By TOM SHANAHAN
Duke’s Wendell Moore eagerly awaits his sophomore basketball season while two of his classmates prepare for the Nov. 18 NBA draft as one-and-dones along with a third teammate that left school early, Tre Jones.
They’re about to become instant millionaires, but Moore isn’t envious.
If the 6-foot-5, 216-pounder small forward, who was an Academic All-ACC selection last year and a preseason All-ACC second-team pick, has any regrets, it’s for this year’s true freshmen.
He wishes they could experience what he learned about college basketball last year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the world.
“The college experience is definitely second to none for me,” said Moore when asked the best part of returning this season. “Unfortunately, the incoming freshmen won’t get to experience the full college experience. The college season is a good thing to be part of — being part of a team that you know all cares about each other and has the ultimate goal of winning.”
The drumbeat of a season includes playing before a packed house at Cameron Indoor Stadium. However, Duke has continued its fall sports policy of not admitting fans for games as a health safety precaution.
That means the players won’t feel the campus buzz build since classes are held virtually. They won’t walk by Krzyzewskiville outside Cameron with students camped out for tickets. They won’t hear the roar of packed house fueled by student section’s future doctors, lawyers, Fortune 500 executives and government leaders taking on out-of-body lunatic fringe personalities.
Moore believing he’s not missing out has been reinforced by conversations with his former teammates.
“I’d definitely say it’s more difficult for them to see college basketball starting up,” he said. “I know how much fun they had and how much fun I had. The three guys, I wish them nothing but the best. I talk to them. I talked to Cassius last night. I hope they go 1-2-3. I know they definitely miss us as much as I missed them.”
Duke fans will remember that midway through last season Zion Williamson, the first pick of the 2019 NBA draft as a one-and-done, would have preferred to return to Duke as a sophomore if not for so many around him, including coach Mike Krzyzewski, telling him he can’t pass up the generational money on his doorstep.
Moore finished last year starting 11 of 25 games, averaging 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He spent time studying film to learn how to better use the court and spacing to be more aggressively offensively for himself and setting up teammates.
The Blue Devils recently learned their upcoming schedule after COVID-19 shredded previous schedule. Their first two games at home, Nov. 25 against Gardner Webb and Nov. 28 against Coppin State.
Duke’s appearance in the Champions Classic, which was originally scheduled Nov. 10 against Michigan State along with Kentucky and Kansas meeting in the other half of the double-header, has been set for Dec. 1 with the site to be determined.
To replace lost games the Blue Devils organized the Mako Medical Duke Classic Honoring Dr. Onye Akwari. It includes Elon, Bellermine and Howard. In games at Cameron, duke faces Bellermine Dec. 4 and Elon on Dec. 6. Bellermine travels to Howard Dec. 6 and Elon on Dec. 8.
The event honors the late Dr. Akwari, the first African-American surgeon on Duke’s faculty, is part of Duke recognizing the Black Lives Matter movement that spurred awareness throughout the national last spring for social justice.
Moore noted assistant coach Nolan Smith has been active organizing events on campus and in the Durham community. He added his efforts have the full support of Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils’ uniforms will feature singlet backs with their names above the number and “Equality” below it.
Last spring, Moore organized a protest supporting BLM in his hometown of Charlotte. Duke assistant coach Nate James sees improved confidence and leadership in Moore from off-season hoop work and inner confidence finding a voice expressing his positions on social justice.
“Wendell is a sharp young man very in-tuned with what’s going on,” James said. “I think that really sparked some things in him wanting to show that leadership, brining his community together, being one of those people to spearhead different meetings and just wanting to make sure his voice is heard.”
As Moore understands, there’s more to a college basketball season than playing games, especially in this new era of athletes taking a stance.
Duke was picked second to Virginia in the preseason ACC poll. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press (writers) preseason poll.
Gonzaga is ranked No. 1. Virginia is the highest ranked ACC team at No. 4. The other two preseason ranked ACC schools are No. 16 North Carolina and No. 21 Florida State.
Duke’s Big Ten Challenge matchup is Dec. 8 against No. 8 Illinois at Cameron.
After Duke’s Dec. 12 home game against Charleston Southern, the ACC schedule begins for the Blue Devils with a Dec. 1 game at Notre Dame. The North Carolina games are Feb. 6 at Cameron and March 6 in Chapel Hill.
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