Letters to Coach K – Stocking Stuffers

By: Jamen Blake

December has been an interesting month for the Duke Blue Devils.  I was looking over the notes I wrote down while I watched these games and was surprised with how quick I am to change an opinion.  With impressive wins over Indiana, South Dakota, and Saint Francis, my headlines looked something like this:

DUKE HAS IT ALL FIGURED OUT!”

“FRESHMAN NO MORE!”

After the Boston College loss, my headlines were less optimistic:

“RECIPE FOR DUKE’S DEMISE.”

“FROM ELATION TO FRUSTRATION.”

I could see how quickly I had turned on my beloved Blue Devils.  So rather than continuing the article bashing Duke for bad defense and youth, I wanted to look ahead to the games to come and what Duke needs to prepare for heading into conference play.

Coach K’s Stocking Stuffers

Picture the great Mike Krzyzewski’s eyes snapping open while he simultaneously throws the covers off of his bed.  This seasoned veteran expertly slides into his Christmas slippers in one smooth motion as he launches out of his bed towards the hall.  

Yelling “IT’S CHRISTMASSSS!” Coach K sprints through the hallways pounding on all of the doors.  He makes his way to the staircase and stops halfway down in awe of the Christmas scene before him.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed, Coach K shakes each of his gifts trying to guess what’s inside.

With the patience of a toddler, Coach screams from the living room up to his starting five,

“HURRRYYYY!”  

Yawning, stretching, and wiping the sleep from their eyes, Duke’s starting five begins shuffling down the stairs to see five stockings hanging from the mantle.

Coach frantically begins handing out the stockings and says,

“Oldest first.”

Grayson Allen

Against the Evansville Purple Aces, one of the announcer’s said something I had never considered about Grayson Allen.  He said that Grayson Allen’s number three jersey would soon be hanging from the rafters of Cameron Indoor stadium as one of the all-time Duke greats.  

I was somewhat taken aback by this statement as I’ve always viewed Grayson’s career at Duke as controversial, not great.  He doesn’t carry the same greatness weight as the Laetners, Redicks, and Battiers.  And yet he does have a championship, but is it enough?

Grayson’s greatest wish is to get his jersey in the rafters.  But he’s sat on Santa’s lap enough times to know you can’t outright ask for the greatest honor a school can give you. Grayson needs another championship to get number three hanging from those rafters.  And what he lacks is intelligent leadership.

There is no denying Grayson is the emotional leader on the court.  Even as a freshman he was capable of changing the momentum of a game with his patented ‘dunk over a defender and flex like the Hulk’ move.  But this team needs less Hulk and more Professor X.  Jon Scheyer and Quinn Cook could get their teammates riled up with the best of them, but what they excelled at was calming their teammates down.  

This young team needs someone who can calm them down in hostile environments and under stressful situations.  I’m hoping Grayson’s stocking stuffer this Christmas contains some more intelligent leadership.

Gary Trent Jr.  

Gary Trent Jr. has been Duke’s lone reliable source of outside scoring in the past month.  In fact, he’s been one of our best defenders as well.  He is one of the players that is capable of stretching a defense from the middle and Duke needs as much help on that front as possible.  

Gary Trent Jr. just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and Duke will be in good shape. While it’s the equivalent to getting socks in your stocking, Gary is hopefully getting exactly what he’s already got for Christmas this year.

Trevon Duval

What do Trevon Duval and Frosty the Snowman have in common? Their both very cold.

Now that I’ve got that bad dry-humored Christmas joke out of the way, we can look at what it might take to warm Duval up just a little.  I’m not asking for much out of Duval from the three point line, I’d even take something near 25%.  Through 13 games, Duval is averaging just 15.2% shooting from downtown.  Defenders are literally running away from him when he catches the ball behind the line to tempt him into a shot.

Not only does his shot not go in, but it doesn’t even look good.  Duval’s nickname is Tricky Tre due to his flashy passes and fancy dribbling.  He can make a fastbreak drive look like a form of poetry.  But as soon as he pulls up from deep it looks like someone spilled the inkwell.  Tricky Tre’s stocking had better contain a revamped shot that can at least draw minor respect from a defense.

Wendell Carter Jr.

Wendell Carter had his best performance of the season against Evansville scoring 27 points in 18 minutes of playing time.  He absolutely dominated the Purple Aces.  I can’t say I’m surprised a man with the size and skill of Carter Jr. dominated a team called the Purple Aces, but he surpassed even my high expectations of him.  

With all of the attention earned by his counterpart Marvin Bagley III, Carter Jr. has largely gone under the radar.  This could actually be a huge benefit to the Blue Devils heading into conference play.  The more a team focuses on Bagley, the more Carter can insert himself, and vice-versa.  It is a deadly one-two punch for Duke and we need them to be able to execute it.  If Carter can play somewhere near the level he played against Evansville, Duke will be nearly unbeatable assuming the rest of the team can get the ball down low.  

Carter Jr.’s stocking will need to have smart interior passing from the guards.  They will need to sense when the defense has over-committed and go to the big guy on the other side of the lane.

Marvin Bagley III

It’s hard to imagine Marvin Bagley III ever having an actual bad game.  Sure, he’ll make the occasional error and turn the ball over.  He’ll even force up a shot or two.  But in the whole scope of a game, Bagley will always get the better of his opponent at the college level.  What could a man with his level of skill actually need?  

Marvin Bagley III needs to find a way to make his teammates better.  That’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old playing against conference opponents for the first time in his life, but that’s the type of play he needs to develop next.  The guy can do it all physically.  He can jump, shoot, block, rebound, dribble, etc… But I haven’t seen him take over the team for an entire game yet.  

Against Boston College, the team was looking for a leader.  Grayson Allen was literally stomped on and bruised to the point I was amazed he wasn’t taken to a hospital.  Duke’s leader was having an off night, and they needed someone to step up.  

Bagley still put up good numbers against BC, but he wasn’t taking over the game.  The young guards were lofting passes down low hoping for the best.  They were driving into the lane and throwing up shots with their fingers and toes crossed.  They were looking for Bagley to take the game over, to lead them to the promised land.  

He has proven himself capable of doing so in spurts against out-of-conference teams on neutral courts. But it’s a different story in ACC play.  

Marvin Bagley III needs to find his Jordan-esque-ness at the bottom of his stocking.  If the guards can’t get you the ball, go out to them and take it from their hands.  For Bagley, this needs to be the season of taking, not giving.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Duke has enjoyed their non-conference appetizers through the first two months of the season, but now it’s time to get to the smoked ham and cranberry jam that is ACC conference play.  Duke continues their conference schedule against no. 24 Florida State on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Until next time, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Go Duke!

 

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