Amile Jefferson

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a three-point basket against the Appalachian State Mountaineers during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

No. 5 Duke knocks off No. 21 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic

1 Comment

NEW YORK — Luke Kennard is a realist.

He was a McDonald’s All-American. He’s the second all-time leading high school scorer in the state of Ohio, finishing his career with more points than LeBron James, and had his pick of just about any school in the country when he decided that he would play his college basketball at Duke.

And he knew that, at Duke, at a program that has spent recent history building around the likes of Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram, he was destined to be the unheralded prospect. He knew that when Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Grayson Allen all committed to being his teammates during his sophomore season, that he would be relegated to a role.

Here we are a month into the season, Duke is through every test they’re going to get in non-conference play, and not only is Kennard Duke’s leading scorer, if the season ended today, he’d be a first-team All-American with a very legitimate case to be the National Player of the Year. Per Draft Express, he’s the only player in college basketball averaging more than 20 points and 3.5 assists per 40 minutes and less than 2.0 turnovers per 40 minutes while shooting better than 60 percent on twos and 35 percent from three.

If I had told you that in October, you would have called me an idiot.

And you wouldn’t be the only one that was skeptical.

“I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Kennard said after putting up 29 points on 16 shots as the No. 5 Blue Devils handled No. 21 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic, 84-74. It was Kennard’s second-highest scoring output of the season and, arguably, his second-best performance in Madison Square Garden this year.

“He’s come through for us,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Beautifully.”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball up the court against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

It’s good to be Coach K these days.

We’re a month into the season and Duke has yet to play a game where half of the four potential lottery picks on the roster have been healthy enough to look like, you know, potential lottery picks. Harry Giles is still more than a week away from actually playing in a game for the Blue Devils; Coach K said that he hopes to have him back for Duke’s two games in the week before Christmas. Marques Bolden has played just 14 minutes in two games since returning from a lower leg injury. Jayson Tatum played his second game with the Blue Devils on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t until the second half against Florida, when Tatum scored 14 of his 22 points, that he got into enough of a rhythm to take over a game the way we know he can.

And Allen, the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year? He’d played in seven of Duke’s eight games, but a toe injury has sapped him of the burst that makes him such a difficult matchup.

But that hasn’t slowed the Blue Devils down. They’re 9-1 on the season, ranked in the top five of every poll and a Frank Mason III buzzer-beater away from surviving an injury-laden first month without a blemish.

It’s a credit to the amount of talent that Duke has stockpiled on their roster.

Because Kennard isn’t the only unheralded star on this Duke team. Amile Jefferson, a fifth-year senior that is only on the roster this season because Duke opted not to bring him back late last year after he suffered a broken foot, has picked up where he left off. Entering Tuesday night, Jefferson was averaging 14.7 points, 9.8 boards and 2.0 blocks. On Tuesday night, he played arguably his most impressive game as a Blue Devil, finishing with 24 points, 15 boards and four blocks.

He, too, is playing at an all-american level this season, and man, what a luxury that is to have. There isn’t another team in the country that could handle that kind of devastating injury luck without missing a beat.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils puts up a shot against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Amile Jefferson (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“We have so many weapons in offense,” Tatum said after his breakout performance, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only was this Tatum’s first nationally-televised came with the Blue Devils, but he put on a show in Madison Square Garden with what seemed like half of the NBA in attendance. “On any given night two or three guys can go off. Other guys that can score might have more rebounds or assists. [Grayson’s] shots weren’t falling but he had eight assists.”

“There is absolutely no jealousy on the team with who is scoring,” Kennard said. “We have a lot of guys willing to share the ball and it’s fun to play with.”

And that may be the best news for Duke for two reasons.

On the one hand, roles are going to change now that the Blue Devils are getting healthy. The minutes-crunch will likely be felt more in the front court, where Giles and Bolden are going to have to force Coach K to take Jefferson off of the floor. Minutes and touches will be at even more of a premium if Duke continues to roll out small-ball lineups that feature Tatum at the four. Chase Jeter, who only got on the floor for one minute on Tuesday, is going to get buried on the bench again, and it wasn’t exactly promising that, in a game where Giles only participated in warm-ups, Bolden got off the pine for just two minutes.

The back court rotation will take a hit as well. Duke’s best lineup come ACC play could very well end up featuring Allen, Kennard and Tatum on the perimeter with Jefferson and Giles up front, meaning that Frank Jackson – who only played 20 minutes against Florida – and Matt Jones will likely end up seeing much less of the floor than they are right now.

But it’s also a sign that the concerns over Duke’s point guard play may have been overblown.

Entering the season, that was the biggest concern with this group. Jackson is the only point guard on the roster, but even he’s more of a scorer than he is a facilitator. That lack of a point guard hasn’t hurt Duke yet, however, and the reason for it is, as Kennard said, “There is absolutely no jealousy on the team.”

That lack of jealousy comes through in the way that Duke plays. Not only do they whip the ball around the perimeter, the Blue Devils are always going to have four-if-not-five players on the floor that can handle the ball in transition or against a press. Their best guards may not be Tyus Jones or Lonzo Ball, but they are kids that are willing and able to create off the bounce and understand how to operate in ball-screen actions. Beyond that, Duke runs crisp offense, which is as essential to efficient offenses as anything, and will always have three guys on the court that can create offense for themselves in a 1-on-1 situation.

That’s even more relevant to point out after playing Florida, who, on paper, is precisely the kind of team that should give the point guard-less Blue Devils trouble. Florida presses, entering Tuesday night 12th in defensive turnover percentage, and yet the Blue Devils committed just 13 turnovers in 71 possessions, a really good number considering the opponent and the matchup.

“Whoever gets the rebound, perimeter guys and Amile, they told us we can bring it up,” Kennard said. “We have a lot of playmakers, guys that can handle the ball coach wants us to push it. We’re a really good transition team if we get stops on defense.”

“Not having a true PG benefits us in a way.”

That’s not too bad for a team that’s still trying to work out their early-season kinks.

“It’s almost like we’re in October mode now when everyone else is in December mode,” Coach K said.

“But I think we can catch-up.”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

VIDEO: Highlights from Duke’s ‘Countdown to Craziness’

Leave a comment

With four of the eight scholarship players who took Duke on a run to its fifth national title in April having moved on, Mike Krzyzewski’s team will have a much different look in 2015-16. Duke did manage to add one of the top recruiting classes in the country (and Rice transfer Sean Obi is eligible, too), and with returnees Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee expected to serve as leaders the Blue Devils are expected to once again be a national title contender.

But with all of those new pieces the team is still a work in progress, which isn’t an issue given the fact that we’re in mid-October. Saturday Duke held its annual “Countdown to Craziness” event at Cameron Indoor Stadium, unveiling their newest national championship banner and also holding an intrasquad scrimmage.

The scrimmage consisted of two 12-minute periods, with Allen (four rebounds, three steals) and Jefferson (seven rebounds) leading the way offensively with 13 points apiece. Freshman guard Luke Kennard added 12 points in his Cameron debut and forward Chase Jeter tallied 11 points and a team-best nine rebounds. Marshall Plumlee scored in double figures as well, finishing with ten points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Above are the top five plays from the scrimmage, courtesy of Duke Athletics.

NC State’s Cat Barber cleared to play

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NC State guard Cat Barber was taken out of Thursday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal loss to Duke after being leveled by a screen from Amile Jefferson.

The concern was that Barber, the team’s third-leading scorer, had suffered a concussion. On Friday afternoon, the program announced that was not the case and he will be able to appear in NC State’s next contest. The official release states he suffered spasms in his neck.

“He just didn’t see it,” Jefferson said when asked about the play, via Joe Gigilo of the News Observer. “I knew it was going to be a tough hit for him. That’s why after that timeout, I went to check on him, make sure he was all right.”

Even with the loss NC State remains in the projected tournament field as a No. 9 seed. The quarterfinal loss to Duke could serve as a blessing in disguise for Barber, who will have the rest of the week to recover before the NCAA tournament begins on Thursday afternoon.

Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn

Mike Krzyzewski
Leave a comment

In each of their first eight games of the season No. 2 Duke managed to take good care of the basketball, committing no more than 12 turnovers in any game and tallying more assists than turnovers in each of those contests. However in the last two games the Blue Devils have committed a total of 36 turnovers, with 19 coming Thursday night in their 66-56 win over UConn at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Duke was able to hold off a formidable UConn team by taking care of business in other areas, most notably the offensive glass. Despite the best efforts of Kentan Facey (14 points, nine rebounds) the Huskies could not keep Duke off of the offensive glass, as the Blue Devils managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds.

Duke corralled 40 percent of its missed shots Thursday night, and while the Blue Devils enjoyed just a three-point edge in second-chance points (13-10) the work of Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor (seven offensive rebounds combined) took its toll on a team that played most of the game with its most imposing interior player (Amida Brimah) saddled with foul trouble. The second chances may not have paid off in the form of points but they did affect the foul count, as UConn committed 24 personal fouls and Duke attempted 34 free throws.

What’s also taken its toll on Duke’s opponents this season is the task of defending Okafor, who through ten games has cemented himself as a national Player of the Year candidate.

With Okafor in the middle Duke has a big man their other four pieces can play off of, as he’s proven to be an adept passer out of double teams. Okafor finished Thursday’s game with just two assists, but there were also occasions in which his pass out of trouble made it possible for the Blue Devils to make the next pass for a solid look. And with there being few big men in college basketball capable of defending him without help, that’s an important attribute for Okafor moving forward.

Classmates Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were also key figures against UConn, with Jones accounting for 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on the night. His ability to work together with senior Quinn Cook has been one of the biggest stories of the season to date, as Cook has performed well off the ball and Jones has played his best basketball in Duke’s most important games (Michigan State, Wisconsin and UConn). Cook was solid defensively for the Blue Devils, defending Ryan Boatright for much of the night with UConn’s leader committing five turnovers to go along with his 22 points and seven rebounds

As for Winslow his versatility as a defender allows him to defend multiple positions, which is something opponents have to account for in planning for Duke. Duke’s starting five was productive against UConn, but even with that being the care there are areas in which they can stand to improve.

As noted above Duke hasn’t taken good care of the basketball in their last two games, and at times they struggled when UConn ramped up the pressure defensively. Duke’s also going to need more production from their bench than the zero points they received, with Rasheed Sulaimon accounting for five turnovers in 17 minutes of action. Duke has players capable of contributing off the bench, but consistency will be key for the reserves moving forward.

Thursday’s win wasn’t the prettiest for Duke, but even with the turnovers and 37.5% shooting from the field the Blue Devils found a way to take advantage of other areas. And that’s something they can build upon as the start of ACC approaches.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 4 Duke Blue Devils

Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)
2 Comments
source:
Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 4 Duke.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Last Season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC (3rd), lost to Mercer in the Round of 64

Key Losses: Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton

Newcomers: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen

Projected Lineup

G: Tyus Jones, Fr.
G: Quinn Cook, Sr.
G: Rasheed Sulaimon, Jr.
F: Amile Jefferson, Jr.
C: Jahlil Okafor, Fr.
Bench: Justise Winslow, Fr.; Grayson Allen, Fr.; Matt Jones, So.; Marshall Plumlee, Jr.; Semi Ojeleye, So.

They’ll be good because … : The Blue Devils have has much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky. The Wildcats have nine McDonalds All-Americans on their roster, which just so happens to be the same number that Coach K has collected in Durham. Jabari Parker is no longer with Duke, but the team is headlined, once again, by freshman from Chicago that is expected to compete for All-American awards this year. Jahlil Okafor is the best low-post player to come through the high school ranks in a long time, and he’ll be the anchor for this group offensively. Don’t be surprised to see him average somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 points and 10 boards.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Duke’s back court is absolutely loaded this year. Quinn Cook is a two-year starter at the point for the Blue Devils, and he may not even be the best point guard on the roster. Tyus Jones, who came to Duke in a package deal with Okafor, is expected to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time this season. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones are back as well, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, two more burger boys. Don’t be surprised to see Duke play with four guards at times this season, using Winslow at the four, in order to get their five best players on the floor at the same time.

But they might disappoint because … : There are two real question marks with this Duke team, the biggest of which has to do with how some veterans are going to accept a younger generation. Quinn Cook is a senior and has been the starting point guard for the Blue Devils for the past two seasons, but he may end up ceding that role to Tyus Jones this year. That doesn’t mean that Cook won’t see significant minutes — he actually would be a pretty good fit playing off-guard — but it will be a very different role. And he won’t be alone, either, as freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen are going to be pushing the like of Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones — and Cook — for minutes. How will the vets handle it if their minutes are taken away? Will Sulaimon be able to bounce back from a rough sophomore season?

The other issue is front court depth. Jahlil Okafor is going to be a star. You won’t find anyone willing to argue that fact. But beyond that, there are question marks. Amile Jefferson had a better-than-expected sophomore season, particularly with his work on the glass, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an undersized four that is limited offensively. He won’t be spreading the floor and creating space for Okafor on the block. Marshall Plumlee, another seven-footer, won’t be doing that, either. And Ojeleye? He wasn’t much more than a dunker as a freshman. That’s it when it comes to front court players. It will be interesting to see just how much of a supporting cast Okafor has there.

Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach K uses this roster this season. I’d expect them to look similar to the Ohio State team from 2010-2011, back when Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were freshman. Thad Matta surrounded Sullinger, another phenomenal low-post scorer, with four guards that could all hit open threes and dared teams to try and double-team the big fella. I could see Duke doing something similar with Jahlil Okafor, using Justise Winslow or even a guy like Rasheed Sulaimon or Grayson Allen at the four.

The difference between that Ohio State team and this Duke team is that those Buckeyes could grind defensively with the best of them. Duke is going to get out and pressure the ball in their man-to-man this season, the way that they always have done under Coach K. They’re not going to let you run your sets. But I’m not sure how many really good on-ball defenders they have in their back court. The ACC is absolutely loaded at the top this season, with North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville all capable of winning a league title. For my money, Duke is the favorite. But it will, by no means, be a cakewalk. They might make a Final Four despite finishing fourth in their conference.

Duke forward Amile Jefferson discusses recovery from hip surgery

AP
Leave a comment

With Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft and Josh Hairston graduating several months earlier, the only member of the Duke frontline who saw consistent play time was Amile Jefferson. Recently, the 6-foot-8 Jefferson has returned to playing after recovering from hip surgery he underwent this summer.

This weekend he sat down with John Watson from TheDevinDen.com, part of the Scout network, for a Q & A as he updated the status of his surgically repaired hip.

In his most recent media session, Coach K said you were getting back to full speed and over your injury … so, what exactly happened?

Amile Jefferson: Early in the offseason I tweaked something and it just didn’t feel right. I had a chance to meet with our trainers and some doctors to figure it out. They all thought the best thing for me was to just rest and take some time off. Really it was just the wear and tear from last season, which was a tough one with a long banging. Since it was the summer and we had time, we figured it was best to take our time and get healthy.

So, it was a hip injury, then? Coach mentioned you’re just now working to find your explosion again…

It was, but the time off has helped me get back. Once i was cleared to return things felt like they always did, and I can get up and down the court really well. I don’t have my normal explosion because of the extended time off, but that’s coming back. We are working on lifting with my legs now, so that I’ll be back to full strength.

Jefferson started 26 of 35 games last season averaging 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The next most experienced big is Marshall Plumlee (8.5 minutes per game). However, Duke certainly doesn’t lack front court talent. Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow will bolster the frontline, as will Semi Ojeleye in his second season in Durham.

While sidelined Jefferson made his contributions to the team through communication, as Bret Sterlow noted last week for the News & Observer, which will be an important asset this season with several newcomers to the program.

The Blue Devils open the season against Presbyterian on Nov. 14 at home.