Coach K‘s four national championship teams at Duke University have been defined by threes. Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill ran the show in the ’90s; Shane Battier, Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy Jr. won it in ’01; and in 2010 it was Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
With Scheyer gone to graduation and a few younger players taking aim at that vacant spot in the Big Three, this season’s leadership responsibilities for the Blue Devils (11-0) have fallen on seniors Smith (17.1 ppg, 5.4 apg) and Singler (17.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) to lead a talented group aiming for a repeat. Going into tonight’s game against UNC-Greensboro (7 p.m., ESPNU), Smith talks about how experience wins championships:
*** *** ***
“We’re the big brothers now, me and Kyle. We’re the biggest brothers. That means giving rides to the freshmen, organizing team activities, whatever it may be. We’re the guys everybody looks to now like, ‘What are we doing this weekend?’ ‘When should we go to the gym?’ It all starts with your senior leaders.
“A lot of chemistry is built off the court. We’ll go bowling, or we might just have the guys over to one of our houses, watching TV and hanging out. Other teams might go their separate ways after practice, but you can’t rely on just practice and on-the-court battles to get your chemistry to the highest level. We’re all friends off the court, so then on the court we’re a stronger brotherhood.
“I’m definitely more familiar with everything now. I’m familiar with the ups and downs a season might throw at you. Last year we took some losses on the way to becoming the team we were in March, so we know that keeping a level head and staying under control is big, even if we lose a game. We know we have to stay calm and collected inside the locker room, and we’ll be at our best come March and April.
“Last year we approached every Tournament game with the same seriousness, with the same amount of focus, like it was a championship game. With the amount of talent we have this year, we could get caught looking ahead, but I learned from Jon and those guys last year that you can’t do that. In our practices throughout the Tournament, we were always prepared. We prepared well, so we played well.
“Our thing this year is we’re not the ‘defending champions.’ We’re not trying to repeat. This is a whole new year, and it’s all about this team. We’re starting out 0-0.
This year’s team is very talented. We have so many guys that can score and do so many things with the ball, from the guards to the big guys inside. The Plumlee brothers are a different look inside compared to Zoubs (Brian Zoubek) and Lance (Thomas). They can both jump out of the gym and block shots instead of taking charges. Then we have Seth Curry along with Andre Dawkins — those guys can really score the ball and make a lot more plays on the perimeter.
“We’re very different from last year from an athletic standpoint. I think we have more depth. If we get that same chemistry we had at the end of last year in the Tournament, we’re going to be really good. Me and Kyle have to orchestrate that chemistry.”