When Mike Krzyzewski was asked last week about who he will look to for leadership this winter, he didn’t hesitate.

“Me,” the Hall of Fame head coach said. “I’m looking for me to be the leader, and my staff.”

It was the only logical answer to a question without an obvious answer, as the Blue Devils prepare for a season with as young a team as they have ever had. Everybody on Duke’s current roster has combined to start nine college games, and the Blue Devils lost more than 86 percent of their scoring from last year’s team.

There is no clear-cut senior captain like Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee, Quinn Cook—the line of succession can continue endlessly. The team’s only senior this season is Antonio Vrankovic, a career role player who was on the floor for 181 total minutes in his first three years and isn’t expected to crack the regular rotation again this season.

Instead, four of the top seven incoming freshmen in the nation will likely swallow up most of the available playing time, but Krzyzewski is well aware of the challenges that will come with such a young team.

“We need to get to know one another before giving out, ‘You’re a starter, you’re a captain, you’re the three man,’” Krzyzewski said. “Let’s find out who we are before we do that.”

The two veterans who appear to be leading candidates along with Vrankovic for team captain honors are junior Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, who both figure to share significant time in the frontcourt for a team that is deep on the wings but thin in the post.

Bolden started two games in February when one-and-done phenom Marvin Bagley III was sidelined with a mild knee sprain, but he played at least 20 minutes in a game just once this season. A knee sprain of his own that kept him out for most of January hampered Bolden’s conditioning level, but it is uncertain whether he will be able to play more than 20 minutes on a regular basis as a potential starting center.

After Bolden’s two starts, Krzyzewski put DeLaurier in the lineup instead for five games in a row—the first five starts of his career. The 6-foot-10 forward was more athletic and versatile in Duke’s zone defense and played 30 minutes in its marquee road win at Clemson, but his playing time dwindled with Bagley back in the fold.

Neither big man averaged more than four points or rebounds per game, though they will certainly get more opportunities this season with Bagley and Wendell Carter III both bound for the lottery in the NBA Draft in three weeks. Oftentimes, those opportunities might come with four freshmen surrounding them on the floor.

“I always had guys like Grayson, Matt Jones, Amile, who set great examples for me coming in a freshman, and now it’s sort of a changing of the guard. Those guys are gone now,” DeLaurier said. “We’ve been here before, we know what to expect from the season, so now it’s our job to really be a good example for these young guys.”

The Blue Devils will also be looking for their talented wings to develop into on-court leaders, and they will get a head start on that process when they practice 10 times and travel to Canada for three games in August. Krzyzewski suggested last week that he will try to give freshmen more chances to bridge the divide in working with the team’s veterans.

“I’m really anxious to coach all these guys and see the impact of the freshmen on the upperclassmen and the upperclassmen on the freshmen,” Krzyzewski said. “We need to develop that better.”

The newcomer who might have the ball in his hands the most already has a high bar to live up to in terms of freshman leadership. Tre Jones’ brother, Tyus, was an effective and beloved point guard in his lone season to help lead Duke to the 2015 national championship, and the younger Jones will hope to earn a similar level of respect. 

Krzyzewski called Jones a better penetrator than his older brother, and Jones described himself as a “pass-first point guard” last week on campus at K Academy, where he spent time with classmates Cameron Reddish, Zion Williamson and most of the Blue Devils’ returners.

“I’m going to just try to be the greatest leader I can on the defensive end,” Jones said. “I’m going to try to be a great leader to set the tone on the defensive end every single I come in here, just doing whatever I can, doing whatever the coaches ask me to help the team win.”

But there is no Cook this time around for the freshman Jones to lean on, and in hostile environments this season, he will look to Krzyzewski for guidance. The head coach is in no hurry to name captains and has taken it upon himself to be the true captain of this year’s Blue Devils, though it remains to be seen where the on-court leadership will come from, if it ever comes at all.