But personnel losses from last season leave Duke with 6-foot-11 junior Ryan Kelly and 6-10 junior Mason Plumlee as two of its three returning starters from a team that went 32-5 and lost in the West Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils’ lone senior is 6-10 Miles Plumlee, one of three Plumlee brothers on the team. So for the first time in recent memory, Duke’s focus is shifting away from the perimeter and toward veterans who play closer to the basket.
“Our big guys can be very good,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said Wednesday at the team’s preseason media availability. “And they should be. They’re ready to be. And a lot of success that we’ll have this season will be dependent on their play.”
Krzyzewski said Duke’s coaches learned during their August exhibition trip to
China and that the two eldest Plumlees and Kelly are much improved players. Dubai
The trip was a chance for players to impress the coaches because standout seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are gone from last season’s team, along with No. 1 NBA draft pick Kyrie Irving.
Kelly led the team in scoring in
, averaging 15.0 points per game. Miles Plumlee averaged 9.8 rebounds per game, and Mason Plumlee shot 18-for-22 from the field to average 10.3 points. China
Miles Plumlee and Kelly were named team captains in September.
“Coach definitely told us over the summer when we saw him that we can be a central focus of our team,” Kelly said. “It’s been a little bit different. The talent level of our bigs has increased a ton, and guys have gotten better.”
Duke still faces a lot of questions as it prepares for the Countdown to Craziness festivities Friday night that will begin preseason practice. The departures of Smith, Singler and Irving leave a team that Krzyzewski said will be balanced but doesn’t have players who are used to leading roles.
The team’s only major threat to create a shot off the dribble is guard Austin Rivers, who won many national player of the year awards as a high school senior but still is just a freshman.
So when the Blue Devils need a big basket down the stretch, it’s unclear who will take it.
“We don’t necessarily have to have Nolan taking the last shot,” Mason Plumlee said, “although that was nice.”
Instead, Duke may have different options each game and will rely more heavily on big men than in the past. In particular, the Plumlees and Kelly will quarterback the defense.
Krzyzewski said the coaches will figure out how to take advantage of the bigs’ ability to block shots and take charges. All around, for a team that has relied on Smith and Jon Scheyer and J.J. Redick for the past several years, the Blue Devils appear destined for a major change as the post players get more involved.
“How we incorporate our bigs in what we’re doing both offensively and defensively is a change from the last couple of years,” Krzyzewski said. “So there are some habits to break as far as how we score, how we defend. So we incorporate our big guys more. And we’re going to do that.”