Duke fresh­men so good so soon, they sur­prise even coach Krzyzewski

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY STEVEWISEMAN swise­man@new­sob­server.com

Each year Duke’s bas­ket­ball staff works fever­ishly to help its elite group of fresh­men as­sim­i­late to the col­lege level as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Some teams take a while to mesh and play their best. Some teams, like the one that dom­i­nated No. 2 Ken­tucky Tues­day night, don’t need any time at all.

In the sea­son-opener on a neu­tral court, a No. 4-ranked Duke team with four fresh­men play­ing in their first col­lege game beat the Wild­cats 118-84 in the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic at Bankers Life Field­house.

The Blue Devils have per­haps the best re­cruit­ing class ever, fea­tur­ing three of the top five play­ers in the 2018 fresh­man class. Ken­tucky has the na­tion’s No. 2 class plus a few ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers who were sup­posed to give the Wild­cats the edge against Duke.

In­stead, Duke’s fresh­men – Zion Wil­liamson, R.J. Bar­rett, Cameron Red­dish and Tre Jones – each scored as Duke made its first four at­tempts from the field on the way to build­ing a 21point lead be­fore 10 min­utes had been played.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praised them as “mag­nif­i­cent.”

Star fresh­men dot­ting Duke’s lineup is noth­ing new. The names of Marvin Ba­gley III, Wen­dell Carter, Jayson Tatum, Bran­don In­gram, Jahlil Okafor, Jus­tise Winslow and Jabari Parker are prime ex­am­ples over the past four sea­sons.

This group, though, ap­pears even more spe­cial. Look­ing at Twit­ter fol­low­ings, YouTube video view to­tals and so­cial me­dia re­ac­tion to the wipe­out of Ken­tucky, the coun­try can’t get enough of them. They’re col­lege bas­ket­ball’s ver­sion of the Bea­tles and Tues­day night was their “Ed Sul­li­van

Show.”

“We were amped up,” said Red­dish, a 6-8, 218pound for­ward who scored 22 points. “We came out from the jump and played as hard as we could.”

The pre­vail­ing ques­tions are how did this group come to­gether so quickly? And is there a chance this wave of good feel­ings will last five months, all the way to April at the Fi­nal Four in Min­neapo­lis?

Krzyzewski hasn’t been shy about say­ing this team has a good bond.

We’ve heard that be­fore about these fresh­man­laden teams, only to see them stum­ble as the sea­son pro­gressed.

Last year’s Blue Devils lost at Bos­ton Col­lege in a rare ACC opener the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber. Two years ago this month, Duke lost to Kansas in the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic in New York and, a month later, lost its ACC opener at Vir­ginia Tech.

Both of those teams ac­com­plished more than most pro­grams. But they also each lost nine games.

The In­gram-led Blue Devils in 2015-16 lost to Ken­tucky at the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic on the way to an 11-loss sea­son.

But even Krzyzewski ad­mit­ted how this sea­son’s fresh­men han­dled sit­u­a­tions against Ken­tucky that trip up young teams.

Af­ter build­ing that early 21-point lead, Duke never let the Wild­cats get closer than 12 points. Even af­ter tak­ing a 17-point half­time lead, Duke scored five points over the first 47 sec­onds of the sec­ond half, and Ken­tucky needed a time­out to re­group, again.

The Blue Devils fig­u­ra­tively didn’t let Ken­tucky be­lieve it had a chance to fight back.

“I shouldn’t say I’m sur­prised at how well these guys play be­cause I see them,” Krzyzewski said, “but to play well on this stage, right away, against Ken­tucky, was a lit­tle bit sur­pris­ing. They han­dled two re­ally im­por­tant sit­u­a­tions that even vet­eran teams don’t do, started a half with a big lead, go and get five points and they call a time­out.

“And usu­ally af­ter that, teams tend to let up a lit­tle bit and we didn’t. So, those were two ma­tu­rity things that they showed us.”

This year’s play­ers didn’t ap­pear to care who on their team scored. Wil­liamson, a 6-7, 285pound for­ward, Bar­rett, who’s a 6-7, 202-pound for­ward, and Red­dish could each be an al­pha, the guy who needs the ball and is the main fo­cus of the of­fense.

In­stead, all three scored 22 points or more against Ken­tucky.

Krzyzewski said he didn’t even run plays as Duke used its 5-out mo­tion of­fense to blitz Ken­tucky’s de­fend­ers for easy shots in the lane or wideopen 3-point­ers.

The early sea­son spot­light didn’t bother this team as it lis­tened to up­per­class­men such as ju­nior cen­ter Mar­ques Bolden, ju­nior for­ward Jack White and ju­nior for­ward Javin DeLau­rier – even though those three had lit­tle start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in their first two sea­sons.

“My nerves were pretty calm be­cause in high school you get very ex­cited about it,” Wil­liamson said, “but when you get to col­lege you just learn from the up­per­class­men. If you go in too ex­cited, things will not go your way, so just go in calm and just play very hard and that’s what we did.”

This team, so far, is fully en­joy­ing the in­tense spot­light and play­ing like it feels no pres­sure.

You see it in the way Bar­rett and Wil­liamson hap­pily stopped eat­ing to talk to and take self­ies with fans on a re­cent visit to Waf­fle House.

You see it when Bar­rett, Wil­liamson, Red­dish and Jones – the four fresh­man starters weren’t com­fort­able pos­ing for a mag­a­zine cover photo un­less the fifth fresh­man, re­serve red­shirt can­di­date Joey Baker, was in­cluded.

You saw it dur­ing Wil­liamson’s in­ter­view on ESPN Tues­day night af­ter the de­feat over Ken­tucky.

“All of us have fun. I can’t even ex­plain it,” Wil­liamson said with a chuckle and a shake of his head. “I just love play­ing bas­ket­ball. I love play­ing with my broth­ers. And play­ing for Coach K and those coaches, I don’t think there’s any­thing bet­ter than that.”

The tour con­tin­ues with Duke’s first two home reg­u­lar-sea­son games – Sun­day against Army at 1 p.m., and Wed­nes­day against Eastern Michi­gan at 7 p.m. – be­fore the Blue Devils head to Hawaii for the Maui In­vi­ta­tional.

From there, we’ll see how much fur­ther this “mag­nif­i­cent” team can go.

CHUCK LIDDY cliddy@new­sob­server.com

Duke’s Mar­ques Bolden, left, re­acts with team­mates Zion Wil­liamson and Tre Jones, right, af­ter he is fouled on a re­verse layup Tues­day.

CHUCK LIDDY cliddy@new­sob­server.com

Duke for­ward Cam Red­dish goes in to score over Ken­tucky’s Reid Travis. Red­dish scored 22 Tues­day.

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