Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Offseason to-Do List
The 2013-2014 college basketball season is officially over with Connecticut’s victory over Kentucky in the NCAA tournament championship game. The season started off with great promise for the Duke Blue Devils but ended in disappointment when they were defeated by Mercer in their first tournament game.
The season may have just ended, but Duke has already had a busy offseason. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has already announced plans to coach at least five more years, while associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski is off to be the head coach at Marquette. Duke fans also anxiously await Jabari Parker’s decision on whether to declare for the NBA draft.
After the dust settles from the roster and coaching changes, the offseason is about one thing—getting better. Duke had one of the most talented and athletic teams in the country last year, but never lived up to the potential due to a number of different factors. If The Devils want to avoid another disappointing year, there are a number of things that need taking care of during the summer.
Find a Leader
Last season Duke had three captains, but no player was able to take control of the team. Teams are at their best when they have a leader who is strong-willed, tenacious, and most importantly one of the best players on the team. Of last year’s captains Tyler Thornton was a defensive specialist, Josh Hairston rarely saw the court, and Rodney Hood was in his first season in a Duke uniform.
With Thornton and Hairston graduating and Hood likely leaving for the NBA, Duke will have a new set of captains this year. Whoever is chosen will have to be able to carry the team on the court at times, pull the team together during tough stretches and keep everyone focused. One of the biggest problems the team had this season was its inability to stop the bleeding. When another team made a run, Duke seemed to panic and fall into a deeper hole. This was most evident when the Devils allowed Wake Forest to go on a 17-0 run in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Two of the most obvious choices for team captain would be Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook, but both have been mercurial over the past two seasons. The player who sticks out with the most intangibles is Amile Jefferson. The forward never complained about having to guard larger players every game or about not getting the ball much despite being extremely efficient in the low post.
Jefferson is a smart player (two-time academic All-ACC) who is now a veteran on the court, entering his junior year. Look for him to emerge as the team’s unofficial leader this summer and be named captain.
Establish Clear Roles
One of the biggest problems with this year’s team was a lack of stability. Nine different players started a game for Duke. Other than Parker and Hood, everyone’s minutes were juggled throughout the season. At one point, Duke thrived with five-man substitutions, but Coach K abandoned that strategy before the first game against Syracuse and never went back to it.
Cook and Sulaimon struggled the most with these lineup changes, as both players regressed statistically from the previous season. Cook started off great before he was relegated to backup duty late in the season. Sulaimon went from being a starter to non-existent, to primary ball-handler, to third banana.
With four freshmen coming in next season, it will be essential for Duke to establish everyone’s role over the summer and in fall practices. Coach K will need to establish a rotation and hopefully stop juggling the lineup sometime before March. This will allow the players to work through their inevitable struggles and learn how to play to each other’s strengths.
Duke’s offense this past season relied too heavily on three-point shooting and one-on-one offense. Better continuity with playing time will lead to better teamwork and a more sustainable form of basketball.
Last season was one of the worst defensively for Duke under Coach K. The Devils ranked 268th in the nation allowing opponents to shoot 45.6 percent from the field, and gave up 67.4 points per game, 104th in the country.
A lot of the defensive problems could be blamed on the personnel. Jefferson had to play out of position at center the entire season, and Duke had very little frontcourt depth behind him and Parker.
Help should be on the way in the form of 7-foot freshman Jahlil Okafor and 6-8 Justice Winslow, who scouts view as a potential defensive stud. If Okafor can become a reliable rim protector, it could have a trickle-down effect on the entire defense. Jefferson is not much of a shot blocker, but he is versatile enough to switch on to guards and is very adept at stopping the pick-and-roll. Sulaimon is a solid defender, and although Cook loves to gamble for steals, Okafor’s presence will swallow up some of his mistakes.
With a more conventional roster next season, Duke should be able to return to its normally stingy ways.
Stabilize the Coaching Staff
With Chris Collins taking the head coaching job at Northwestern last year and Wojo now off to Marquette, Duke has lost its top assistant for the second straight season. The Devils also face the prospect of losing Jeff Capel, whose name has already been attached to a couple of job openings.
The assistant coaches will have an elevated role this summer as Coach K will be spending some time away from Durham coaching Team USA. Even though teams are unable to hold organized practices during the summer, it is important for coaches to be around to make sure none of the players are getting into trouble or out of shape.
There is a rumor floating around that former player Jay Williams is being considered for an assistant coaching position. Williams would bring lots of credibility to the bench as a former national champion and winner of the Naismith and Wooden awards. He is also young enough that the current players will remember his days on the court. If Williams is hired, it would be great for the team. If not, look for another former player to step in and fill the empty spot on the bench.