Duke will start practicing next week for its August trip to China. NCAA rules allow teams to practice 10 times before such a trip, but not necessarily in succession prior to leaving. So Duke will sprinkle in its practices during the month of July.
But the practices and the games in China, especially against the Chinese Olympic team, will have significant meaning for the Blue Devils' season. Duke is ending an era with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith as its anchors for the past four seasons. The year of Kyrie Irving is over, too, after the No. 1 pick played in a total of 11 games.
At stake for Duke is how it will determine its talented, but young, perimeter rotation. Duke associate head coach Chris Collins said the Blue Devils can look to a number of combinations. They could go with two ballhandlers in rising sophomore Tyler Thornton and incoming freshman Quinn Cook. Highly touted freshman Austin Rivers is more a wing than a point, even with the ball in his hands. Collins said the Blue Devils may look to play Rivers and Seth Curry together as wings who handle the ball, much like Duke did when it won the title two years ago with Smith and Jon Scheyer playing the position. Somehow, Andre Dawkins will fit into the rotation as a sharpshooter that Duke will need to be on the court.
"There are a number of different lineups that we can go over,'' Collins said. "But the backcourt competition is the main thing. There will be a lot of competition for spots. Ultimately this will be a big trip for us to get better.''
The frontcourt rotation is in flux with the addition of a new Plumlee, the youngest of the three brothers, Marshall, joining his older siblings Mason and Miles to go along with Ryan Kelly and newcomers Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy.
Duke will depart Aug. 14 for China. The tour will continue to Dubai later in the month.
"It's going to be great to get over there with live competition,'' Collins said. "We'll get guys going to start to carve out spots. We're starting a whole new era. We're starting anew with Andre Dawkins, Seth, the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly and a good freshman class. Now we'll find out who will emerge, and this trip will allow us to put in things in advance of the fall.''
Rivers is expected to dominate the ball at times for this team. But he may not be the point guard. If Thornton and Cook can come in and command attention, it will allow the Duke staff more opportunities to play a variety of lineups.
• Kentucky coach John Calipari, who spent the holiday weekend away from Lexington, is still trying to figure out how he wants his team to play next season. The one certainty he has seen is this: Anthony Davis has to be on the court.
Davis, a 6-foot-10 power forward from the Perspectives Charter School (Ill.), is expected to be a starter and an impact player from the outset.
"He has to play and be on the floor,'' Calipari said. "We'll figure out how we'll going to play against zone and overall offensively.''
Like Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Calipari will have a core group of veterans in Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb to go along with an impact freshman class. Davis will play. Marquis Teague will likely be the point guard. Michael Gilchrist will be a major factor on the wing, and Kyle Wiltjer will deliver much-needed shooting. Calipari has to figure out how to put everyone together.
Unlike Duke, Kentucky can't have practices in August (the Wildcats aren't taking a foreign trip like they did a year ago to Canada). Instead, Calipari is hosting a minicamp in Lexington for his Dominican national team. Calipari is hoping to see if he can at least get Kentucky alumni, especially those in the NBA, to play a game against the Dominicans while there is an NBA lockout.