Few coaches stockpile high school All-Americas like Mike Krzyzewski, so unlike many of his peers, he hasn't had to rely on transfers. He has, however, made exceptions for a few exceptional players: Roshown McLeod (who came from St. John's), Dahntay Jones (Rutgers) and Seth Curry (Liberty) became All-ACC performers. Enter Rodney Hood, a 6' 8" swingman who, after sitting out last season following his transfer from Mississippi State, is so impressive that the coaching staff named him a co-captain, along with 6' 2" senior guard Tyler Thornton. "There were many times last year when Rodney was our best player in practice," Krzyzewski says.
With Hood operating on one wing and 6' 8" freshman phenom Jabari Parker working the other, the Blue Devils will return to the press-and-run style that characterized some of Krzyzewski's best teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That change is necessary because Duke lacks a reliable post presence. (The last of the three Plumlee brothers, Marshall, is a 7‑foot sophomore who had just 11 rebounds in 50 minutes last year.) "This is not going to be a conventional team," Krzyzewski says. "It will be a team that uses the full court offensively and defensively."
During his one season in Starkville, Hood averaged 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He was named to the SEC's all-freshman team, but he tended to float on the perimeter. Since then he has packed on more than 10 pounds of muscle, weighing in at 215. "I'm inviting more contact than I used to," he says. "That's why I came to Duke. I knew I'd get pushed every single day."
After a year of all practice and no play, Hood says, "I'm chomping at the bit." No doubt his fellow thoroughbreds feel the same way. When the season begins, these Blue Devils will be ready to hit the ground running.
Once again, Mike Krzyzewski will be king of the neutral court. The Blue Devils don't play a true road game until January 4 at Notre Dame. Until then, their toughest games will be against Kansas in Chicago's United Center, at the preseason NIT in Madison Square Garden (where they could face Arizona in the title game), and a return to MSG for a date with UCLA. If you're looking to circle your calendar, the February 1 game at Syracuse is your best bet. That will mark Duke's first-ever trip to the Carrier Dome.
Player to Watch: Amile Jefferson
Amile Jefferson didn't come to Duke with the intention of playing center, but the 6'9" sophomore is smart enough to do whatever it takes to earn playing time. He is not strong enough to overpower opposing big men, but his quickness and guile enable him to give the Blue Devils a presence on the offensive glass. Though Jefferson averaged just 12.7 minutes last season, he ranked second in offensive rebounds, and he more than held his own down low when he started six games in place of the injured Ryan Kelly. "He's got an unbelievable personality to play the game," Krzyzewski says. "I don't know if he's a four or a five. I just know he's a good player."
Q&A with Associate Coach Steve Wojciechowski
SI.com: Now that you've had a couple of weeks to watch Jabari Parker, how good is he really?
Wojciechowski: He does so many things you can't teach. He's tremendously versatile. He can play any position in college and play it well. We'll allow him to bring the ball up the floor at times and there will be other times where he'll be our main low post target. It's rare to give that type of responsibility to a freshman, but we believe he has the ability to handle it.
SI.com: This team does not have much size inside. How does that determine how you will play?
Wojciechowski: The last few years we were really big on the front line with guys who are now in the NBA. We don't have that type of player but we have a lot of interchangeable parts. We also have more depth. For us, that's pretty exciting because you can be more creative.
SI.com: Will the new rules clamping down on physical contact help this type of team?
Wojciechowski: I think so. We're going to be a spacing, driving and kicking team. The more you drive, the more chance you have to get fouled if the referees hold to the point of emphasis. People think about points in the paint coming with your back to the basket, but driving, getting turnovers, rebounding from the perimeter are all ways to score in the paint. They're less traditional, but last I checked they count the same.
SI.com: What kind of season do you expect from Rasheed Sulaimon?
Wojciechowski: We need him to take that next step. He has shown flashes, but we're hoping for greater consistency. He has the ability to do that, but we won't know if he has crossed that bridge until we play games.
SI.com: What do you think of the new-look ACC?
Wojciechowski: I can't imagine a better conference. We're playing at the Carrier Dome, at Notre Dame, and then we still play our traditional rivals. It helps in recruiting because recruits want to play against the best schedule. I grew up with the ACC as the best basketball conference, so it's good to see the league getting back to that position.