Takeaways: Countdown to Craziness

A look back at what the preseason event provided for fans and a look ahead to the season

The 2014-2015 Duke basketball season began Saturday night with the annual Countdown 2 Craziness / Blue vs White exhibition. The event, organized by Coach Krzyzewski’s eldest daughter, Debbie Savarino, offers fans a chance to see the new team early in the practice season. We were on hand to witness the entire spectacle. Here are our takeaways…

Following the pre-game festivities, the official two minute countdown began on the score board clock. Then the clock hit zero a montage of historical Duke Basketball footage was shown on Coach K Court along with creative graphics. The final images concluded with a spotlight on each National Championship banner and then a blue spotlight finding a different player in an entrance tunnel to the stadium in the upper bowl. To say that Cameron was extremely loud at that point is an understatement. The projection of the banners on the court complete with Jim Nantz commentary for each title brought the loudest ovation until the team itself took the court.

The Blue vs White Games

In game one, the White team for game one consisted of Tyus Jones and Matt Jones in the back court, with Jahlil Okafor manning the middle alongside Amile Jefferson and Justice Winslow at forward. The Blue team included Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon at guard, Grayson Allen and Semi Ojeleye at forward, and Marshall Plumlee at center. The second game had the following players switching sides: Cook, Allen, Ojeleye, Tyus and Matt Jones, and Jefferson.

Exhibition scrimmages are fun for the fans and the players, but are not always a great indication of what to expect for the upcoming season. This scrimmage, however, may have shown a bit more than usual.

The “biggest” find is clearly Jahlil Okafor. “Big Jah” scored early and often in both games, and was clearly the top player on the floor. He rarely missed, and showed the ability to convert many different types of shots. Hook shots, bank shots, jumpers from the elbow, and most exciting for the fans in attendance, fast break and power dunks were on display from the big man. Marshall Plumlee played pretty good defense and was in position for the majority of Okafor’s attempts. The freshman is just too good to be stopped by one defender as well as, at times, by a double team. Okafor is also solid from the free throw line which is nice to see from a player close to 7 feet in height.

Junior Captain Amile Jefferson described how playing alongside the freshman from Chicago opens up a lot of room for his teammates.

“Having a person like Jahlil, who demands so much attention, and is so good around the basket; it just changes the game and makes it easier,” said Jefferson. “It makes the court a lot more open for drives and kicks. It was really great and that is why I think guys had a lot of fun.”

Duke’s other freshmen were impressive in their Cameron Indoor debuts. Justice Winslow is everywhere on the court. He drives hard to the basket, is active on the glass for rebounds, and creates havoc in passing lanes for the opposition. Grayson Allen is incredibly athletic and can get open for shots. He wasn’t as accurate Saturday as he’s been in the past, but the threat from three-point range is there. He also worked hard on the glass.

The freshman who will make the biggest impact on this team other than Okafor is Tyus Jones. Many times it was easy to forget he was on the court. The Minnesota product wasn’t hunting his shot on Saturday, preferring instead to run his team and set up his teammates. Jones attempted just four shots on the evening, making one three and a layup. He led all players with 6 assists combined in both games. Most notable was his impact for Rasheed Sulaimon. When Rasheed was paired with Tyus, his production increased dramatically. Sulaimon led his team in scoring in the second game.

In addition to Sulaimon, Duke’s other returning players had impressive nights too.

- Matt Jones looked much more confident. Coach K attributed that to simply Matt being a year older and understanding more of who he is. Jones was 2-3 from 3 point land and 4-7 overall on the night. - Amile Jefferson had his room to work playing alongside Okafor. Amile was active in physical play and being a vocal leader on the court, even settling the nerves of the big freshman before tipoff. Marshall Plumlee did his best to contain Okafor. He made confident moves to the basket himself when he had the opportunity.

- Semi Ojeleye also exhibited confidence in taking open shots hitting 2-4 including one 3 pointer.

- Duke’s senior co-captain Quinn Cook, looked at ease and intense at the same time. He was matched against Tyus Jones for both games. The two point guards pressured each other the entire night; at times with success and other times with the other scoring past him or dishing to an open team mate for a score. Quinn didn’t have the best overall shooting night but he did hit 2 of 3 three pointers. Most of his misses were near the basket after being challenged by Okafor.

- The greatest takeaway from the evening is how close this team already seems to be. There were a lot of smiles on and off the court from the team. A common theme shared by the players in post-game interviews was how much they enjoy playing on the same team together. The captains, Cook and Jefferson, both said how much fun this team is to be a part of because of how well they get along.

“Our chemistry; our comradery, and it is not just saying “we’re brothers” just because that is what every team says. This team can be something special,” Cook said.

Krzyzewski agreed with his captain in the post game…

“I think there is good chemistry on our team.” He would further explain, “I like my guys; I’ve said that from the start. I am really happy with these guys. We just have to see how we will grow. The major thing is we hope we can stay healthy. Then, I think we will grow really well.”

Pre-Game Festivities

As students and fans arrived at Krzyzewskiville, they were greeted with the opportunity to enjoy outdoor music and face painting. Once the doors opened, it was time for everyone to find their seats for the evening. As each event passed, the anticipation of seeing and cheering for their favorite team continued to build. By the time the final 2 minute countdown happened, the crowd was in a word - crazy.

Some of the build up events included:
- Men’s Lacrosse team is honored as the reigning NCAA National Champions at midcourt

- McDonald’s Musical Chairs competition with McDonald’s characters and students

- Female a cappella singing group performance

- Blue Planet video of the Duke Basketball team interviewing Graduate Students at their campout for tickets

- Duke sophomore “The World’s Fastest Cup Stacker” demonstration

- Presentation about Duke’s partnership in the fight against Sickle Cell Anemia

- Hot Shots competition and a 3 point contest featuring players from Duke Women’s Basketball

- Flip Cup relay (no liquids present)

- Multiple dance routines from different groups including Duke’s Cheerleaders and a step-team

- Duke Improv video “Plight of a Student Manager”

- Put T-shirts in order depicting the phases of the moon competition and a piggy back ride race around Coach K Court

- “Every time” video allows everyone to dance to one of the fan favorite songs in Cameron

- Speak of the Devil, a male a cappella singing group offers the “Star-Spangled Banner”

- 2 minute countdown on the video screen

And 1

Junior Center Marshall Plumlee on the atmosphere of the evening and his own progress:

“The atmosphere is great as always in Cameron. We love our fans and feel like we have the best fans in the world. Countdown 2 Craziness is great opportunity for us to give back to them a little bit. A little bit of a pep rally that I hope they all enjoyed as much as we did.”

“I think there are a lot of things that I can point to that I feel like I have gotten better at. But the biggest thing is probably to have a whole offseason completely healthy and coming into this year injury free. I feel like I will be at a better level of athleticism and conditioning than I have ever been before.”

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