The countdown is done.
No. 8 Duke will open its 2012-2013 season at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday night, hosting Georgia State at 7 p.m. Although the Blue Devils have won 12 straight season-opening victories, last year’s nail-biter against Belmont remains fresh in team’s mind. Senior captain Mason Plumlee hopes that tonight’s victory will be more convincing.
“Last year’s game was a big game. They took us right down to the wire,” Plumlee said. “Hopefully it won’t come down to hitting a big three in the end. We’ll be in close games without putting ourselves in that situation against Georgia State.”
Duke is projected to adjust its starting lineup in order to accommodate the return of Seth Curry from a lingering right leg injury. In addition to forwards Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils will start Curry, Quinn Cook and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon in the backcourt. Sulaimon, a dynamic combo guard, does not take his responsibilities as a freshman starter lightly.
“It’s very exciting. It’s a great honor given to me by [head coach Mike Krzyzewski],” Sulaimon said. “I have a big duty that I have to fulfill on the defensive end, and that’s going to get me a lot of playing time.”
Despite having a clear talent disadvantage, Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter says his team is confident and excited to play, although the Panthers are trying to ingore the impending challenge.
“That’s the great thing about young guys,” Hunter said. “They think we’re actually coming to play in Raleigh for an AAU game. We didn’t say we’re going to Durham to play Duke.”
In order for the Panthers to have a chance Friday night, junior point guard Devonta White will need to step up. White, who led the team last year with 12.9 points per game, is a linchpin for Georgia State on both sides of the ball.
“He’s my point guard. He’s my quarterback. We get nothing done without Devonta,” Hunter said. “[White] is the key to our basketball team.”
The Panthers are welcoming some new faces of their own including Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins, the only Georgia State player who has game experience in Cameron Indoor. Hunter hopes that Atkins, who averaged 4.9 points per game in his last year in Blacksburg, Va., will thrive in his larger role with the Panthers.
“He’s going to open up at a place that he’s been before,” Hunter said. “Atkins adds experience to our fairly young team, especially as a guy who’s played at this level before.”
Hunter’s son, freshman R.J. Hunter, is also poised to contribute this year. Hunter, a three-star recruit, had several more high-profile suitors including Iowa and Wake Forest, but decided to play for his father. He has tallied 52 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Panther’s two preseason games.
“[Coaching R.J.] has been great,” Hunter said. “When you coach your son, if he doesn’t do what I say, then I can take his allowance away.”
Georgia State may have trouble containing the Blue Devils’ disproportionate amount of talent, but Hunter hopes that they will not be intimidated by the program’s legacy.
“Don’t lose to the logo. That’s what I’ve been preaching since we’ve scheduled this game,” Hunter said. “Duke has created an incredible logo. What happens is, mid-major teams come in and lose to the logo and not necessarily the players.”