DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Like most big-time basketball programs, Duke has to deal with key players leaving early. Last year was no exception. Gone are starting guard Tre Jones, small forward Cassisus Stanley, and center Vernon Carey.
Their departure opens the door for guys like Joey Baker to get on the floor with the new-look Blue Devils this year.
“I think we’re deep, we’re versatile, and we’re athletic,” said junior forward Joey Baker. “We have a lot of good players that bring different things to the table, and I think coach will let that be seen.”
What we will see on the court, and from the team, is still up in the air. If we know anything, 2020 is going to be anything but normal. From COVID-19 to the protocols put in place just to be able to come back on campus, different is an understatement. It’s helped Baker really appreciate the little things he used to take for granted.
“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,” Baker said. “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.
“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.”
Naturally, he’d like a larger role with the team. He hasn’t been sitting around since last season. After two years of coming off the bench, Baker has been working on his skills. One area he’s concentrated on is defense.
“Being able to defend and stay on the court for long periods of time without fouling,” Baker said of his focuses. “That was a big area of focus over the quarantine and the time we had off.”
This year’s team will be one of the youngest in recent memory. Of the 14 players suiting up for Duke, 10 are either sophomores or freshman. As one of four upperclassmen and the only junior listed, Baker will be looked upon to provide leadership for the baby Blue Devils.
“I think I’ve always been a guy that leads by example more than vocal. Working hard every day, competing every day, bringing enthusiasm when talking, and kind of showing what needs to be done on a daily basis,” Baker said of his leadership style. “Obviously, as an older guy, there’s times when I need to be a leader in a way that I haven’t been before.
“I’m learning, as well, how to show the younger guys how everything works on and off the court here. That’s been an awesome experience for me because I’ve grown from it, as well.”
The players’ names change and the uniforms get updated, but at Duke, the winning tradition never graduates. The ultimate goal and the head coach remain the same.
“The goal for us always here at Duke is to win a national championship. That’s number one and that’s my number one personal goal, as well,” Baker said. “I feel like if we gear towards that, everything else will take care of itself.”
Without a schedule to look forward to, the Blue Devils go about the business of drilling on the fundamentals and chasing perfection. They’ve never once caught it, but when they came closest, the team did manage to catch excellence and a national title in the process.
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