"We are really excited about the start of the season," said Krzyzewski. "We have so many guys coming back from last year. Most of the guys that had major surgeries in the offseason; Greg [Paulus], Marty [Pocius], DeMarcus [Nelson], Brian [Zoubek] are all going to be back for the start of practice. David [McClure] is not back yet but he will be available in limited duty. So that is good. The three freshmen bring a lot of enthusiasm and talent. We feel we're going to have a deep team and we are implementing a few new things in our system. We are all ready to get going."
Senior captain DeMarcus Nelson headlines the group of returnees that includes eight of the top nine scorers from a year ago. Nelson, an honorable mention All-ACC selection last season, averaged a team-high 14.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Elk Grove, Calif., native shot .478 from the field and is one of the top defenders in the ACC. Nelson, who raised his scoring average by 7.0 points last season, will be counted on to lead Duke's offensive and defensive attack.
"Practice is here and this is a time of the year that we have all been waiting for," said Nelson. "The coaches have been ready since they got back from being with Team USA and obviously all the players are excited about this year. It is a new team and everyone is ready to go. We are excited to get back on the court on Friday and start our journey. We really believe this team can be playing late into March and have a chance to win championships. Those are our goals and our aspirations."
Junior Greg Paulus has started 62 career games for the Blue Devils and is coming off an injury-plagued sophomore campaign in which he averaged 11.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. The Syracuse, N.Y., native came on strong at the end of the year, reaching double-figures in scoring in his final 12 games.
Jon Scheyer returns after a solid rookie campaign in 2006-07. The 6-5, 180-pound guard averaged 12.2 points (third on the team), 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while earning ACC All-Freshman Team honors. A starter in 32 of 33 games, Scheyer knocked down 61 three-pointers and shot .846 (115-of-136) from the free throw line.
Lance Thomas, a 6-8, 220-pound forward, started 18 games as a freshman a year ago. He averaged 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds, while shooting .568 (46-of-81) from the field. Thomas will be relied upon to give the Blue Devils toughness and strength on the interior.
Sophomore Gerald Henderson, junior David McClure and sophomore Brian Zoubek combined to start 23 games last season with each player bringing something different to the table. Henderson is one of the most athletic players in the country and will look to build on a freshman campaign in which he averaged 6.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. The 6-6, 200-pound McClure is a gifted defender with the ability to guard four different positions on the court. The Ridgefield, Conn., native averaged 4.2 points and 4.9 rebounds with 24 blocked shots and 39 steals (tied for second on the team). Zoubek gives Duke a true interior presence at 7-1, 260 pounds. As a freshman, he averaged 3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds, while shooting .524 (33-of-63) from the floor.
"Everyone is excited for practice," said Henderson. "It is the beginning of our season and we have been thinking about it since the end of last season. We are focused on working hard everyday and putting ourselves in position to compete for championships this year."
In addition to its core group of Henderson, McClure, Nelson, Paulus, Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek, junior guard Martynas Pocius (1.9/0.6), junior guard Jordan Davidson (0.2/0.3) and sophomore forward Steve Johnson (0.0/0.0) return for the Blue Devils. Pocius, a native of Lithuania, is a strong offensive player who has progressed defensively each year as a member of the program. He battled through an ankle injury that required offseason surgery throughout his entire sophomore season. Pocius capped his season with a career-high 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament. Davidson, who has played in 21 career games, remains a valuable practice player for the Blue Devils. The lefty guard has demonstrated good poise and a nice shooting touch through his first two seasons of play. Johnson, a 6-5, 195-pound forward, is a versatile athlete who played in three games a year ago and also competes on the Duke track and field team.
Joining the strong returning cast are freshmen Taylor King, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. All three players earned both McDonald's All-America and Parade All-America recognition a year ago and were also key contributors on the gold medal-winning USA Men's Under-18 National Team in 2006.
King led Mater Dei High School to the California Division II state title last season and finished his career with an Orange County record of 3,214 points. He was named California's Mr. Basketball as a senior, while averaging 26.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. King, a two-time Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times Player of the Year selection, led Mater Dei to a 121-16 record during his four years. Singler guided South Medford to a record of 110-10 over four years and finished his career as the sixth-leading scorer in Oregon state history with 2,207 points. He was named 2007 Oregonian Class 6A Co-Player of the Year after averaging 29.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Smith, a two-year captain at Oak Hill Academy, averaged 22.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.2 steals per game as a senior. He led the team to a 40-1 record, tying the school's single-season wins record and helping Oak Hill earn the top spot in the final USA Today 2007 Super 25 national rankings.
Duke opens exhibition play on Saturday, Oct. 27, with the annual Blue-White Scrimmage. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will also play exhibition games against Shaw (Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m.) and Barton College (Nov. 3 at 5:00 p.m.) before opening the regular season on Friday, Nov. 9 against North Carolina Central (7:00 p.m.).