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Duke’s young players still making strides, but the team is still searching

PHOTO (Duke Athletics): Henry Coleman at practice.


Duke coach basketball Mike Krzyzewski’s 74th birthday is Saturday. He will be at PNC Arena for the Blue Devils’ a 4 p.m. tipoff against N.C. State.

How he celebrates another year remains to be determined with the final score.

But even though he’s almost a decade beyond the traditional retirement age, he remains more active basketball coach than retired U.S. Army captain, the former his identity before a career path with five NCAA titles and an NCAA record 1,164 victories.

The Blue Devils’ 24-year streak of NCAA Tournament bids is in dire jeopardy, but he’s still coaxing improvement from young players to play their role. He’s not guilty of an aging coach looking ahead to next year and another batch of incoming highly recruited talent.

Henry Coleman, a freshman 4-star recruit, has averaged only 3.9 minutes a game, but his work in practice and games hasn’t been lost in disappointment. The 6-foot-7, 229-pounder from Richmond, Virginia, provided the Blue Devils with a boost last week in the North Carolina game, playing 13 minutes and contributing four points, two rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot.

“Something Coach said is just stay ready, and that’s what I’ve kind of done throughout this whole process,” said Coleman Thursday in a Zoom interview. “There’s a couple things I’ve kind of tuned into – a guy who can bring energy, I’m a guy who’s going to be able to defend one through five and a guy on the offensive end who’s going to be able to do a good amount of things. The last couple games, a lot of offensive rebounds, I’ve been there, so just cleaning up around the basket but also a guy who’s going to be able to stretch the floor too.”

Alas, it wasn’t enough as the Duke (7-8, 5-6 ACC) dropped the second game of what has grown to a three-game losing streak. Duke’s ACC losses are all in single digits. N.C. State (8-8, 4-7 ACC) also is struggling, having lost seven of its last nine.

Duke’s problem is finding five players playing well together offensively and defensively as a cohesive unit. There are five guys improving but inexperience has meant not necessarily as a group.

Duke freshman center Mark Williams also has made strides rather than retreating into a lost season spent mostly on the bench. In the two wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson before the current three-game fade, he hit 7-of-12 field goals, scoring six against the Yellow Jackets and 11 against the Tigers.

“I think the team, we’ve been playing really hard,” Coleman. “I think that’s one thing that hasn’t lacked throughout our performance. A lot of games have come down to one or two possessions, so I think if we can cut out games coming down to one or two possessions then we’ll be a more successful team. Like I said, guys have been playing hard, and guys are still staying in the gym. We’re staying positive and we’re just ready to work each and every day.”

Wendell Moore, who started the season slowly, has averaging 17.0 points and 6.3 rebounds the last four games.

“We work on our offense every day in practice, so I know the shots I’m going to get in the offense,” said the 6-foot-5 sophomore. “I know where I should be and the spots on the floor, so just getting more comfortable with that. My teammates keep trusting me and my teammates give me the confidence to go out and play hard every time.”


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