Youth Served: Duke's Clutch Freshmen Realize Dream in Edging Wisconsin for Title

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterApril 7, 2015

Bob Donnan/USA Today

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan sat begrudgingly on the wrong side of the championship stage Monday night and said his program doesn't do rent-a-player.

It was a bitter thing to say in the moment. A foolish attempt to put down Duke for beating his veterans with one of the greatest freshman classes of all time that wasn't about just hanging out for a year and then getting paid.

Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor met in the third grade, and they didn't dream of going pro together; they dreamed of moments like Monday night at the bottom of a dog pile with tears in their eyes and "Duke 68, Wisconsin 63" on the scoreboard at Lucas Oil Stadium.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06:  Jahlil Okafor #15 and Tyus Jones #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers during the NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"That's my best friend and my brother," Jones said. "We told each other in the ninth grade we wanted to come to college together and win a national championship."

Jones, Okafor and Justise Winslow sat in a hotel in Lithuania back in 2012 playing for USA Basketball and talked about playing together. Jones and Okafor recruited Winslow to Duke.

Grayson Allen knew he wanted to come to Duke in eighth grade when he watched Duke beat Butler in the national title game in 2010 in this same building.

"I've dreamed about being in this moment since then," he said. 

These weren't rentals. These were dreamers.

They had to be when they found themselves down nine to the old vets from Wisconsin in the second half after Bronson Koenig buried another jumper in the eye of Okafor.

This is when freshmen are supposed to retreat to the fetal position. But this is when Duke got good. All year.

Down 10 with less than nine minutes to go at St. John's, chasing Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th win. Duke won. Down 11 with under 10 to go at Virginia. Duke won. Down 10 to North Carolina at home with less than four minutes to go. Duke won.

But down nine to Wisconsin in the national title game?

The solution was simple. Just turn to Allen.

Yes, Grayson Allen. The guy you forget about in this freshman class, who had four DNPs and scored one point in the opening round of the tournament against Robert Morris.

Assistant coach Jon Scheyer had noticed after the Robert Morris game that Allen was down on himself. He told him to just keep focusing on what was next.

What he did next, down nine, was hit a three, then steal the ball from National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, then drive and score over 6'9" Sam Dekker, get fouled, bury the free throw, get fouled again moments later and bury two more free throws.

"I might never get another chance at this, so I might as well go out there and be aggressive and give it my all. That was it," said Allen, who scored eight straight to keep Duke in the game. "I figured I might not ever get another opportunity, so I might as well take advantage of it."

Jones took over from there, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points in the final 11 minutes.

Tyus Jones' Clutch Performances in Big Games
DateOpponentPoints / AssistsFGs3-pointersFTs
Nov. 18Michigan State17 / 44-52-37-7
Dec. 3Wisconsin22 / 47-112-36-8
Jan. 17at Louisville10 / 82-50-26-6
Jan. 25at St. John's22 / 65-112-510-10
Jan. 31at Virginia17 / 45-102-55-6
Feb. 18North Carolina22 / 87-162-56-7
March 7at North Carolina24 / 75-102-412-12
National ChampionshipWisconsin23 / 17-132-37-7
Bleacher Report

Late in games this season, Coach K has put the ball in his freshman point guard's hands and told his bigs to set ball screens and let Jones go to work. That's how he'd make the go-ahead three with just over four minutes left and the dagger three that put the Badgers away.

"Throughout the season, when it's gotten to late-game situations, we've gone to him, and he's made the right play," Scheyer said. "So tonight was going to be no different for us. What he did to come through, I don't know how many people there were tonight60,000 or 70,000—you would think there was five people the way Tyus was. He lives for those moments, and he put us on his back."

Okafor, the best player on the roster, sat and watched most of the comeback saddled with four fouls.

Scheyer and assistant coach Jeff Capel could see the hurt on his face. Okafor was ready to take the blame if Duke lost.

"You're going to win the game for us," Scheyer told him. "You're going to win the game for us."

Okafor came back in with 3:22 left on the clock and his team ahead by one point, and eight seconds later he was spinning around Kaminsky and putting Duke ahead by three. Next possession he followed a Winslow miss and put Duke up five.

"He capped it off for us," Scheyer said. "Other guys kept it going, but he capped it off for us. What he's done as a freshman, I think it's overlooked a little bit, because he's put us on his back so many times and he did the same thing tonight at the end."

In a few months, Okafor will be off to the NBA and could be the No. 1 pick. Winslow is probably gone as well. Jones possibly, too.

They'll leave as one of the only freshmen-led groups to ever win a title, joining Kentucky's 2012 group.

Achieving something that the Fab Five couldn't. Something Kentucky's platoons couldn't. Something that a bunch of talented vets from Wisconsin couldn't.

"I've never had a group that has had this chemistry and the brotherhood that this group has had," Krzyzewski said.

Those don't sound like rentals. They sound like champions.

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.


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