It was the first sign that it was a different deal.
Coach K has spent virtually every week since announcing his intention to retire at the end of this season explaining how he wouldn’t waste a lot of time focusing on the end of his legendary career. And I’m sure that’s his intention. But it has been clear for months, and it was undeniable Tuesday night, that Krzyzewski’s so-called “Farewell Tour” will be the dominant storyline this season, like it or not. It’s inevitable and in your face – so much so that at halftime of Duke’s eventual 79-71 season opener over Kentucky, MSG’s in-house televisions broadcast what amounted to a pre-recorded Zoom call from John Calipari, Tom Izzo and Bill Self casually discussing Krzyzewski’s impact on sports.
It seemed to go on forever.
When it was finally over, Duke took over.
The Blue Devils opened the second half with a 30-19 run and built a 15-point lead they never completely gave up, in part because their most prominent freshman, Paolo Banchero, looked very much like someone who appears to be the main contender to be the first overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The 6-10, 250-pound forward does things men his size don’t normally do (because they can’t). He took 11 shots, made seven and finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
“I think a great thing for Paolo is how strong and comfortable he is with the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “To have its size and [and skill], it’s just unique. And he has a good head. He has good parents. They brought him up harshly. “
I wrote a column published Monday night in which I pointed out that there was nothing crazy about thinking that Krzyzewski’s last game could be in New Orleans in the Final Four, and what happened. spending Tuesday evening only reinforced this belief. Duke looked taller, more talented, and generally better than Kentucky, and it was a team from Kentucky that were recently chosen to win the SEC. Kentucky isn’t as bad as Duke is just really good, a preseason top 10 that maybe went underrated. Yes, the top-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports, was from another school (Memphis) and the top-ranked prospect in the country (Chet Holmgren), according to 247Sports, was enrolled in another school (Gonzaga). But Duke was still the only program, according to 247Sports, to list three five-star prospects.
It turned out against the UK.
Five-star freshman AJ Griffin, who was sidelined for part of the preseason with a knee injury, only played 10 minutes. But duke other Five-star freshman Trevor Keels finished with a high 25 points thanks to a 10 of 18 shooting performance in 34 minutes on the field. If Banchero lived up to the hype, it was Keels who exceeded all reasonable expectations.
“Trevor is a great player,” Krzyzewski said. “He weighs 230 pounds and if he was a running back he would know how to make holes like. … He doesn’t charge a lot because he’s so low and has excellent body control. For three years in a row, he was probably the best player in the DC zone. “
Next up for Duke is six straight games which he will use to develop chemistry and put Griffin more comfortable ahead of a showdown with the top-ranked Gonzaga, which is scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving. So we shouldn’t see the Blue Devils getting tested in the next few weeks. But on Tuesday night, here on the opening night of the final season of Coach K, they were tested and they were successful.
They weren’t perfect. But they were awesome. And they’ve shown, quite clearly, that they’re good enough to compete for what would be the sixth title in their coach’s Hall of Fame career.
“We’re a great team,” Banchero said. “We’re going to play together. We’re going to play hard every 40 minutes. And, yeah, I mean, we’re gonna play like Duke. “