Tomorrow, the Pittsburg Panthers pay a visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play the Blue Devils, losers of seven in a row. But the real person they’ll be welcoming back is the legend himself, Coach Mike Krzyzewski after his four-week absence from back surgery. Welcome home Coach K. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the biggest Coach K fan despite not being a Blue Devils fan in the least. I don’t judge his successfulness on how many titles he wins or tournament runs because I believe what happens on the court is secondary for Coach K, and I’m sure he’d tell you the same. Coach K is a leader, and one hell of a leader. Basketball and winning are of course important to him and the proof is in the pudding. The man has won an incredible 5 National Championships with Duke and not to mention 15 total medals with the US National team, 11 of which are Gold. Not too shabby Mike. Yet still, I believe this is secondary as Coach K is about changing lives and turning boys into men. Yup, that what Coach K does. He takes these talented and raw top recruits and turns them into great men while teaching them life lessons in four years and sometimes less. Could not have more respect for the man and I’m sure there is no one more excited about his return than his players.
Back to Duke Basketball, man what a rollercoaster has this season been for the Blue Devils. From beginning the season as the nation’s number one ranked team, to the Grayson Allen fiasco, to the Coach K absence and the locker room ban. It’s been one hell of a season. Yet here they are now at 17-5 the twenty-first ranked team in the country with back to back wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame and the return of Coach K. This isn’t what we expected going into the year but after all that has happened things could be FAR worse. In fact, I kind of like where they are considering the first half or so of the college season is insignificant in comparison the latter half, the Dukies should be just fine with Coach back.
The Wake Forest game for me very well could be the turning point, Wake Forest is an improved team for sure, but far from great. Down by ten at halftime, this was an ugly one, one of those grind it out games you have to win. Down four with under a minute to go Grayson Allen hit one from deep to cut it to one and after a huge stop, Luke Kennard buried another from deep with his quick release. These guys wanted that one and man did they look hungry at the end, an emotional victory and a much-needed one. The key to not only that second half run and their tournament chances is, Luke Kennard. I actually cannot believe I just said that, but yes, it is Luke Kennard. Kennard had 30, yes 30 points in the second half alone of that game! The 6”6 sophomore is averaging 20.2ppg to go along with 5.4rpp and is shooting lights out from beyond the arc at 46.9 percent. Kennard has filled in as the leading scorer more than admirably as Grayson Allen has had a very tumultuous season.
Allen also hit the three to give them a chance and was fired up after, but more importantly, he kept his composure when it mattered most. In the midst of Allen committing a silly foul and diving for a ball, he was then instigated and thrown to the ground by Wake’s Freshmen guard Brandon Childress. Allen stood strong and didn’t budge, essentially letting Childress do what he wanted with him as Allen’s hands are in the air. Good shit Grayson, you passed with flying colors. That’s some real personal growth to keep your composure in such an emotional situation by an emotional player. If Allen can remain composed while maintaining that fire and passion I love about him, along with Kennard, man this team could be special if they ever reach their full potential. Freshmen Jayson Tatum is also quietly averaging 16.1ppg to go with 6.9rpg and has really been coming along strong of late. While seniors Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson continue to be solid veterans and will provide much-needed experience along with Allen to go with the rest of the young bucks. Remember the three of them were a part of that team that just two years ago cut down the nets, throw in a red-hot Luke Kennard AND arguably the greatest coach of our era. Sign me up. Don’t be surprised if the boat gets turned around and they make a run in the tournament because in my eyes they’ve already begun paddling and it all started at Wake Forest.