Duke Basketball: What Role Will Blue Devils' Upperclassmen Play in 2014-15?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2014

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21:  Quinn Cook #2, Rasheed Sulaimon #14 and Rodney Hood #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate in the second half against the Mercer Bears in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 21, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke basketball program has often been dominated by upperclassmen throughout his tenure, but the 2013-14 season was a different story.

Freshman Jabari Parker was the straw that stirred the drink for the Blue Devils in the scoring department and on the glass, and newcomer Rodney Hood was the Scottie Pippen to Parker’s Michael Jordan. Sure, Hood wasn’t a freshman, but it was his first year on the floor in a Duke uniform.

Both Parker and Hood declared for the NBA draft this offseason, meaning the Blue Devils will be even more reliant on freshmen than they were last year.

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 12:  Justise Winslow #10, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Tyus Jones#6 pose for pictures before the game against the World Team on April 12, 2014 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
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Coach K currently stakes claim to the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2014, per 247Sports. Jahlil Okafor is the centerpiece of the group, Tyus Jones will run the show as the floor general and point guard and Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen will be the dynamic athletes on the wings. There is a little bit of everything in this class, which should have Duke fans fired up for next season.

However, it is easy to forget about the returning upperclassmen amidst all the hype.

The presumed starting lineup here is Jones at point guard, Okafor at center, Winslow at small forward, Rasheed Sulaimon at shooting guard and Amile Jefferson at power forward.

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21:  Rasheed Sulaimon #14 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket against Ike Nwamu #10 of the Mercer Bears in the first half in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 21, 2014 in Ralei
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Sulaimon struggled early in the year in 2013-14, but he became a key contributor down the stretch when he shifted to a primary ball-handler role. He discussed why he thought his game turned around during the season, via Bobby Colton of The Chronicle:

It kind of started at the time where I wasn’t really playing that much and I was on the second unit a lot. I just started playing a lot more point guard for the second unit and I just started developing more confidence with the ball in my hands. I just kept working on it, and kept working hard at it in practice and Coach gave me a shot tonight.

Expect Sulaimon to stay in the backup point guard position at times when Jones needs a blow, but he will be a primary contributor off the ball next year. His three-point shooting will be critical, especially if Okafor is double-teamed down low.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 13:  Jabari Parker #1 and Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate as they leave the floor following a last-second win over the Virginia Cavaliers at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 13, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina. D
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

As for Jefferson, he was the one reliable rebounder Coach K had last year outside of Parker and was Duke’s best interior defender. He will be more dangerous on offense in 2014-15 because Okafor will draw so much defensive attention on the blocks, which will open Jefferson up for easy looks.

Quinn Cook is another recognizable upperclassman returning next year, but he may not have as important of a role as Sulaimon or Jefferson.

Between Jones, Allen, Sulaimon, Winslow (who is capable of playing guard if needed) and Matt Jones (who showed improvement in the season’s second half), Cook could get lost in the backcourt shuffle. He is still a capable point guard on the offensive side because of his ability to hit the three, penetrate and find his teammates, but his perimeter defense leaves much to be desired.

Duke’s season ultimately came to an end because it failed to contain dribble penetration against Mercer—of all teams—and Cook was certainly one of the culprits. Cook will still be part of the rotation, but he will see far fewer minutes next season than he has become accustomed to throughout his career in Durham. 

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 21:  Quinn Cook #2 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts to a call against the Mercer Bears during the Second Round of the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 21, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Ge
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The freshmen will be great next season, but the only way Duke wins the ACC or makes it to the Final Four is if it gets formidable contributions from its primary upperclassmen.


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