DURHAM, N.C. — A history of success and the factor of experience in Duke's basketball program should help the Blue Devils overcome losing point guard Tommy Amaker in the 1987-88 season, Coach Mike Krzyzewski says.
"You don't lose Amaker and start off being a great basketball team," Krzyzewski told reporters.
Helping to overcome that loss will be the return of 6-foot-10 junior Danny Ferry and 6-6 senior Billy King, two important players in Duke's 24-9 record which included an appearance in the final 16 in last year's NCAA tournament. Sophomores Robert Brickey and Alaa Abdelnaby gained valuable time last year, and 6-7 junior John Smith was a surprise inside, contributing 11.9 points per game.
Krzyzewski said he can't estimate right away just how big an impact those and other returning players will have.
"I know that they'll be a better team. I just don't know if they'll advance as far as winning 24 games because people will be out to get them a lot more," he said.
The Blue Devils lost the 1986 NCAA championship game to Louisville, and made it to the round of 16 last year, losing to eventual national champion Indiana. Those experiences should make a difference, Krzyzewski said.
"You get accustomed to winning. Winners expect to win," he said. "Whether they do or not depends on how they prepare to win. But they expect it, they don't just hope it."
Amaker played in all 33 Duke games last year, averaging 12.3 points and handing out 120 assists. In all, he started 138 straight games and Krzyzewski says replacing that durability might be tough to overcome.
In addition, Amaker had a team-high 58 steals and served as a court leader in the mold of his predecessor, Johnny Dawkins.
"I'd start a sentence, he'd finish it. Before I'd even start talking, he'd say 'Shut up.' He could say it and smile and I wouldn't get mad at him," Krzyzewski said. "I never tried that when I played for (former Army and current Indiana Coach Bobby) Knight."
Quin Snyder, a 6-3 junior, is the heir apparent to Amaker's position. He averaged 6.7 points per game and had 113 assists, third behind Amaker and Ferry.
"Quin is kind of a free-wheeling player," Krzyzewski said. "I think he has a good personality for the game. What I think he needs to do is add thinking time in there, some reaction time."
Kevin Strickland will join Snyder in the backcourt. Krzyzewski would like to see the 6-5 senior become more of an offensive weapon after averaging 5.9 points per game last year and sometimes showing a hesitancy to shoot.
"He needs to come out and look to score, no question," Strickland said. "It's just hard to understand that when you tell a youngster to shoot, he's reluctant to shoot. It's usually the other way."
Krzyzewski called Ferry "a unique player," but he added that he needs to improve his shot selection so that he can get himself to the free throw line more often.
"In our system, he's able to go inside and outside, so he should just get fouled more," Krzyzewski said. "I think his shooting percentage will go up, he'll shoot more free throws."
Krzyzewski's motion offense spreads the burden of handling the ball, and he thinks that also could aid in making up for Amaker's departure.
"We're trying to put together a team that plays eight to 10 people in a ball game, so it won't be as critical as the Dawkins team, where you put that lineup in and let them play," Krzyzewski said. "We'll have more experience and youth, which is nice. Last year, we had a lot of youth--too much at times, it looked like."