DURHAM, N.C. -- Mike Krzyzewski is trying to find the right words to describe where his star-studded Duke team is still lacking, the little things that continue to be a problem 10 games into the season. Krzyzewski stammers and gesticulates wildly with his hands in one direction, then does the same in the other.
"They go a little bit ..." he offers, in a sentence that lacks an ending. Finally, he smiles and blames the nebulous critique on his low verbal score on the SAT.
Instead, the reality is more likely a product of Krzyzewski's immeasurably high understanding of basketball, and what it takes to not just win, but to blossom into something historically good, something special.
"I know what I'm saying," Krzyzewski said.
He's coached plenty of talented freshmen before, but this group, with four top-10 recruits all starting, is unique, and finding the right imagery to explain where the group is at this point in the season is tough because there aren't many points of comparison.
So Krzyzewski is left with this: There are the little things that aren't quite right, and for the most part, those little things are the product of four freshmen trying to do the big things better than nearly anyone else in college basketball is capable of doing them.
Ten games into the season, Duke is 9-1. The lone loss a two-point slip against Gonzaga in which the young Blue Devils played well in the second half but were outmanned by a veteran opponent.
Ten games into the season, No. 1 overall recruit RJ Barrett is averaging 24.2 points per game, tops by a Power 5 player, but he's also had his share of games in which he took too many shots he should've passed on, and that's not at all uncommon for a player of his incredible offensive talent.
Ten games into the season, Cam Reddish, the No. 3 recruit, has been up and down. In Duke's two most recent games, against Hartford and Yale, Reddish had just 15 total points and was 1-of-14 from 3. And yet, Krzyzewski watched Reddish turn up the intensity on the defensive end in the second half against Yale, sparking an eventual Blue Devils rout.
Ten games in, Zion Williamson has become a superstar thanks to myriad highlight-reel dunks. He's a force of nature in the paint, but it's still not entirely clear whether the No. 1 option on offense for Duke should be Williamson or Barrett.
Ten games in, point guard Tre Jones has been the unquestioned leader on the court, particularly on the defensive end, where Krzyzewski has happily compared the freshman to the likes of Tommy Amaker and Steve Wojciechowski with how he pressures the ball handler. Still, Jones is developing as a ringleader on D, with Krzyzewski constantly pushing better communication among the four freshmen.
"If we become the team we want to be defensively, Tre will be as valuable a defender as there is in the country," Krzyzewski said.
In other words, the little things. There's so much there to love, and yet there are those small things that are just a touch off, so small that it might be only the trained eye of someone like Krzyzewski who truly notices and understands how, once those small ticks click into place, this team could evolve well beyond the early-season hype and emerge as the best all-around squad in the country.
"We're going to get better because we have great chemistry, they have great attitudes, they believe in us and I believe in them," Krzyzewski said. "We've got all the intangibles. We just need the experience of playing."
That's part of what this early run has been about, Krzyzewski said. Yale, Hartford and, next up, Princeton -- they're all veteran teams that will test a young Duke. Gonzaga and, on Dec. 20, No. 13 Texas Tech, are established talents that are well coached. The travel in November and the demands as Duke's players take on final exams this week, all of those things mark another step in the process.
"We're so young and we're still evolving," sixth man Jack White said. "But our defensive identity is coming along, and we're a team that can fill up a box score from the offensive end."
White's take reflects the same sentiments of nearly everyone at Duke. It's a conversation that always starts with, "on the one hand" and ends with some version of Krzyzewski's "little bit" equivocations.
Here's the real report card for Duke after 10 games: The Blue Devils are good. Really good. But it's just the start, and there are layers yet to be found.
"We're finding our stride," Williamson said, "but we still have a lot to improve on if we want to be in that final game and win a championship."