Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski took the podium alongside returning players Wendell Moore Jr. and Joey Baker Tuesday morning for the 2021 ACC Basketball Tipoff.
This was Krzyzewski’s last ACC Tipoff event, and he may have been the only person in the room who didn’t want to talk about it. The hall-of-famer is entering his 47th and final season as a head coach, but that doesn’t mean this year is any different than the 46 prior. He met questions that addressed this as his final bout with a joking comment about how he is focused on this season.
Krzyzewski even bantered, “I'm 74 and I still have a memory, alright? I'm good.”
Aye, aye, captain(s)
The two players that accompanied Krzyzewski were the recently named captains of the 2021-22 squad. Moore is entering his third year with the team, while Baker is now in his fourth. They are the most seasoned veterans who have seen significant playing time and Krzyzewski couldn’t say enough about their contributions to the team.
“I'm very impressed with the job [Moore]’s done, and same thing with [Baker]. They've both worked really hard,” Krzyzewski said. “We've been together for a while, so that's been a cool thing. I'm so happy that they're my co-captains because they have really added a voice in our practice sessions that has been a good one. You need that from a player’s perspective.”
Baker and Moore will be third-year teammates this season and have seen each other grow significantly every year. The hope among Duke staff is that both players are able to take big jumps in their respective upperclassman years. Moore will likely be a regular starter, while Baker looks to be in position to receive big minutes off the bench.
The connection between the two captains is clear. They are teammates, but more importantly friends who help each other grow.
“I’ve seen him grow tremendously, and with his leadership growth, I’ve seen his confidence grow a lot. I was working with him all spring and summer. We were in the gym really everyday just playing one-on-one against each other just getting better,” Moore said of Baker. “...Going into the season I really expect big things from him, as well as myself and I know that we’re both capable of them.”
An AJ update
Star freshman AJ Griffin found himself in the news just a few days prior after reports emerged that he had sprained his knee during practice. The White Plains, N.Y., native has not played much since January of his junior year of high school. An injury to the opposing knee ended that campaign, while an ankle injury shut him down for his senior season; now the five-star recruit will have to wait even longer to touch the court.
“AJ sprained his knee. No surgical stuff. Nothing was torn or broken. It's just a matter of rehab, and hopefully it will be weeks, but I can't give you a timeline,” Krzyzewski said in his update. “He's off crutches and doing well but still has a lot of therapy to go.”
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Griffin is an integral part of this Blue Devil team, so it is a good sign that he is able to be off crutches and rehabbing this early. While injuries take a physical form, the mental component can be just as damaging, especially for a young player who is trying to get back onto the basketball court after missing so much of the past two seasons.
“Especially for him, we’re just keeping his spirits up. I think for him, he hasn’t played for almost two-and-a-half years because of injury. So just having things like that, you can always blame yourself. We’re really just there to keep his spirits up and really tell him that it’s not his fault,” Moore said. “He’s going to be great, I know he’s going to have great season, and we can’t wait to have him back.”
Much of the media day focused around the lasts of Krzyzewski’s career, but with a full season ahead, there was an obvious buzz of excitement in the room. The players and coaches know there are big things to come and no matter the season result, there will be a grand finale at the end.
To put it in the words of Krzyzewski himself: “Let's see what the hell happens.”