Practice Notebook

As the Blue Devils prepare for the 2014-2015 season, TDD was granted access to this week’s closed practice. Here’s what we saw.

THE EVENT

As part of Duke Basketball’s continued out-reach program, groups from the Duke Children’s Hospital and other leadership conference attendees were able to sit in on Tuesday afternoon’s practice. The media was also allowed to tag along.

Practice began with the front and backcourt players splitting up for various drills. After some stretching with the strength and conditioning staff, the team went straight into scrimmaging.

THE ROTATION

In the first scrimmage the White team (the projected starters) included Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Matt Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Amile Jefferson. The Blue team started Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen, Semi Ojeleye, and Marshall Plumlee.

In the seconds scrimmage Duke changed up the rosters with the White team consisting of Cook, Allen, Jefferson, Sulaimon, and Okafor against the Blue team of Plumlee, T. Jones, M. Jones, Ojeleye, and Winslow.

The third scrimmage the white team was M. Jones, Allen, Winslow, T. Jones, and Okafor on the White team against the Blue’s Cook, Sulaimon, Ojeleye, Plumlee, and Jefferson. The teams kept the rosters the same for the fourth and final scrimmage.

PLAYER OBSERVATIONS

Jahlil Okafor - The prized big man had some moments of brilliance, but finishing around the rim was sporadic on the day. One thing you notice about Okafor is his footwork and quickness for such a big player. He seems comfortable spinning to each side with a drop step, and is able to put the ball up fast with either hand. He was bothered at times by Plumlee’s length today, and the fourth year junior was able to push Okafor away from the basket on occasion. A few times the freshman received the ball at the top of the key, faced up and then went straight to the basket off the bounce…again his footwork and quickness help to make him a very unique player at the college level.

Tyus Jones - The team’s starting point guard. On this day Jones moved up and down the court very well. He fights through screens and ball denial situations well, and when he’s darting up the court his head is always up, which allows him to use the moving players around him as props. In one instance Jones received the ball in the backcourt and broke forward, following Plumlee who was in mid-sprint to the opposite side. Jones crossed over and took his man into Plumlee’s path, which created space. Jones then reversed course and filled the space vacated by the adjusting defender, when the help arrived (Plumlee’s defender) at the foul line, Jones elevated and then dumped the ball off to Plumless (in stride) for an easy opportunity at the rim. It was a microcosm of what to expect from the freshman guard, though he too struggled with his shot at times. Still, Jones’ team really changed ends fast and always in control.

Justise Winslow - The Texas product is a unique option for Coach K this season. There’s no one else like him on the team. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Winslow can go off the bounce with ease, and he showed an improved looking jumper at times. The lefty is also comfortable bringing the ball up the court as well and did so when the Blue Devil press prevented his team’s point guard from receiving the inbounds. He’s also willing to do the dirty work inside, seeming to factor into a number of rebounding opportunities alongside Okafor and Jefferson. Defensively he’s tough and guarded everyone from big forwards to point guards.

Quinn Cook - While he still handles the ball on occasion, Cook spent most of the day off the ball, paired opposite of Jones. It’s interesting in that Cook and Jones spent the offseason talking about playing together, but never did so in this practice. The senior was easily the team’s top perimeter shooter on the afternoon and showed most of his game from last year. He can hit the pull up jumper or get to the rim and finish through or around contact.

Rasheed Sulaimon - The junior guard handled the ball a lot. He seemed comfortable breaking the press with the ball, or initiating the offense when Duke got into a half court set. Defensively, he looked quick and stayed with his man throughout the various sequences. His length bothered Jones on a couple trapping situations, forcing the freshman into a pair of turnovers in the first scrimmage. Coach Krzyzewski called Rasheed Duke’s best on the ball defender, and it’s hard to argue.

Matt Jones - His jump shot still has a somewhat odd release and flight (side spin at times), but it was working for a spell - especially when he popped out to the corner for an open three. However, Jones’ true value to the rotation comes on the defensive side of the ball where he seemed comfortable guarding the 1-3 positions and didn’t get lost as he did a season ago.

Amile Jefferson - Just doesn’t stop talking. Ever. As you’ll note in our practice video highlights (where we focused on him for a series), the junior captain is constantly barking orders, defensive assignments, and encouragement/rebukes when needed. He’s going to make a living on weak side rebounding this year and showed that off in the three scrimmages. Without the burden of playing center this year, Jefferson showed some face-up ability as well. When he gets pushed out high he won’t shoot, but is adept at getting toward the basket and drawing contact.

Grayson Allen - The fourth freshman’s shot wasn’t falling, but he seems to make a smart, yet aggressive play. At times he got isolated on bigger players on the defensive end and went for the charge call (earning one on Okafor) instead staying straight up. It caught up with him a few times as the referee didn’t see it his way, and his opponents got easy baskets. Offensively, he’s fearless when driving to the basket without evolving into reckless. He’s also very comfortable coming off screens and his jump shot form is text book. He also elevates effortless whether going to the basket for a finish or rebounding or bothering an opponent’s shot.

Semi Ojeleye - You can see why Coach K calls the sophomore the team’s best athlete. He’s strong as an ox and is working to put things together in a way that uses his explosive frame. He continues to work out with the bigs and projects as a power forward over the next few seasons. He battled inside today and ripped the ball off the offensive glass several times, earning trips to the line or drawing a foul on his opponents. Also showed the perimeter stroke you’ve come to expect from Duke stretch fours. He did well trailing the play and forcing his opponent to float to the perimeter which created space and lanes for the guards to attack or the fellow big to fill.

Marshall Plume - Four years of Duke conditioning have paid off for the youngest Plumlee brother who is now strong enough to not give up position when established and to push his opponents off the blocks. He did it with Okafor a lot, and unlike a season ago he didn’t bite on ball fakes, instead remaining on the ground with his hands up. He bothered a lot of shots and rebounded the ball well. Offensively, he’s going to provide some tips and he’ll go to the line some, but the rest is a work in progress - especially when receiving entry passes from the perimeter or when a guard is going off the dribble.

Sean Obi - The transfer from Rice is big. He’s also a different kind of center than either Okafor or Plumlee in that he seems to do most of his work under the rim. He’s got big hands and moves well for having such a big frame, but it’s clear a year in practice will do him some good. Obi didn’t participate in the scrimmages.

MISCELLANEOUS

- In looking around Cameron, it appears Countdown to Craziness will once again have a pretty high production value as additional scaffolding has been suspended from the arena ceiling complete with what looks like projectors.

- We sat beside scouts from the Washington Wizards who were particularly interested in Winslow and Okafor throughout most of the day. Okafor produced a couple of spin moves and finishes that drew audible responses.

- When the team breaks the huddle the buzzword (i.e. the break chant) is “Fight”.

- Duke pressed the entire practice. After every basket, every in-bounds, every change of possession, the Blue Devils employed a full court press. Unlike a season ago, however, there is now enough size protecting the rim so that it’s not a parting of the Red Sea situation should the opponents break the initial level of the press.

- In walking around Cameron before the practice began, it’s hard not to notice the number of banners flying on the men’s basketball side. However, it’s also interesting that the last team banner was hung in 2010 (ACC Champions, NCAA Champions)…this doesn’t count the banner for Coach K’s 903rd victory from 2011.

- In the pre-practice shoot around circuit, assistant coach division…we found that Jon Scheyer is still a dead eye three point marksman, hitting a few fall aways with a hand in his face.


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