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Going into this series of games against China, the Duke players and coaches recognized that they were exhibition games and, in the grand scheme of things, not show up on the team's record at the end of the season.
The players were probably looking forward to seeing the sights, traveling together, and representing their university as ambassadors. Having said that, every player and coach on that flight over is a competitor who wants to win.
Despite these games not showing up on the record books or the stat sheets, it was nice to see that all of Duke's representatives let their competitive side show during the game.
After remaining mostly dormant for the first few minutes of the game, Coach K, following a particularly questionable call made by the referee, got up and, avoiding any sort of language barrier, signaled his disagreement with the official's call.
Everyone who watched the game would agree that the discrepancy of fouls and out of bounds calls in China's favor was something that would never happen in an NCAA game, but that did not stop the players from getting fired up about it.
For Mike Krzyzewski to get as heated during an exhibition game as he may in an ACC game shows this Duke team, laden with young, inexperienced players, that their coach is behind them 100% and that he will fight for them no matter what the stakes. The college basketball season is a long one, even for a coach as experienced as Coach K. These are games that don't affect the team's record in the long run, and he could save himself the energy and take it easy during them.
However, he knows that he's taught his team not to do such a thing and he continues to take his job as a role model seriously, displaying the sort of competitiveness and tenacity he's known for even in the least meaningful of games.
Although several times during the game, Duke players were seen throwing their hands up in the air in disgust towards some of the calls made, one still has to credit their ability to play through some questionable calls and several runs made by their opponent, cutting the lead to a single possession.
After losing players like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, the team is still searching for the type of go-to guy that can take over the offense when the team is in a slump.
Today, whether it was Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins, or Seth Curry, the Blue Devils had an answer for all of the Chinese team's runs and appeared to be in control of the game for most of the second half, despite the close score.
I bring up the foul calls observation mostly to acknowledge the physical nature of the play. Both teams were very physical and one team appeared to benefit more than the other. It can be frustrating for a young team to constantly be at the losing end of foul calls, even when it would appear otherwise.
However, the Duke players never put themselves in a position where there was animosity towards the opposing players or referees. This team will not have to play a the physical brand of basketball they did today when NCAA play starts, but that does not mean, as competitors, they weren't frustrated by it. At the end of the day though, they walked off the court with a victory, and displayed a level of maturity that one could not always expect from a team in such a situation.
This positive take from today's game can only be magnified after what occurred between Georgetown and their opponents a short time following Duke's game.