Mike Krzyzewski pegs Amile Jefferson as a starter for Duke basketballMost of the prevailing storylines surrounding the 2013-14 Blue Devils will be centered around Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski said the most important player on this year's team could be sophomore Amile Jefferson.
After starting just seven games during his freshman campaign, Krzyzewski listed Jefferson alongside Parker and Hood as three of Duke's tentative starters for the upcoming season at the head coach's season-opening press conference.
"To me one of the key guys on this team is Amile Jefferson. I think he's been fantastic in our preseason," Krzyzewski said. "He may complement [Hood and Parker] better than any guy on our team.... I don't know the five guys we would start if we had a game today, but three of them would be Jabari, Rodney and Amile."
Krzyzewski mentioned point guard Quinn Cook will likely start as well. At the Blue Devils' open practice Saturday morning, Cook, Hood, Jefferson and Parker all suited up for the same team in a scrimmage. Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon rounded out the starting lineup, with redshirt senior Andre Dawkins serving as the unit's sixth man.
Jefferson appeared in 32 of Duke's 36 games last season, averaging 4.0 points and 2.9 points per contest and ranking second on the team by shooting 54.3 percent from the field.
When senior Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury in the team's second ACC contest, it was Jefferson alongside current senior Josh Hairston who stepped up to fill the void. Jefferson made all seven of his starts during the 13-game span in which Duke played without Kelly, and averaged 19.6 minutes per game during that stretch.
Jefferson averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game with Kelly out of the lineup, and the playing time he saw during ACC play was crucial to his development.
"Because of Ryan's injury, he had the opportunity to play a little bit more and start some games for us and did well," Krzyzewski said. "He's got an unbelievable personality to play the game. He's such an easy guy to play with, not bothered on the court, he's such a good teammate."
Now expected to take over as a starter, Jefferson will be forced to adjust to a new role and provide support for the Blue Devils on the glass and the defensive end. The forward's 7-foot-2 wingspan should help, especially as Duke shifts its philosophy to include more ball pressure and full-court defense.
"Last year I was called on when somebody went down or to step in when somebody in foul trouble," Jefferson said. "Now this year I have a chance to play a really key role, to be that man in the middle for us and maybe not have a position, but be that guy who can do some of the little things."
In addition to honing his skills during the offseason, the Philadelphia native made it a priority to put on weight to become more of a presence in the post. After starting his freshman season with just 185 pounds to support his 6-foot-9 frame, Jefferson returned to school in May tipping the scale at 214 pounds.
Jefferson said Friday that he now weighs in at 218 pounds, just two pounds away from his goal of 220 to start the season.
"I knew we might be short with some size this year, so just being able to come in, help the team and put on some good weight so I can battle down low was definitely a goal this summer," Jefferson said.
With the start of a new season still weeks away, it is impossible to know whether or not Jefferson will be in the starting lineup for Duke's season-opener against Davidson. But regardless of the outcome, it appears Jefferson will be a player to watch as he heads into his sophomore campaign.
"Just knowing my role on this team, being able to compliment the guys Rodney and Jabari, being able to play off Quinn and Rasheed, it's fun," Jefferson said. "So to see that Coach sees what I'm seeing, it's really good for me."