Freshman class makes Duke a title favorite once again
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Amile Jefferson has already seen one star-studded freshman class come through Duke and win a national championship. The team's elder statesman is ready for it to happen again.
The parallels between this Duke team and the group from 2014-15 are too obvious to ignore: A roster dominated by one-and-done freshmen led those Blue Devils to their fifth national title, and now a repeat of that year certainly appears possible - maybe even likely.
''These guys definitely have their own identity from that 2015 team - a lot of talent, maybe even more talent,'' Jefferson said, though it is still unclear if this group will depart after one year. ''But at the end of the day, it's going to be how our group bonds, how our group comes together, how our group learns to win together, and that's going to be our biggest goal, to be a complete team.''
Expectations are always high at Duke, which always seems to have McDonald's All-Americans ready to replace the ones that move on, and this year is no different. When Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow jumped to the NBA after winning their title, Brandon Ingram came aboard - and now that Ingram is with the Los Angeles Lakers, it's up to a veritable All-Star team of freshmen to carry on that tradition.
The key to whether Duke hangs banner No. 6 in the Cameron Indoor Stadium rafters in the spring will be making sure those freshmen - Harry Giles, Javin DeLaurier, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson - blend with a solid cast of returning players including Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Jefferson, who received a medical hardship waiver to play another year.
''A championship team has to have talent,'' coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ''You don't win without talent. We have talent, and we're not the only ones with talent. We have a really good mixture of experienced and new talent. So how that meshes is one of the key things.''
Some things to know about the 2016-17 Blue Devils:
NO GILES FOR A WHILE: Duke will be without Giles for a few weeks after he had his left knee scoped in mid-October. Krzyzewski says he's ''pleased'' with the procedure to clean up any scar tissue and loose bodies in the knee he injured three years ago. The goal is to be fully healthy for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, and Krzyzewski says ''that's why we're making sure Harry is good right now.''
DEEPER BLUE DEVILS: Duke doesn't appear to have the depth issues that plagued the team last season, when injuries and occasionally ineffective play left the Blue Devils with a six-man rotation. Freshman big man Marques Bolden and the 6-10 DeLaurier give them a one-two punch inside, while they also have the option of playing small by pulling any five players from a six-man group that includes Jefferson and guards Allen, Jones, Jackson, Tatum and Luke Kennard.
COACH K'S HEALTHY, TOO: Count Krzyzewski among those who are back to full health. The winningest men's coach in Division I history had his left knee replaced in April, had hernia surgery a month later and had two ankle surgeries in June. That made a busy summer even busier for the soon-to-be 70-year-old Krzyzewski, who led the U.S. national team to its third straight gold medal at the Rio Olympics. ''I'm not complaining - I have it good,'' Krzyzewski said.
KEY GAMES: The two marquee matchups of the nonconference schedule come when the Blue Devils play Kansas on Nov. 15 in New York in the Champions Classic, and face Michigan State on Nov. 29 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Duke also returns to New York on Dec. 6 to face Florida - coached by Mike White, the son of Duke athletic director Kevin White - in the Jimmy V Classic.
AP College Basketball: collegebasketball.ap.org