by Matt Saldaña
A day after their first team practice, and a week before facing Virginia Union in the season opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke hosted a highly competitive "Blue and White" scrimmage before a near-capacity Cameron crowd. The intra-squad match-up featured two 15-minute second-half scenarios, which included subs, inbound passes and a persistent full-court press.
There were no uncontested shots, and players were not shy about blocking teammates who took too long to shoot, or fouling them hard on breakaways. Players fought through picks, big men dove for loose balls-and, in the case of Martynas Pocius, the junior swingman practiced his best Reggie Miller impression, flopping to draw the foul on a three-point shot. (Yes, there were free throws.) This was not your typical crowd-pleaser exhibition.
The game-like situation showcased the talent of several seasoned players, including a dominant Gerald Henderson, whose 23 points in 30 minutes included several strong takes against McDonald's All-American freshman Elliot Williams. (It's worth noting that Henderson will likely get away with fewer left-handed layups throughout the season.) Pocius, who missed most of last season with an ankle injury, and spent the summer training with the Lithuanian Olympic team (he didn't make the squad), scored 19 points, including three set-up three-pointers, a breakaway dunk, and several hard-charging layups. His triple threat from the perimeter should prove daunting this season, as opponents decide whether to guard the shot or the drive.
One of the day's brightest spots was the mid-range shooting clinic hosted by two forwards: freshman Miles Plumlee, who went 4 for 4 in the first half, including back-to-back turnaround hooks, and sophomore Kyle Singler-last year's ACC rookie of the year-who went 5 for 5 in the same period, including two threes. It's unclear how well Duke can play in the paint this season, but their strategy will likely include plenty of range from post players with smooth shots.
The show-stealer, however, was sophomore point-guard Nolan Smith, whose 17 points looked effortless, despite the airtight defense of starting point guard Greg Paulus. Notably, Smith was on the winning side in both halves, and he out-passed Paulus, the ACC's leading active assist-maker, 5 to 1.
The body language between the two was the most exciting aspect of the scrimmage. Paulus stole a quick glance at Smith after knocking down an early pull-up three. Later, Smith tossed up an alley-oop to Singler, following a turnover by Paulus. At one point, Smith clapped at Paulus, shouting "Come on," before the play ended with a foul away from the ball.
Following the game, Smith said he "took a summer to find my point-guard skills."
He and Paulus guarded each other at the point, Smith said, during last year's practices, and throughout the summer. Before then, he said he had never played point guard.
"Greg and I make each other better every day," he said.
It will be exciting to see Smith and Paulus push each other all season. They will also see time together on the court, Smith said, but we'll be watching to see who runs the offense come March.