One on one with Jeff Capel

Prior to the team tipping off the 2016-2017 season, we had a chance to sit down with Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel to discuss a number of topics including his time at USA Basketball, how the team is setting up for the upcoming season, and more.

You had another successful summer with Team USA.   Can you explain your role as part of the coaching staff, as it appears you did a lot behind the scenes. 

My role as part of USA Basketball’s staff is organizing and scouting of our opponents, and organizing our players individual workouts.  It’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes, but it is great!  I love watching the other teams play.  People do not realize how good these teams are and how well coached they are.  However, my absolute favorite part is having a chance to do individual work with our players.  The way these guys work, the seriousness and dedication they have to their craft is truly amazing!

Now that the Team USA coaching assignment is finished, and in the spirit of looking back, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in Coach K?

The biggest changes with coach is how much he has grown as a coach and leader since his assignment as the National team coach.  As good of a coach as he was when I played here at Duke, and he was the best then, he is even better now.  You learn so much being around great basketball minds.  The staff’s that he’s had have been amazing.  And the coaches and basketball people that are around are a “who’s who” of our game.  The coaches of the national teams of other countries are very good.  They play a beautiful brand of basketball.  And the players he’s had the opportunity to coach are the best.  You learn something from everyone and every situation if you’re a student of the game.  And that is exactly what coach K is.  He is constantly trying to improve.  There has never been another coach in the history of our game that has coached more great players than coach K.  From his time here at Duke, to all the teams he has coached with USA basketball.  Coach has been involved with USA basketball for over 30 years.  He served in the same role as I just fulfilled in the 1984 Olympics with coach Knight.  He was an assistant with the original “Dream Team” in 1992, which is the greatest collection of talent ever assembled.  For the last 11 years, he has been the head man for our National Team.  With the help of Mr. Colangelo, Sean Ford, the players that have participated on each team, the pool of players that have come out and participated in different events, and many others behind the scenes, they have helped change the landscape of basketball in our country that permeates down to our youth.  It has been truly amazing to watch!

Looking back to last season with Duke, what were some of your defining moments for that team?

We had a great season last year.  It was a really fun team to watch grow.  It was a young and inexperienced Duke team, especially after Amile’s injury.  But it was a team that really fought every day and maximized our talent.  A lot of that stems from the outstanding senior leadership of Marshall Plumlee.  He had a tremendous senior year.  There is not a player that has put on that uniform that has cared more about his team, his teammates, and our program than Marshall Plumlee.  

Looking ahead to this season, you’ve clearly got a nice mix of elite freshmen to add to a potential All-American and some veterans who have been champions.  How do you feel the team is coming together since arriving on campus?

The team is coming together nicely.  We have really good guys that are committed to winning and committed to Duke.  They get along very well.  We have no ego problems.  One of the reasons for this is we have secure upperclass leadership in Amile, Matt, and Grayson.  Those guys are really good players, and know they are really good.  They were the guys that were on the floor in the national title game vs. Wisconsin when we were down 9 and dead in the water.  They are the ones that helped change the tide of that game.  So they are confident in their games, and in their responsibility in our program.  We will lean heavily on them all season.  We have done nothing to speed up the “coming together” process.  That has to happen organically.  Nothing in our program is fake and contrived.  Again, our culture dictates how those things happen.  Fortunately, we have a culture that is all about winning.  Nothing else.

Coach, in his pre-Rio press conference mentioned that the team has at least two guys who are probably one and done, and maybe a third.   What can you tell us about what Duke has in Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Marques Bolden?

We have an outstanding freshman class.  They are all very talented, and love Duke.  They have worked really hard since their arrival, and each of them have gotten better.  They are very fortunate to have such outstanding upperclassmen to work with and learn from.  Each of them have been willing listeners and eager learners.  That is very important.

Chase Jeter was a guy who wrote a pretty compelling entry in Duke’s Devil Life publication about the challenges of his freshman year and then figuring things out toward the end.  What are the expectations for Chase this year, and what has he improved upon?

Chase has worked really hard this summer on improving.  And he has done exactly that.  He played very well out at Adidas Nations.  That should be really big for his confidence.  Chase is really talented young guy and should become a really good player in our program.  

In general, what are the strengths you see in this team heading into the season?

The potential strengths of our team is our upperclass leadership and talent, our overall talent, our versatility, and our potential depth. Hopefully, our biggest strength becomes our bond.  

With regard to expectations, most polls will have Duke ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 to start the season and pre-season favorites.  How does the team address that in terms of both expectation and the idea of what is possible with this group?

To be honest, and this may sound like a cliche, but we don’t really worry about outside expectations.  We have standards in our program that are our biggest priority.  That is what we try and focus on each and every day.  By playing at Duke, you know automatically that there are expectations.  But the expectations of those outside our program are not talked about.  

One of the things pushed on social media has been the “brotherhood” moniker.  What does that mean to you as both a former player turned coach.  And how is that passed along/best presented when you’re out recruiting?  

"The Brotherhood" is a bond that is shared by everyone that has worn the Duke uniform.  It represents a love for each other, for Duke basketball, Duke university, and what it means to have the honor of wearing that uniform and representing this great university.  It is something that links us all together.  Even though we may not have played together, we all have a shared experience, a shared love, and shared bond that connects us.  We all love this place and understand how special it is.  All of us chose to be a part of something bigger than us.  Duke University and Duke basketball has greatly impacted and changed our lives in such a positive way.  We are very picky with who we want to join this thing of ours.  But when you do join, its something you are part of for the rest of your life.

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