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Zion Williamson shines again to cap Duke men's basketball's 'unbelievable' Canada tour

<p>Zion Williamson closed out Duke's Canada tour with a 36-point, 13-rebound showing.</p>

Zion Williamson closed out Duke's Canada tour with a 36-point, 13-rebound showing.

LAVAL, Quebec—Entering the 2018-19 season needing to replace its entire starting lineup, Duke took advantage of an opportunity to take a foreign tour hoping to use extra practice time and team bonding to accelerate growth on and off the court.  

According to the Blue Devils' players and coaches, the Duke Canada Tour 2018 achieved just that.

Duke closed out its first foreign tour since 2011 with a 103-58 victory against McGill at Place Bell Sunday afternoon. The win secured a sweep of the three-game set north of the border, which included game action, tourism and team bonding activities between Toronto and Montreal. 

“This tour has been unbelievable for us,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “To play against three very different teams, well-coached and in packed venues, it’s been classy the whole way.... As good as we thought we would feel about the whole experience, it’s exponentially better. Thank you for that and the three coaches and their teams. They were fabulous in preparing and testing us.”

The tour provided the first look at the nation’s top two recruits in R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson wearing a Duke uniform.

Barrett electrified the crowd in his return to Mississauga, Ontario earlier in the week. Between contests against Ryerson and Toronto, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 34.5 points and seven rebounds per contest, failing to disappoint his hometown faithful. Barrett shined once again Sunday, adding 23 points and 10 assists including a couple of alley-oop passes to Williamson—a running theme throughout the tour. 

McGill had no solutions to Williamson’s size and athleticism anywhere on the floor. The Spartanburg, S.C., native stole the show with a dominant team-high 36-point, 13-rebound performance. Williamson was a menace defensively as well, adding three steals and two blocks to his ledger.

It appeared the freshman tandem had been lifelong teammates despite playing in their first week of action together. The duo sparked the Blue Devils' offense throughout the tour, scoring 64 percent of Duke’s points in Canada.

“I just think it’s a matter of us wanting to feed off each other and make each other better,” Williamson said of his chemistry with Barrett. “People know us for scoring, but when you make the pass and your teammate does the amazing play, that’s even better than scoring yourself.”

The Blue Devils have a hole to fill after Grayson Allen’s graduation in terms of leadership. But it appears that void is being filled by a growing upperclassman core including role players Javin DeLaurier and Jack White, who learned from Allen last year and Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson during the 2016-17 season.

“Obviously, Grayson is a highly valuable guy to replace,” White said. “Those guys before us...that were there when we were freshmen really paved the way and set the standards for us. It’s just kind of like a seamless transition for us to step into that leadership role and put these guys in the right direction.”

White added that the hard work and motivation by the incoming freshmen has made that transition a lot easier in the early going.

“Everyone has been stepping up in their own way,” White said. “They’ve bought in, they’re all into the program, they’re all about winning, they do all the little things off the court and on the court.... It’s just been a pleasure to work with them so far.”

The tour did have one major blemish when Alex O’Connell suffered an orbital bone fracture after taking an elbow to the face against Ryerson. With the injury, O’Connell became the third Blue Devil sidelined along with freshmen Cameron Reddish and Tre Jones, who sat out the tour due to minor groin and hip injuries, respectively.

The injuries allowed Krzyzewski to give extended playing time to some of Duke’s role players. DeLaurier, White and sophomore Jordan Goldwire all averaged about 25 minutes per contest, and even walk-ons Mike Buckmire and Brennan Besser played a few minutes in the last two games of the week.

The Blue Devils insist the injuries are not serious, and the on-court success this week has increased speculation of this team’s ceiling when healthy. 

“I feel like we’re going to be a very great team,” Williamson said. “They weren’t able to play on this trip, so they missed a little building the chemistry on the court with us, but I think Alex, Cam, Tre are going to fit in well with us.”

Despite the injuries, O’Connell, Jones and Reddish still traveled with the team throughout the tour, and off-the-court growth­ flourished. 

“We bonded a lot,” Williamson said. “We would always go and do team activities, and I think when a team bonds off the court, their chemistry on the court gets even higher.”

The Blue Devils' next public game-like action will take place Oct. 19, when Duke hosts Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Michael Model

Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113.  Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.


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