The Columbus Dispatch
Freshman phenom’s ability to welcome — and ignore — pressure helps power Duke
Paolo Banchero arrived at Duke entering a spotlight others have felt in the past and one that will be uniquely his this basketball season.
A freshman already projected to be among the top picks, if not the No. 1 overall pick, in next summer's NBA Draft, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward is similar to other recent Duke one-and-done players who had those expectations before playing a single college basketball game.
But Banchero is playing what's expected to be his lone college season in what will be coach Mike Krzyzewski's last as Duke's head coach after a Hall of Fame career.
If Duke is to win a sixth NCAA title under Krzyzewski, it's up to Banchero to lead them there.
That added pressure makes Banchero different from previous top Duke recruits, like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Marvin Bagley and R.J. Barrett.
But he needs only to look at one of his tattoos for a personal reminder of how to handle it all.
“I literally have a tattooed on me: No pressure,” Banchero said. “So that's just kind of the mindset I have, you know, just, it's never really pressure. It's all fun. Like, it's basketball. I'm gonna go out there. I'm gonna be locked in. I'm gonna play as hard as I can to win.”
Banchero's tattooed message isn't about ignoring pressure. It's about embracing it. That's why it says “know pressure,” with the “no” in “know” capitalized.
“You got to know when there's pressure,” Banchero said, “but then you've got to realize that at the same time, it's no pressure.”
All that said, the college basketball world will be watching Banchero as his season progresses. Not only was he voted preseason all-acc first team and preseason rookie of the year, he was also the preseason ACC player of the year.
No other player in league history was named preseason player of the year prior to playing a college game.
But Banchero has that kind of talent, a player big enough to do damage inside but also athletic enough to play on the perimeter at both ends of the court.
“He can handle it, pass it, grab or rebound it, initiate himself, run his own break,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player and graduate assistant coach. “He's a super talented player.”
Through seven games, Banchero leads the Blue Devils with 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and that's despite sitting out parts of games against Kentucky and Gonzaga with leg cramps.
His skill allows Duke more options to get out in transition for easy baskets.
“We really have four ball handlers, including Paolo,” Krzyzewski said, “so that's why we advance the ball fast.”