to a convicted felon, an arrest in June while driving another rental car tied to the same man, a reckless driving charge in July – Hairston will participate when UNC begins practice Friday. Beyond that, though, his status is unclear.
Williams, who for the first time on Thursday spoke at length about Hairston’s issues, said he wasn’t yet sure how many games Hairston would miss. Williams also deflected a question about whether the NCAA would have a say in the length of Hairston’s suspension.
“I can’t speak to what the NCAA is doing or not doing,” he said. “But I know that Roy Williams has a tremendous voice in what else is going to be done.”
With the start of college basketball practice merely three weeks away (Sept. 27), the Duke Blue Devils are in near-perfect health.
Rodney Hood, who will play this season after sitting out last year following his transfer from Mississippi State, has completely recovered from the right Achilles injury he suffered at a USA Basketball's camp on June 26th.
"He's great," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Hood, a sophomore, is expected to star on the wing for this year's Duke team. Expectations are high—N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried went as far to say he and teammate Jabari Parker could go No. 2 and 3 in next year's NBA Draft.
Additionally, redshirt sophomore Marshall Plumlee has been doing individual work and will begin full-court work starting Monday, Krzyzewski said. Plumlee had surery on his left foot on April 23rd.
Thanks to NCAA rule changes, Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaches were allowed to spend two hours per week during second summer session working with their players. That extra time has allowed the staff to get to know the incoming players better, Krzyzewski said. The Blue Devils are currently working in small group sessions that will continue until the official start of practice.
"We have a good group," Krzyzewski said. "I'm anxious to get going."
CHAPEL HILL -- P.J. Hairston will play this season, but not in every game. That's what Bubba Cunningham, the North Carolina athletic director, told a group of university faculty members during a question-and-answer session on Thursday.
Cunningham on Thursday spoke at a faculty retreat for the UNC journalism school. Andy Bechtel, an associate professor in the journalism school, posted on his Twitter account Cunningham's answer when asked about Hairston, the Tar Heels' junior guard and leading scorer who has been suspended indefinitely.
"Bubba Cunningham takes a PJ question," Bechtel wrote on his Twitter account. "Will he play? Answer: 'Yes, but not all the games.'"
That was the entirety of Cunningham's answer, Bechtel later said during a phone interview. Cunningham's comments are the closest UNC has come to saying anything about Hairston's playing status for next season.
Hairston was suspended after the North Carolina Highway Patrol charged him with speeding and reckless driving late last month. That followed his arrest in Durham in early June, when he was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without a license. Those charges were later dropped.
At the time of his arrest, Hairston was driving a rented GMC Yukon that was paid for by Haydn "Fats" Thomas, a Durham resident and convicted felon. Hairston also received a speeding ticket in May while driving another rental vehicle, a 2012 Camaro, that has been linked to Thomas.
After he played in a pro-am at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, UNC coach Roy Williams on Wednesday declined to comment on Hairston.
"Not talking about P.J.," Williams said. "I've read about it all damn summer, I'm tired of reading about, tired of talking about it. If you want to talk about anything else, I'll talk about anything."
Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, also played in the pro-am with Williams and declined comment about Hairston. Cunningham's brief comment on Thursday was the first time that a UNC official has definitively said that Hairston will play this season.
Hairston is facing a potentially lengthy suspension, depending on whether his use of rental cars is deemed to be an extra benefit. If the use of rental cars were an extra benefit, the NCAA could suspend him from anywhere between three and nine games - or more - depending on the monetary value of the benefit. Williams said in a statement last month that Hairston would face "serious consequences."
- Andrew Carter
GREENSBORO -- Even after making five birdie putts during a nice round of golf with Davis Love III, Roy Williams was in no mood to talk about P.J. Hairston today after Williams finished playing in the pro-am of the Wyndham Championship.
"Not talking about P.J.," Williams said when I asked him how his conversations have gone recently with Hairston, North Carolina's leading scorer whom Williams suspended indefinitely. "I've read about it all damn summer, I'm tired of reading about, tired of talking about it. If you want to talk about anything else, I'll talk about anything."
Indeed, Hairston has created plenty of reading material this summer. There was his arrest in early June in Durham, where police charged him with misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without a license. Both charges were later dropped, but Hairston at the time of his arrest was driving a 2013 GMC Yukon that had been rented by Haydn "Fats" Thomas, a Durham resident and convicted felon.
Hairston received a speeding ticket in May while driving another rental vehicle, a 2012 Camaro, that has been linked to Thomas. Then, in late July, Hairston was charged with speeding and reckless driving on his way to Charlotte. After that, Williams promptly suspended Hairston, a rising junior who considered entering the NBA draft before deciding to return to school.
"It's been a little hectic," Williams said of his summer, "and some things that make it not as much fun. But I've still got one of the best jobs in the world."
He later said "it's been a hard summer. No question about that."
During the pro-am, Williams played a foursome that included Love III and Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director. Williams said he has known Love III since the days when he played golf at UNC.
"I was there the day that Michael Jordan broke his driver on the practice range," Williams said. "So we go back a long ways."
Amid all the stress of the summer, Williams appeared at ease on the course. Between shots he chatted with fans, signed autographs and posed for pictures.
The drama surrounding Hairston, though, remains unsettled. Even before his suspension, Williams in a statement said Hairston would face "serious consequences." If the rental cars Hairston drove are deemed to have been an extra benefit, Hairston would face an NCAA-mandated suspension of three to nine games, depending on the monetary value of the rental cars during the time Hairston drove them. In addition, he'd face additional punishment from Williams.
Williams was in no mood to discuss Hairston on Wednesday, though he said he's "anxious" for the start of the practice.
"With the new rules, we can start as early as Sept. 27, which makes the season even longer," Williams said. "I thought it was long enough beforehand. But I'm anxious. I think we've got a great group of young kids that I'm going to enjoy working with.
"This is a good release right here, getting out on the golf course, and I enjoyed the heck out of it today."
- Andrew Carter