Blue Devils confident they can build on last season

Posted October 17, 2008
Updated October 18, 2008

— The Duke Blue Devils know how their 2008-09 season, like every season under coach Mike Krzyzewski, will be judged - not, however, by how they play in November, or December, or January or even February, for that matter.

A program with Duke's tradition and trio of national championships is always judged from the outside come March, come NCAA Tournament time.

And this season will be no different. The Devils return everyone except 2007-08 leading scorer and captain DeMarcus Nelson, who is currently trying to make the Golden State Warriors, and Taylor King, who transferred to Villanova after one year in Durham.

With a nucleus that includes tri-captains Greg Paulus, Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer back from a 28-6 team, the ultimate goal is to go much further in the Big Dance than the second round, where the Devils lost to West Virginia last March. Duke hasn't made the Sweet 16 since the 2005-06 season.

"Well, we did have a great year last year up until the end when we lost a few games and we lost confidence in ourselves," Scheyer said. "You know, one thing that's important (is) guys on the team individually and as a team, you know you have an ego and you believe you're good.

"And for us, we're not missing any pieces. This year, I think we have all the pieces to do what we want to do and that's what makes us feel confident."

After climbing to as high as No. 2 in the national rankings last season, the Devils slipped at the end for the second consecutive season, losing five of their last 11 games and three of their final five. In his press conference before Duke's first practice Friday, Krzyzewski said he didn't handle the team correctly.

Since winning the gold medal as the USA Basketball head coach in August, Krzyzewski has publicly declared, with zest, that he won't be "relieved" by any victory, no matter the opponent. He said Friday that he let the pressure of being Duke negatively affect his players late last season.

"I hope that message gets across to my team that we're playing for right now, and we're going to try to be as good as we can possibly be, and we're going to fight like crazy," Krzyzewski said.

"And you don't have to do anything because 'Coach K's' your coach or Duke went to 10 Final Fours."

Krzyzewski added that come March, his players weren't just competing against the other team on the floor, but also against the expectations. He blamed himself for letting that get to his players, saying he has no problem when Duke's tradition is thrown in his face but he must deflect it away from his team.

As for Duke's returning players, they're well aware of the games that matter most, but they also realize the benefits of the contests leading up the big ones.

"It's difficult, 'cause you can have the best season ever in the regular season, but when you get to the postseason (you can) have that be completely erased," Brian Zoubek said. "And that's pretty much what happened to us last year at least, and it kind of definitely overshadows what we did during the season.

"We just gotta look at it like every game's building up to that, and that's the ultimate goal."

A couple things that could aid the Devils come March are health and depth. Everyone enters the season ready to go, including a few players who have recovered from offseason surgery.

Henderson had surgery on his right wrist, which gave him three and a half months to work exclusively with his left hand. Zoubek had surgery on his left foot for the second time, which kept him out until mid-August. He said he's completely healed now and is trying to get back to peak form for the season-opener Nov. 10 against Presbyterian.

Forward Lance Thomas also had surgery in April on his right pinkie. And junior guard Martynas Pocius, who received a medical redshirt last season after re-injuring his left ankle four games into the year, is back healthy as well.

Add freshmen forwards Miles Plumlee and Olek Czyz and guard Elliot Williams to the mix, and Krzyzewski likes the depth of his team.

One of the issues at the end of last season was that freshman forward Kyle Singler, the ACC rookie of the year, wore down under the heavy burden of playing lots of minutes and banging against bigger, stronger players.

Zoubek played very inconsistent minutes because of his foot injury, placing the frontcourt responsibilities on Singler and Thomas. Krzyzewski doesn't expect any of his players experiencing a similar problem this season.

"We can play a lot of people," Krzyzewski said, "and we're healthy now that we (don't) have any injuries, but if we did, we would probably not take a dip like you might take (usually)."

Of course, these Devils will likely be overshadowed all season by the preseason consensus No. 1 North Carolina team 8 miles down 15-501. But that's just fine with them. They're solely focused on what they can accomplish, and — recent March disappointments aside — they're a pretty confident bunch regardless of what outsiders might think.

"We listen to ourselves, we listen to our coaches," Henderson said. "I think within that, we have enough to know how good we are."


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  • ccandrd Oct 23, 2008

    Hahahaha, your looking all the way to march??? They've got to get through the ACC unscathed to get that "#1" seed in the tourney. Keep dreamin Dookie!

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 18, 2008

    cc - ok, so here's Duke projected as a one seed: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology

    Must I invalidate ALL of your claims?

  • ccandrd Oct 18, 2008

    Typical Dookie response when beat....

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 18, 2008

    cc - wow, your comments are all over the place and completely invalidated. You must be 13 or younger. No need for me to reply.

  • ccandrd Oct 18, 2008

    I want to know where "Original Blue Devil" gets his drugs because he's WAAAY out in LA-LA land. "Projected by many to be #1"?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! WOW! Take a look on ESPNU's polls, Duke is nowhere near #1. Their style recently has been nothing but 2 and outs in the tourney, that and being severely over-rated. They don't have an inside presence. Look at all K's National Championships. The one thing they all have in common is a big man down low. Where is he this year, or last, or the year before that?

    I'm going to address these issues 1 by 1.

    First of all, my grandma could coach a US team consisting of Kobe, D-wade, Melo, and Dwight Howard to the gold.

    Second, What is your definition of "quite stocked"? If this Duke team is quite stocked, Old Mother Hubbards' Cupboard is a freakin' Harris Teeter. Henderson and Scheyer are the only guys you got.

    Third, Fear? HAH!!! We didn't fear Dook when we beat them at HOME, AT SENIOR NIGHT, WITH A BUNCH OF FRESHMEN!!! If you can't remember, just ask Sheldon.... He won't ever forget it.

    Last i checked, UNC has more Final Four appearances (17 to Dooks 14), ACC Tourney champs(17 to Dooks 16), ACC regular season championships(26 to Dooks 18) and more NCAA campionships (5 to dooks 3). I know its alot for a Dook fan to take in so I'll leave you with 3 words........


  • onyourheels2 Oct 18, 2008

    cowboy-you've been riding way to many of those goats.

  • Turheel Oct 18, 2008

    This might offend some of my UNC brethren, but I truly believe Duke has just as good a chance as the Heels to win it all this year. Especially if Nolan Smith and Elliott Williams get ample playing time. With Henderson, Singler, and Scheyer, along with some height under the goal, the pieces are there. Injuries to the wrong player on either team could cause some problems, but I see the NCAA title coming to either Chapel Hill or Durham this season.

  • goheels_15 Oct 18, 2008

    man i can always count on obd to bring a bif fat smile to my face with his lunacy.

    WE ARE....DUKE

  • Tar Heels Victory-NCAA CHAMPIONS Oct 18, 2008

    Both Duke and Carolina have lost in the NCAA tournament when picked to win it all. This is a redemtion season for both teams. Talent wise, both are stocked. Split, sweep, who cares. It's the big one that counts. We split in 05, got bounced in the ACC tournament and won the big one at the end of the year. That is all that matters. I see two great games that will be close. UNC should win both. If they don't, just go and fix what was missing. Losses are not always bad. How you recover is the true indicator of a great team.

    GO HEELS!!

  • OriginalBlueDevil Oct 18, 2008

    hiwade - Let's focus on your coach. Roy never had an edge. He choked for years at KU, finally bailed out, and came to UNC to win a title with someone else's cruise-control players. And since then? Choke city all over again. See the trend? Yes, K has 3 titles and Roy has one borrowed title. Oh yeah, and K won gold.

    By the way, the Holes were stocked last year and didn't sweep Duke. And this year the Holes simply bring in more talent that will warm a lot of pine. Basically the same team vs a much improved Duke team. Yeah, no sweeps this year, unless, of course, Duke is the one sweeping.

    So, tell Roy to pack away his KU sticker, kiss K's gold, and get down to the business of another choke.




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