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Exlusive Interview with Coach K: Day 3

This is the third of four clips from an exclusive June 15  interview with Mike Krzyzewski that The Chronicle will post this week (the rest will come at 8 a.m. every day). In this excerpt, Coach K talks about incoming recruits Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, as well as what Duke Athletics can do to improve the atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

TC: In the frontcourt, there’s something of a surplus of guys. What kind of skills do Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee bring? Do they do some of the things that Kyle [Singler] did last year?

K: Well, they are taller. Mason is 6-foot-11 and he’s got a chance to be really, really good. He has skills of a guard and the body of a big man, and a great basketball mind. He’s very competitive, he likes the stage, and he’s comfortable with the ball. Both he and Ryan are, and I think both of them are really good players. They can both shoot, play inside and outside, they are great workers, and they are ahead of their age, which for big guys, it’s almost the opposite.

They aren’t traditional big men—I liken them, especially Ryan, to European big men, because he can really shoot and handle. It’s not like he’s a speed merchant or whatever, but he’s got decent speed, and they are real smart. I think both of them have great futures.

We don’t have a surplus of big men. What we should have is a good group that gives us a consistent big man effort throughout the game.

One or both of them could start games. They will obviously be in a rotation, but we are going to depend on those two guys.

TC: Does Mason like to shot from the outside?

K: Yeah, both of them do. Mason can really put the ball on the floor, and he is a very good passer—an exceptional passer. If he can learn to pass when he’s facing the basket and with his back to the basket, our team will really be better.

TC: I haven’t seen Ryan and Mason play, but it seems to be that this team will still be shooting a lot from the outside, but that there will be some bigger bodies and more athletic bodies down low to rebound.

K: Their main thing is not to shoot from the outside, but they can. For a big guy it has to be to run, defend, rebound, protect our basket, get second shots. Although last year we did a really good job of rebounding, we need to win the battle each night of getting more second shots than our opponents. Offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding need to be an important stat for us.

We should have fresh big people in ballgames. Also, what does that do on the offensive boards for Kyle? Now, he’ll have a running start instead of rebounding right under the basket. It’s a different view of the game. All of a sudden we have a 6-foot-8 guy on the boards. I think sometimes we’ll see Lance [Thomas] at the 3, because he can guard, and we are going to be a bigger team.

We’ve always had to personalize what we do for the group that we have, so this is a bigger group.

TC: Last year, Gerald was the go to guy in end-of-clock situations. Do you have already a plan for whom you want to have the ball in late-clock situations?

K: No, we’ll figure it out. We may have to go to some set. Last year with G we would go to some set but then let him improvise a little, but I’m not sure we have that. But most people don’t have that. The people who are doing that are playing in the other league.

TC: Maybe Elliot, he has that great first step.

K: I’m very excited for Elliot, both he and Nolan. Nolan finished strong. Take out the Villanova game, where we were not good, and the fact that we didn’t shoot individualized us more. It’s not a seven-game series, it’s what you’re doing that night. Elliot showed explosiveness, and he wants to be really good. I’m anxious to see who they are going to be. I like the guys, but it’s a different team than we’ve had here for a while. And we are going to try to do some new things in game preparation, game day, what we do in Cameron. We’re taking a look at Cameron to try to make it better.

TC: Do you think the fans at Cameron could be better?

K: Oh yeah, definitely. And I think we need to provide some things to help them be better. How we seat people, for example. What is Krzyzewskiville? Is it a plus? Is it a minus? It’s probably a little of both. How do we do pregame? We’re just taking a look at everything. For some games, students don’t fill the seats, so why is that? Do people not care? That’s wrong. People care. But what causes that? Does everybody feel like they have to get in a tent to get to a game? That’s wrong. Why does one endzone look one way and the other looks another way? Has the student body changed? Over the course of time, we have assumed Cameron, and this has been a two-year thing. It’s not the same, but I’m not blaming anybody. Cameron needs to be different.

Overall it’s our responsibility, Duke Athletics. We are going to try to figure out some new things. It’s like you have this product that’s been damn good, and it’s not just been damn good, it’s been special. But when you’re at that level, you can still be really good, but…. Whether it’s our team that’s not there completely, the music the crowd, whatever. We are going to try to make some changes.

TC: Do you think you personally and the team sometimes don’t get enough credit for things like a 30-win season and an ACC title?

K: Well, I get credit, and I’m OK with where I’m at. I think at times, the players who are achieving that don’t get the credit. Look, I’m with the Olympics, in the Hall of Fame…I’m OK. But for a Jon Scheyer, that’s the first time he’s won 30 games. He won an ACC championship, even though that was the eighth time in the last 10 years that we’ve won a tournament. That’s crazy. So for me, I don’t expect someone to hail me or anything, but to be a little bit more excited about those kids and their journey. I think they are probably taken for granted a little bit. Like Kyle Singler, he’s been here two years and his record is 58-13. People would die to have that. We should never take that for granted. That doesn’t mean you don’t critique and ask how we can win a championship, because we’ve done that and want to do it again, but at the same time recognize what a kid has done. For me, though, I try to create the experience for each of these guys.

They are here for four years or less, and in those four years, each of them has a journey from ages 18 to 22, just like you. You change a lot in those years. Anyway, you want to be—it can never be exactly the same, but you try to recognize the really good things each year.


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