Filling the void: Duke Looks For Leaders

The Blue Devils begin the 2011-2012 season with a number of questions and several roles that need filling.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski blew a whistle to stop practice.

Along with their passports and vaccinations, the Duke basketball team was picking up some tips on beating the zone press for their trip to China. With Chinese teams facing a size and talent disadvantage, Duke expected to see a lot of zone while touring the Far East.

Coach K pulled junior guard Seth Curry onto the court and had him walk through the first pass against the zone pressing defense. Krzyzewski then walked to half court to explain the next pass.

From behind him, Curry added a piece of advice for his young teammates.

Krzyzewski turned around. "What was that?" he asked.

Curry repeated his point.

Coach K then tossed the ball to Curry and headed for the sideline, telling his team, "Do exactly what he said."

Just like that, Duke's leadership void began to fill.

After his fifth practice as a Blue Devil, Austin Rivers entered the locker room, dripping with sweat. As the media began to file in for interviews, the promising freshman reached into his locker for a towel.

From three stalls away, junior guard Andre Dawkins reached over and tapped his arm. "Hey," said Dawkins, gesturing toward the news cameras, "leave your shirt on."

Rivers gave him a surprised look, then turned and sat on his stool to face the media fully dressed.

And the leadership void filled a little more.

The 2011-12 Blue Devils will have only one senior—forward Miles Plumlee. It's the first time in four years that a Duke team has had fewer than three seniors on the squad.

The last time a Duke team had one senior and at least five freshman, which is the class makeup of this year's Blue Devils, was 2006-07. That team, featuring the players that would make up the senior class of the 2010 national champions, finished 22-11, 8-8 in the ACC.

In order to avoid another middle-of-the-road finish with a young team, Coach Krzyzewski needs some of the younger players to join the elder Plumlee as team leaders. He also knows it's something that can't be forced.

"We're not going to name captains at this point," Krzyzewski said. "We'll wait and see what happens on the trip." In other words, the gauntlet has been thrown. It's up to Curry, Dawkins, and Ryan Kelly to pick it up.

"There's a little bit of a void," Kelly said. "Guys have graduated. It's a younger bunch. The upper classmen are stepping up into vocal leadership roles. "

Kelly is more muscular this year. He worked over the offseason to sculpt his body, and also practiced ballhandling and outside shooting to help spread out defenses on the court. What may not be as obvious is his off-court leadership, which he says is a skill that needs to be honed just like the others.

"You have to work on it," he said. "I haven't been in that position since high school. I didn't have a huge role when I first got here, and as my role expanded, I tended to be pretty quiet out there, figuring out my own game. Now it's time to step up and help develop the younger players."

In addition to growing more comfortable as a vocal leader, Curry has to adjust to running the offense as well.

"He's always been put in the position of being a shooter," Krzyzewski said. "The ball wasn't in his hands at the start of last year with Kyrie (Irving) and Nolan (Smith) running the team. When Kyrie got hurt, Seth got some experience with the ball."

"I'll have ball in hands more," Curry agreed. "I've always been a score-first type of guard, and I've always been aggressive with the ball. Now I have to be vocal and get our teammates in certain offenses. I have to get us organized and not just look for my shot all the time."

To a man, the Duke team says that the China trip comes at the perfect time. The freshman will get extra time learning the ropes of the college game.

"Most freshman hit bumps trying to figure out the college game," said Kelly. "That first month, they feel like they've been hit by a bus. Our guys will get a nice transition into Division One."

The young team will be forced to bond as they spend nearly two weeks together on and off the court.

"We'll be living real close together for 13 days," freshman guard Quinn Cook said.

Which might be just how Coach Krzyzewski planned it.

"The teams that make it are the ones that are the most together," Kelly said.

And the void filled just a little more.

The Devils Den Top Stories