Duke Associate Head Coach Chris Collins: The main focus of our upcoming trip to China and Dubai will be to start to get a better feel for the type of team we will have this year. It gives us a great opportunity to look at a number of different combinations on the floor, and it gives our players a chance to start carving out their roles for this season. The best way to do that is in live competition, which is what we will face on our trip.
Coming into this season, we have 12 good players who will all be given an opportunity to emerge and show what they can do. It's different from past seasons where we would have 2 or 3 proven stars returning that we knew as a staff would be the focal point of our team. With this team, we feel we are going to be a little bit deeper and filled with more balance on both sides of the ball. We feel right now that we have 8-9 guys that are capable of being starters on any given night, which is why you will see us play that way throughout our foreign trip. I'm sure we will end up starting different groups, looking at different rotations, and starting to get a feel for what works best with this group.
With so many freshmen on the roster, how have they adapted to how things are done at Duke?
We have been really pleased with our freshman class so far. Anytime you bring in a big class of players like we have this year, there is always going to a lot of teaching going on early. For these 5 guys to get a head-start on all of this, with the summer trip, will be huge for our growth as a team. Going from high school to college is a huge adjustment. Learning how to get in the kind of shape you need to be in on this level, as well as understanding the kind of intensity you have to bring every day is always a huge adjustment for young players. You will never fully understand it until you go through it. The thing that has been the most fun to watch is how they how each grown and gotten more comfortable with each and every practice.
I think when you look at the group as a whole, the main thing you see is a group of guys who really work hard and have been accustomed to winning environments. All of them were either a part of State Championship teams or played in Championship games in high school. They value winning and they all love to be in the gym and work. When you get word of these guys coming in the gym late at night or early in the morning, you feel good about seeing a group of guys that really want to be good. We believe that all 5 of them have the ability to be outstanding players in our program, and each of them bring different things to the table to help our team.
Obviously, Austin Rivers is a guy we expect to be a key guy right away. He is incredibly talented and can do a lot of things on the court. The thing that has impressed our staff about Austin initially is his ability to want to learn and get better. He realizes he is still far from a finished product and has a lot to learn about becoming a great player. He has been extremely coachable and is a tireless worker. I think he will be a guy who continues to get better and better as he adjusts to playing on the college level.
Michael Gbinije is a very versatile player. He does everything well on the floor and has a good feel for the game. He is an easy guy to play with and always plays within the team framework. He is a tremendous athlete who plays above the rim. Michael has great size for a wing, and is a guy who we feel can become an outstanding defender for us.
Alex Murphy is also an incredibly versatile player. Like Gbinije, he gives us a big, athletic wing who can do a lot of things. Alex has a high basketball IQ with a great feel for the game. He is outstanding in the open floor and can really attack the basket.
Marshall Plumlee is a young post player with a huge upside. He's 7 feet, runs the floor extremely well, is very active on the boards and plays with a great motor. As he continues to adjust to the physicality of the college game, he will continue to show big jumps in improvement. Having his two brothers and Ryan as veteran examples will really help Marshall's transition to this level.
Finally, Quinn Cook. Quinn is an outstanding floor general. He will be a great leader in time. Quinn is still getting back to 100 percent from a knee injury he suffered in high school. He is a true point guard who can run his team and score when he needs to. Point guard is the toughest transition for any player, especially in our system. We require a lot of our point guards on both sides of the ball and we are confident that Quinn has a great future for us there at that position.
Last year there was a bunch of coverage of how Duke changed the way you play to accommodate Kyrie Irving. A year later you have another top NBA prospect who plays a different position in Austin Rivers. Is there the same effort to "change the way you play" for Austin as a shooting guard? And how do you change the style in general with the loss of Kyrie?
I think we have shown that we always try to tailor the system of each of our teams to match up with the strengths of that group. Last year, we did that to accommodate the talents of a special player in Kyrie, and then had to re-invent ourselves when he went down. For this season, we have to figure out what those strengths will be. Initially, we feel we have tremendous size on our team. We want to utilize that to our advantage. We will need to control the paint on defense by protecting our basket and limiting teams to one shot. We will also show more of a concerted effort to get the ball inside on the offensive end as well.
Another strength of ours is depth and athleticism. We can run at all positions, so we want to be able to get out in the open floor and attack. Use our depth to our advantage and try to wear out our opponents. Finally, we feel that this has a chance to be one of our better shooting teams. Our spacing on the offensive end should always be good as we should have multiple guys on the floor that can really shoot the ball. The reality is that it is still early August and we have a lot of time to evolve into what we will be, but initially, that is ideally how we would like to play with this group.
The team lost a ton of scoring and experience with the departures of Nolan, Kyrie, and Kyle. Who is being asked/expected to step up and take control of the team?
There is no question that we lost a lot with Kyle, Nolan and Kyrie all moving on the NBA. It kind of served as the end of an era of Duke Basketball when you add Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, and Brian Zoubek as well. That group was the nucleus of a great 4 year run that we have had. The exciting part now becomes to start fresh with this group. It gives our veteran guys such as Miles and Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly to create their own legacy. They will be the leaders of this year's team and were excited about watching them grow into those roles.
Does the program believe that's an organic process or are leaders just born that way?
Leadership in our program has always been earned and all of our veteran guys have been shown an incredible example of great leadership from the guys I named earlier. We have tried to create a culture in our program where the older guys show the younger players what Duke basketball is all about and they are the ones that pass the standards of excellence down to their younger teammates. Were excited as a staff to see how the leadership will develop with this group of veterans.
Obviously every team is different.... As coaches do you have to tweak your approach when there's so few "proven" commodities?
When you come into a new season with few proven commodities, I think its important for the coaching staff to not come into the year with any pre-conceived notions about how the team will evolve. A big thing for us is to put all of these guys in situations where there is healthy competition for spots and see which guys emerge. That is why we are so excited about this China-Dubai trip. It gives us an opportunity to play a lot of groups together and put guys in different roles and see how they respond.
The best thing for this year's team is to have day-to-day competition within our group. Our best teams have always had that and it pushes each player to get the most out of themselves. They aren't afforded to take any days off physically or mentally, or else there is someone there ready to take your spot. That kind of environment will be really good for this young group.
Away from the games, how important is this trip for the chemistry and overall health of the team? What does the team have planned away from the games?
There is no question that while we are on this trip, we want to use the time in between games to bond as a team and build chemistry. We have a lot of things planned away from the court from sight-seeing to tours to meals, etc. We want to get our work done, but we also want these guys to have fun and enjoy such a unique trip.
As a former player and long time coach, what are the emotions and thoughts of Coach K passing Coach Knight this season?
It is truly amazing to be a part of Coach K's incredible success as a coach. I remind myself all the time how lucky I have been to have played for Coach, but also now to work with him and learn what makes him such a special coach and leader. For him to be on the verge of passing Coach Knight in wins is amazing. It will be a special moment to be sitting next to him on the sidelines when it happens.
To me, what makes Coach K so special is his ability to get the most out of each and every team he coaches, and how he figures out how to tap into the strengths of each of his guys.
Do you have a defining moment as a player and then as an assistant coach that sums up what Coach K has meant to you and to Duke?
My favorite memory as a player happened during my senior year in 1996. We had just come off having a terrible year in 1995 where the bottom basically fell out of our season. Coach K had gotten sick and we really struggled. We had come back my senior year with not one of the most talented Duke teams. I remember having a meeting with Coach K the day before we were getting ready to play Virginia in early February. Our record was 13-10, 4-7 in the ACC and very much in danger of not making the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year. Coach brought me in his office and he started to watch some film with me. After a couple of clips, he turned off the VCR and wanted to talk. He told me that he felt badly that my senior season was going like this. He told me that, as the lone senior and captain, the rest of the season was only going to go as far as my heart could lead the team. He wanted me to play the final month of my college career with nothing holding me back. He wanted me to follow my heart and do whatever I wanted on the court. Coach told me that the guys would follow me and he would live with the results. Hearing those words from him gave me so much confidence. I went on to finish the season on a tear. Averaged well over 20 points per game the rest of the way, we finished the regular season 18-11, 8-8 in the ACC and I made the All-league team. We made it back to the NCAA tournament and I was able to finish my career on such a high note. It was a day and a meeting that I will never forget.