DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – For the last few weeks, Duke has been practicing to perfect and hone their skills, knowing they’d hit the hardwood eventually. Nothing was official until Tuesday when the school released the team’s full schedule.
The Blue Devils open the 2020-21 season at home Nov. 25 against Gardner Webb. It doesn’t change much for them, but they’re relieved to know their first opponent.
“We were always ready. We were just ready for that first game to come around,” said sophomore guard Wendell Moore Jr. “I could say definitely for this year’s team, we’re really hungry. All the guys come in every day ready to work. We’re just ready to play some basketball.”
Much like the rest of 2020, this upcoming season will be different. For starters, the home-court advantage Duke enjoys at Cameron Indoor will be greatly diminished. The spectators which make it so difficult for opposing teams to concentrate will not be allowed into games. It extends a school policy that was put in place during the fall seasons.
“As Duke University continues to be an industry leader per providing a safe environment for intercollegiate athletic competition, the decision to maintain our non-spectator protocol is imperative for the overall health and safety of the Blue Devil fan base, student-athletes, coaches and support staff, notwithstanding the immediate campus population comprised of students, faculty and staff,” said Vice President and Director of Athletics Kevin White.
“We will continue to embrace the challenges of this unique if not unprecedented time with flexibility and compliance, and can’t begin to thank our dedicated, passionate fans enough for their unbridled support.”
“Not having fans is huge. Obviously for a program like us, with the Cameron Crazies being so historically involved in our program, it gives us the ultimate home-court advantage. And so, not having them there hurts us,” Moore said. “We’ve been preparing in the atmosphere we’re going to play in. In Cameron, we have everything set up. With the crowd noise, we tried that out in our scrimmage on Friday and the atmosphere is great. The atmosphere that everybody put together is obviously the safest atmosphere for us and it’s the best atmosphere for us that we can play in right now.”
Moore expects a bigger role from head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He is one of the five returning letter winners from last year’s squad that went 25-6 overall and 15-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference during the pandemic-interrupted season. He’s taken this off-season to work hard on his skills so he’s ready when called upon.
“I think the biggest thing for me wasn’t so much anything physically, but it was more mentally,” said Moore. “Coming in with the confidence that I need to be able to play. Just letting the game slow down in my mind and trying to be more in the moment instead of focused on things I can’t control.”
The team welcomes seven newcomers, including six freshmen that comprise the second-ranked recruiting class. What they may lack in experience at the college level, they make up for in their quickness.
“Coach mentions to us all the time that we’re not going to be the biggest team on the floor. There’s probably going to be one or two guys on the other team that are always bigger than us, so we have to use our quickness to our advantage,” said Moore. “Whether it’s in transition or whether it’s on the defensive end, we just have to pick out mismatches. Like I said, if we have Matt Hurt at the five, there’s a chance he’s going to have a 6-foot-11 center on him. If he’s able to stretch him out to the 3-point line, I think we can pick apart our mismatches very easily.”
With the departure of Tre Jones, the role of leading the Blue Devils at the point will fall to newcomer Jeremy Roach. Nobody is expecting Roach to step in and run things as smoothly as Jones. That being said, there are similarities in the two players that give people reason to smile.
“The thing that both Tre and Jeremy have is that ultimate competitive spirit. They make everybody else around them better because all they want to do is win no matter how many points they score or how many assists they get,” said Moore. “Their main goal is winning. Playing with a point guard like that not only makes me better as a person and our team better, but it ultimately can make them better.”
With so many new faces on the floor, there were bound to be some surprises. Moore has played with or against most of the recruits, so he’s familiar with their skills. When asked about the player that surprised him the most, Moore pointed to Henry Coleman III. He went as far as to compare the 6-foot7, 230-pound newcomer to former Duke star Zion Williamson.
“I didn’t know Henry is as strong and as powerful as he is,” Moore said. “You can kind of almost compare him to Zion. Obviously, he is not Zion, but he is almost just as powerful.”
That’s huge praise for a young forward. As in years past, the Blue Devils will be the team to beat. They are ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press preseason poll. This marks the 13th consecutive season the Blue Devils have debuted in the top 10. It runs their streak of being ranked in the top 10 at least some point during a season now to 25 consecutive years — the longest active streak in the nation.