The Brotherhood of the Traveling Shirt

This group of Blue Devils has all the makings of a chemistry nightmare. So why aren't there problems?

Rasheed Sulaimon found himself faced with adversity, and, in true Duke basketball fashion, he looked to his teammates to bail him out.

Standing in the locker room shortly after the season-opening Blue-White game, the junior shooting guard announced, “Does anyone have a black shirt?”

Amile Jefferson leapt into action, no questions asked. He grabbed a spare shirt from his locker and crossed the locker room to the rescue. “I have a burgundy one,” he said. “That should work. Let me see.”

Sulaimon displayed the pants and cardigan he planned to wear.

“You look good!” Jefferson assured him.

“Yeah, but I forgot a shirt,” Sulaimon replied.

“What are you wearing? Duke t-shirt?”

Sulaimon nodded.

“This should work,” Jefferson assured him, thrusting the burgundy shirt toward his teammate.

“Wait,” Jefferson said. “Let me see the shoes.”

Shortly before the exchange occurred, senior point guard Quinn Cook stood in front of a teammate’s locker, borrowing some type of post-game product. Rice transfer Sean Obi rummaged through a pile of basketball gear in Jahlil Okafor’s locker until he found something he could use.

Call it Cameron Indoor Commune. There’s team chemistry, and then there’s what the 2014-15 edition of the Blue Devils has demonstrated so far this year.

On a team packed with supposedly chemistry-killing one-and-done freshmen and upperclassmen worried about job security, Duke is one, big, clothes-sharing, group-dancing gang of happy people.

After Justise Winslow slammed home a Tyus Jones pass during the Countdown to Craziness dunk contest, fellow freshman Jahlil Okafor came out for an impromptu three-man dance routine. The group collapsed into giggles before demonstrating their moves, however. Later, when Semi Ojeleye missed his first two attempts at dunks, his teammates surrounded him and adjusted his shoes, socks and shorts so that he could succeed on his final try.

The freshmen all have nicknames. Okafor is Smoke. Winslow is Little Smoke. The short, big-eyed, tall-haired Jones is called T-Roll, the only trolling seen in the group’s locker room.

The Blue Devils are more sorority house than locker room. And the pledge class at Delta Uke is one of the best freshman crops in the country.

Tyus Jones, the top-rated high-school point guard last year, was supposed to show up and take senior Quinn Cook’s job. He’s slid easily into the role heading up the offense, and Cook is fine with sharing the duties.

Assistant coach Jeff Capel took Cook aside during the offseason and showed him the banners in Cameron. “That’s how you’re remembered here at Duke, and you only get one for winning a championship,” Capel said.

Cook took the message to heart. When it was time for his introduction at Countdown to Craziness, something most players use as an excuse to show off their dancing skills, Cook hobbled out to center court, playing the part of the old man on Duke basketball. He then summoned the rest of his teammates onto the court with him and pointed out the banners to them.

“He’s like a big brother to me,” Jones said of Cook. “He’s taken me under his wing and helped me along.”

“You always wonder, ‘Is it going to happen the way we think?’” Capel said of the chemistry between Jones and Cook, “because ... human nature, man. But Quinn’s been great...there’s been absolutely no jealousy, and I think that speaks volumes about the older guys on the team.”

Lack of jealousy is damning this Blue Devil team with faint praise, however. The team has bonded in a way rarely seen, even on a team known for on-court hugs and post-game tears.

The difference is that this team wasn’t bonded by Coach K. The daily demands of the Hall of Fame coach, as well as team-building exercises like overseas trips or tours of New York City bind most Duke teams tightly together. This one has gelled on its own.

“I like my guys,” Krzyzewski said. “I am really happy with these guys. We’ll just have to see how we grow.”

If they do, the Blue Devils won’t just be sharing wardrobes—they’ll each be getting a piece of the net.

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