With a college basketball start date now set and scheduling rumors continuing to heat up, Duke fans are starting to feel the excitement of a rapidly-approaching season.
Blue Devil forward Joey Baker spoke to the media Tuesday morning to discuss who’s surprised him on the court so far, his cryptic tweets in the spring about Cassius Stanley’s then-potential return to Duke, the identity of this year’s team and more. Here are the highlights:
On how different it was integrating all the new players this season:
“I think one big thing is usually we’re able to spend more time with the new guys off the court and just do more things, so I’ve learned to appreciate the time that we have on the court with the guys and in the locker room and just interacting with them and getting to know them in different ways than normal. Because that's such an important aspect that I don't know if people realize, but if you're not comfortable with your team, it makes it more difficult to perform on the court.
“So I think the coaches have done a good job of finding ways to get us to interact with each other, and I think we're a pretty close-knit group, and we’ll only continue to get closer as the year goes on.”
On the process behind becoming a more consistent shooter:
“I think a lot of it is the technical stuff...the different footwork, stuff like that. But it's also confidence, just having confidence to consistently produce and do what you know you can do. So going into this year that's a big thing for me. I feel like I'm more confident in myself than I have the past two years.”
On who’s surprised him on the court so far:
“I think all the guys have had moments where I kind of just took a second and was like, ‘Okay, this isn't what you normally see from a freshman.’ They all have glimpses and they all bring their own thing to the table.
“If you want one specific example, I think it was the first time we were playing fives, and I don't know who was driving but they kind of just threw the ball up to the rim and Mark [Williams] just dunked it like it was nothing. And I didn't really realize how big and long he is around the rim, so that's gonna be valuable for us this year.”
On the perfect atmosphere of a 2020 college basketball season:
“Any season that allows us to play…. I can speak for myself and I can speak for the rest of the team—as long as we have a season and we're able to play basketball, then we're happy. Obviously we'd love to have fans, we'd love to have you guys there. And maybe that happens, I’m not sure, it's probably unlikely. But as long as we have basketball, I think we'll be happy.”
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On stepping up as a vocal leader this season:
“I think for my first two years a guy that I kind of looked up to in that sense was Jack White. He was super vocal—practices, workouts, lift, he was talking. And he wasn't just talking—he was talking a lot. You knew what was going on. So I realized coming into this season, before we even got on campus, that that was going to be missing—something that was there for the past two years—and that I probably have to fill his shoes a little bit more.”
“Well me and Cassius have been friends since probably seventh grade. We were at a camp together and somehow became roommates there, and ever since we just stayed connected through the travel circuit growing up in middle school and high school. And so when he came [to Duke], it was awesome. I mean, one of my best friends coming to the same college—it was awesome. And so, just having some good fun with him throughout the process [of deciding to return to Duke or declare for the NBA Draft], and I think that's all that was. It wasn't wasn't anything deeper than that. But we'll miss him this year. I think he's going to do great things at the next level.”
On the identity of the team this season:
“I think we're deep, we’re versatile and we're athletic. We'll get into teams and we'll play fast. I mean we have a lot of really good players that bring different things to the table, and I think Coach will let that be seen.”
On being outspoken about social justice on social media:
“The past few months, kind of just becoming more educated on everything. All the different situations have definitely led me to be more vocal through my social media stuff. And it's something that's important to me because I've had conversations with a lot of close friends about the issues, and just hearing their takes on it, and it just didn't feel right not speaking on it.”