We all know about the great Duke teams in the past. We know about the early 90’s and 2000’s Blue Devils, they were something special. They brought championships back to the program, something that will never be forgotten. There still stands one question: what makes this Duke team unlike the other ones that were looked at in similar ways before the start of their respective season?
For one, the athleticism is evident. Going down the list, there seems to be an endless amount of athleticism. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood seem to have separated themselves from the pack already, showing incredible talent and strength. Continuing down, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have already displayed how valuable and athletic they really are along with guys like Andre Dawkins and Alex Murphy who have incredible touch and pure basketball skills. Even looking at the freshmen, who will probably not see much playing time, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones are freaks of their own along with sophomore’s Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee who have shown flashes of being great players. Think about this, we have practically stated the entire Duke roster and there is so much athleticism that there are backups that could be starters for other top schools.
Another component that separates this year’s squad from previous great teams is the style of play. Coach K has said it and so has Quinn Cook, this team’s style of play will be fast. We saw the Blue Devils do something similar when Kyrie Irving was playing a few years back, before he injured his toe that dreadful day in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Reverting back to the previous paragraph, this section correlates with that directly. The amount of athletes on this team will force Duke to play up-tempo. Last year, they did do something similar, but not to the extent that is presumed to occur this season. They have their true point guard in Quinn Cook and to compliment him, Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson, and Jabari Parker will definitely be around him. Alex Murphy is another guy who can soar along with Andre Dawkins when they drive to the basket. Duke has the players to tire a defense early and make many games feel longer than 40 minutes because of the up-tempo style.
There is also something that wasn’t evident last season: competition. Last season, Duke had their three seniors surrounded by Quinn Cook and either Tyler Thornton or Rasheed Sulaimon. Then off the bench would be Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston with the occasional Alex Murphy sighting. For the most part, the offense came from the starting five, but that is what has changed over the course of this past summer. Coach K has said that the starting five right now would be Jefferson, Hood, Parker, and most likely Cook, leaving an opening for the fifth starter. After those four, there is a chance fro everybody to play. There is competition not only for the fifth starter, but for who will play after that. There is Marshall Plumlee who, as we already know is the only big man, who will have the opportunity to show what he can do. Then, there is Hairston, Murphy, Matt Jones, Semi Ojeleye, Tyler Thornton, and Dawkins who will be gutting it out every day in practice to see who will get in-game minutes. Of course, there is also the possibility that Duke will play small and start sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon. This has been beaten by every fan, analyst, and article writers, but it is true when we say that this is a very good problem to have if you are Duke.
For the fourth and final reason behind why this year’s Duke team can be unlike any other that has come before them, the togetherness is what sticks out over all other reasons. You don’t have to be a reporter or have inside access into the locker room to know that these guys genuinely like one another. If you go on social media sites like Twitter or Instagram, you will see all of the player’s hanging out with one another. They are always laughing, joking around, and just being around each other so they can get a feel for their personalities. They aren’t just doing this because they are teammates, these guys are friends and that will transcend onto the floor. That is where you gain the confidence in one another, where the unbreakable bonds between players are made. It is always off the court. To end, former Duke guard Nolan Smith said it the better then anyone so far. On Twitter, Nolan said, “This Duke team will be special. Why do I feel this? Off the court, they hang out and they really like each other.” Then he added, “The great teams hang out off the court. If you talk off the court, you’ll definitely talk on the court and be more connected.”