On the inaugural episode of The Chronicle's new podcast, Cameron Chronicles, our Mitchell Gladstone and Hank Tucker interviewed former Duke basketball standout and current ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.
The following is an excerpt from the 20-minute interview with Bilas—which took place on Oct. 26—as he talked about this group of Blue Devils and their outlook for the 2017-18 season. For more episodes, subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud or wherever you get podcasts.
The Chronicle: Taking a look at this year’s Duke team, this is probably the youngest team since you were a freshman here with Mark Alarie, Johnny Dawkins and David Henderson. I know we haven’t seen that much yet, obviously. But have you been able to get any early impressions or do you have any thoughts on the team given the makeup of this group with such a young core around Grayson Allen?
Jay Bilas: I have not seen them practice, so I have not seen anything yet. I’ll obviously see them in their early-season games and I’m really looking forward to watching them play. I’ve seen all of their players in past years and in high school, so they’re extraordinarily talented. This is one of the more talented rosters Duke has ever had. It’s just a young roster. And they’ve got a ton of size, so it’s a different team.
Duke’s done—over the last decade or couple of decades—a really good job of spreading the floor and attacking off the dribble and really stretching defenses. This is not going to be that type of team. They don’t have as many shooters to stretch the floor, but they’ve got way more size than they’ve had and they are big guys who are athletic and long and can really change ends. They’ll be able to get up and down the floor, and they have really good versatility and they have a chance to be really good defensively.
But as you guys know, when you have youth, there are a lot of variables that go with that and you don’t know how that youth is going to jell together. You don’t know how long that’s going to take and you don’t know if that youth performs at the end of the year. But the good news for Duke is that they’ve got youth in a very young game now, so teams that have high-level experience are the exception rather than the norm. You mentioned the team I played on a million years ago—we were young when every team was older, so our youth really stood out. Youth doesn’t stand out anymore, and these players are far more prepared to step in and play than we were 35 years ago. It’s a totally different deal than it used to be.
TC: Coach K has evolved, too—he says now he has to be more tolerant with some of his younger players and that yelling might not get through to them as much. Can you imagine him not being as fiery and angry when something goes wrong as he was when you were there?
JB: Yeah, I’ve watched him over the years and everybody evolves and gets better as they get older. He was great to begin with and he’s only gotten greater, but I’ve never been a big fan of yelling. I don’t think it works, period. If you’re trying to make a point, you can get it across in different ways and he’s always been a master of getting his point across. Volume doesn’t matter—it’s what you say.
We all laugh and every coach that gets older in the game, their former players always like to joke about how they’ve gotten soft and the like. He has not. The delivery may be different, but the message is still the same and the message is still right on point. He’s the best that’s ever done this and I think he’s the best that’s ever done it in this game and maybe in any game. But definitely in this game, he’s the best ever.
TC: In that sense, I know you’ve talked about how this team is a different Duke team. But these guys have grown up with a different game than, in some senses, the one that you played. They’ve grown up playing more outside, more beyond the 3-point line. What have you seen in the evolution of the traditional “back-to-the-basket” guy and how has that position, in particular, evolved over the last couple of decades.
JB: The game’s evolved because of the 3-point shot. The difference between this Duke team and some of the teams they’ve had in the recent past is that Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. may take a couple of threes, but they’re not going to make six in a game or seven in a game. Duke’s had guys who can make five, six threes in a game, and you have to go out and guard those guys.
So, they’re not going to be able to stretch the floor in the same manner that they’ve done in the past, and the floor’s not going to be quite as open. They may have to find different ways to score, so maybe they become—like they were in 2010—a fantastic offensive rebounding team and they get second shots. North Carolina won a national championship based on its offensive rebounding just this last year, even though they had two guards that led the team in scoring and they were not a prolific shooting team—they had one prolific 3-point shooter, but they were not a great 3-point shooting team.
Duke’s had great 3-point shooting teams in the past and this does not look like one of them, but maybe it’ll become a better defensive team and score off its defense, score more off the offensive glass and is able to get to the free-throw line in a different way by getting the ball inside.
I don’t really know the answer to that because I haven’t seen them, but looking at their personnel, it’s vastly different than we’ve seen in the past and I think it’s going to be fun to watch. Coach K likes to use the term ‘adapt,’ fashioning an offensive system and a defensive system around the talent he has. I think it’ll be really fascinating to watch.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."