Alex Murphy generated a lot of buzz early on last season, and even started some games in the preseason trip. And then he redshirted. Similarly, we saw flashes of Marshall Plumlee early on and then he redshirted. Were those decisions always set in stone?
Chris Collins, Duke Associate Head Coach: When we evaluated where both of them were atas we started last season, we all came to the conclusion that it would be best for both of them to redshirt. During the season, they were able to practice against our guys every day and serve as the best players on our opponents teams when we would go through scouting.
They were also able to spend extra time with Will Stephens, our strength coach, to continue to get develop physically. Both of them took full advantage of that and improved greatly in all areas throughout the year. We feel like both of those guys should be that much more prepared as they begin their freshmen seasons.
Can you elaborate on the expectations of both players?
We have high hopes for both Alex and Marshall heading into next season. Alex will give us an athletic, versatile forward that has a very good feel for the game. The main thing for him now is to gain experience. He will be playing for Finland this summer in the U-20 European Championships which will be great for him.
With Marshall, he gives a high energy, physical presence at a true seven feet tall. He is very active on the boards and plays with a high motor. With Miles graduating, we expect Marshall to help fill the void of what we will lose on the interior.
Speaking of the Plumlee clan, Mason had a big decision to make and eventually chose to return to Duke. What kind of role do you see him playing next year?
We are very excited about Mason wanting to return for his senior year. He wants to be able to continue to improve and develop his game and also chase a second National Championship before he heads off to the NBA.
We expect Mason to have a huge role for us next year, just as he did this year. We feel that he can be as good of a player as there is in the country. He has shown great improvement in the past couple seasons in a number of areas, specifically his low post scoring, defense and rebounding.
Before he heads off to the NBA, what does he need to improve in his game?
I think a couple things that he is really working on this summer is his ability to keep the defense honest by consistently hitting his face-up jumpshot, as well as raising his free throw percentage. Mason also wants to be a guy who is consistent in his production each and every game. We believe that Mason and Ryan Kelly, together as seniors, can be the best and most experienced frontline tandem in the country.
You mentioned it earlier, but losing Miles Plumlee is a blow. Especially when you consider how well he played down the stretch last season. How does the team compensate?
Losing Miles is definitely a big loss for us going forward into next season. He was, by far, our most physical player and huge on the boards for us. He anchored our defense in the paint with his shot blocking and presence inside.
That being said, we do like our returning frontcourt players, as well as our incoming guys. With Mason, Ryan, Josh, Marshall, Amile and Alex, we feel that we will be a big, versatile frontline that should collectively be good on the boards and better defensively than we saw last season.
One of our goals was to get bigger, longer, and more versatile and we feel that we have done that.
There is a huge debate regarding the point guard position at Duke this year. Last season Seth Curry started the season handling the ball before moving back off it later on. There's also the Tyler Thornton v. Quinn Cook debate. In planning for next year, does the approach center around a "wait and see who steps up" mentality, or is there a style of play that you want to play which will dictate one player being the best fit?
We believe that we have four guys that will be able to give us minutes at point guard next year. Tyler, Quinn, Seth and Rasheed can all spend time at that position and all bring different strengths to our team.
With Tyler, you have an experienced guy who organizes our team well and brings a lot of dirty work to the court. He was our best defensive guard last season.
In Quinn, we have a true floor leader. He has a great personality for the position and is a good perimeter shooter. A big thing for Quinn is to be 100 percent healthy. He has done a great job this spring and summer with strengthening his legs to get himself ready. We expect Quinn to make a big jump to his game from last season.
Seth is obviously a key guy for us. He was one of our leading scorers and one of the top shooters in our league. He can give us a different dimension when he goes to the point guard position. He is crafty with the ball and creates offense well.
Finally in Rasheed, we have a bigger, athletic point guard. We feel he will be able to pressure the ball well defensively and is quick with the ball on offense. We are excited about the different possibilities and lineups we can put together on the perimeter.
With so many options,and with the point guard position being so important, as an onlooker I'd think there has to be a hierarchy once preseason gets here.
As of now, we have no set starting lineup or rotation. We want all of our guys to have a chance to compete for spots and Coach K and our staff will figure out the best way to put all the pieces together. We always tailor our style of play to our personnel and next year will be no different.
The freshman class has generated a lot of buzz with two McDonald's All-Americans. What are the expectations from Sulaimon and Jefferson?
They will each bring a lot to the team on and off the court, and we're really excited to add Rasheed and Amile to our program. Both of them are committed to being good players, have great energy when they play, and they both have top notch character.
On the court, their length, athleticism, and defensive versatility are things that will really bring a new dimension to our team as well. We expect both of them to have an impact right away and gives us a chance to put some versatile lineups on the floor.
Coach K named two captains very early in Kelly and Plumlee. Is it a matter of them being seniors? Something clicking and them being more ready to lead this year?
We felt that it was very important to announce the leadership of our team going into next season before heading into the Spring and Summer. We have a good group of guys for next year and we feel that we have a lot of potential if we come together.
Since the end of our season, both Mason and Ryan have done a great job stepping into leadership positions, so it was only natural to name them Captains. Being seniors and having gone through so many experiences together over the past three years, we feel both of those guys are ready to be outstanding leaders.
Check back for Part III where Coach Collins will discuss the Team USA experience from 2008 through London, 2012