Duke Basketball: Five Teams the 2011 Blue Devils Could Learn from
Duke is poised to kick off the 2010 season in just a few weeks.
The expectations have never been higher, as many NBA scouts, college basketball experts and fans are proclaiming the Blue Devils the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions.
The problem with that is that predictions are just that. There are no assurances that the team will win it all again.
Mike Krzyzewski is treating this team like a brand-new one and not a team actually defending a title, because this team, he feels, didn't win a title last year.
So how can this team prepare for what lies ahead? For starters, they can look back in time at a few previous Duke teams for inspiration. They can take away lessons in just how difficult expectations and a repeat can be and what it takes to be a champion.
1991 Duke Blue Devils: Stay Hungry and Treat Every Championship Like the First
For this Duke team to really get the experience of what it is like to not have won anything, they should start with the 1991 Blue Devils.
That team, coming off the worst loss in a national title game to UNLV the previous year, didn't have the sense of entitlement that some feel the Blue Devils have now.
Those Blue Devils were experienced and skilled, plus they brought in a stud freshmen in Grant Hill. Much like current prized-freshman Kyrie Irving, Hill was a major reason the team went on to win the school's first title in 1991.
No better place to start than at the beginning.
1999 Duke Blue Devils: No One Is Unbeatable
The 1999 Duke Blue Devils, by all accounts, appeared to be a juggernaut.
Led inside by Elton Brand and outside by the shooting of Trajan Langdon and point guard play of William Avery, the Blue Devils were seemingly unstoppable as they ran roughshod all over the ACC.
But a funny thing happened on their way to a championship—they lost. The heartbreaking loss for Duke fans saw their heavily favored Blue Devils lose to UConn in the finals.
By studying this team the Blue Devils clearly can see that no matter how good you are or how good people think you are, you can always lose.
2010 Duke Blue Devils: Hard Work Pays Off
No one, including the the most diehard Duke fan, was expecting the Blue Devils to win the 2010 national title.
Most figured it would take at least another year for Duke to climb back atop the college basketball world. Duke didn't listen to the critics except to draw motivation from those who doubted them.
While many of those critics are going to be showering the current team with praise, the 2011 team would best be served by maintaining that workman-like attitude in its drive to win a championship this season.
2002 Duke Blue Devils: Stay Focused and Don't Underestimate Senior Leaders
Coming off its third national title in 2001, Duke was posed with the question as to whether they could repeat for the second time in as many decades.
Things looked promising as they returned several key players including Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer.
However, Duke had lost All-American Shane Battier and his fellow captain Nate James to graduation. Without those two senior leaders, Duke managed a great season. But it came up short of expectations when the Blue Devils lost in the Sweet 16 to Indiana.
Thus, no matter how many key players you return from a title team, there are no guarantees. Duke circa 2011 returns Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith as the senior leaders. Learning something from the leadership of Jon Scheyer in 2010 and looking back at the 2002 team will benefit them greatly.
1992 Duke Blue Devils: A Repeat Is Sweet and Possible
After the 1991 season, Duke was favored to win it all again in 1992, even though no team had repeated since UCLA had done it in the 1970s.
Still, the pressure was there and Mike Krzyzewski knew it. Led again by pretty much the same team as the 1991 title team, Krzyzewski approached the team in a completely-different manner.
Whereas he had to build up the 1991 team to make them feel they could win a championship, the 1992 team, he would write, was told from day one that they would win it. Despite it being essentially the same team, he took a different approach.
While Krzyzewski isn't likely to deliver the same speech to this year's group of Blue Devils, the approach he takes will be different from last year.
Like the sage advice of the Oracle in The Matrix, Krzyzewski will tell his team only what they need to hear and allows it the freedom to find things out on its own. While he probably isn't saying this Duke team will win it all, he has made it clear this team will be very good and has the potential to do some special things.
A repeat may be among them. But only time will tell and there are never any guarantees.