Basketball players are back competing in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But it’s not for Duke men’s or women’s basketball games. It’s K Academy time.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, new director of player development Amile Jefferson and a number of Duke players met with the media over Zoom Wednesday for the first day of K Academy and talked about summer training, NIL and what it's been like during the lead up to Krzyzewski's final season.
Here's our five takeaways from all the action.
Chemistry is back
With the pandemic forcing college athletics across the board to implement safety protocols to keep its student-athletes safe, it was difficult for players to create bonds with teammates. Duke had some of the more stringent COVID-19 protocols, and the men’s basketball team did not get to Durham until August last year, so creating bonds was more difficult than a normal season.
That’s no more this season, and the Blue Devils are already starting to see the benefits.
“I feel like I know my guys really well. They know each other. The one thing I was disappointed with last year was not being able to develop the level of relationships you need to really do well,” Krzyzewski said.
The team has been able to get to know each other much more like they did pre-pandemic, doing things like going to the Nike EYBL Peach Jam tournament to watch basketball and socialize.
NIL era is here
Wednesday was the first public statement Krzyzewski has made since name, image and likeness rules came into effect nationwide thanks to a surprise NCAA temporary ruling June 30. College football has seen the most dramatic effects thus far, but men’s basketball athletes have started to take advantage too.
Duke’s most visual showing so far has come from its junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. The Charlotte native struck up an endorsement deal with Bojangles, and posted a video Aug. 2 promoting their chicken sandwich.
“They just reached out to a couple athletes in the North Carolina area to help promote their new chicken sandwich and they did a great job with that,” Moore said. “It was all well-organized.”
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The college athletics landscape is rapidly changing, but it doesn’t feel as wild to Krzyzewski as some may have thought.
“Everyone expected it to be crazy. I don’t think it’s crazy,” Krzyzewski said. “I think each program, each school has handled it in their own way to make sure that they're not only looking out for the players but they're looking out for the institution and its standards.”
Krzyzewski has told his players to be patient when surveying their opportunities and recommended that they get counsel to navigate the field.
“I’m really pleased with what’s happening right now with college sports,” Krzyzewski said.
Senior Joey Baker did not explicitly list any NIL deals of his own, but he relayed a message that the coaches told all of the players when pursuing these transactions: keep your circle close and work with people you trust.
No more recruiting trips for Krzyzewski
For obvious reasons, Krzyzewski got a number of questions about what it’s been like since announcing his retirement June 2. He doesn’t have to travel for recruiting anymore, but he’s been staying busy hosting the Jimmy V Wine Celebration in Napa, Ca., and watching tape.
Not much has changed for Krzyzewski outside of not having to recruit. He’s gotten ‘congratulations’ and ‘thank yous’ when he’s out, but the most tangible example for Krzyzewski is not having to recruit.
“Not thinking about recruiting all the time, which you do if you’re in it, that’s been good because it gives me time to concentrate on this team,” Krzyzewski said.
Hi Paolo and Trevor, nice to meet you
Freshman Paolo Banchero has as much buzz as any other first-year player in the country, and his teammates have already gotten a taste of what he can do. Baker talked about his size, shooting, post moves and passing ability. And the fact that he likes to win.
“If you have a combination like that, it’s tough to stop no matter what a team tries to do,” Baker said.
Trevor Keels, on the other hand, is Duke’s second-highest ranked recruit, and he’s another guy that can run the point if Krzyzewski is comfortable handing the reins over to a freshman. Regardless, Roach, Keels’ former high school teammate, is looking forward to being back with his old friend.
“One of the main reasons I love playing with Trevor is he just does whatever it takes to win,” Roach said.
Welcome back to Durham Amile
Amile Jefferson was yet to address the media after Krzyzewski announced he would be joining the program as director of player development on a podcast with Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley. In his first public appearance since being back, his excitement came through the Zoom screens.
“This was definitely a little bit of a earlier pivot than I would have thought. But this is home,” Jefferson said.
He emphasized the magnitude of getting to learn from Krzyzewski in his final year and join up with Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Chris Carrawell as they enter the new era of Duke men’s basketball.
“I love this place—the city of Durham, the fans, the Crazies, the players—this atmosphere is second to none,” Jefferson said. “So to be back here and try to help our young guys get better is an amazing honor for me so super happy to be back.”
Jefferson hasn’t been in Durham since 2017, but not much has changed with Krzyzewski in his eyes.
“He hasn’t missed a beat, which is really truly remarkable to me, since I've been gone,” Jefferson said.
Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.