Duke's upperclassmen allow freshmen to shine

DURHAM, N.C. -- Rasheed Sulaimon didn't attempt a shot in Duke's 109-59 win over Fairfield on Saturday, and he's fine with that. Really.

A year or two ago, the junior guard/forward admitted he probably would have been on the sideline seething. Now he's celebrating.

Both Sulaimon and senior guard Quinn Cook have accepted new roles this season because of the Blue Devils' uber-talented freshman class. And Duke looks ready to soar because of it.

"If you just do your job, do your role, everybody will look good," Sulaimon said. "We have so much talent on this squad -- we have everything you need in a championship-caliber team. If everybody just focuses on doing their role and playing as hard as they can, we'll have results like tonight."

The Blue Devils outscored the Stags by 36 in the second half, and four players scored 15 or more points, including freshman center Jahlil Okafor's efficient 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

It's not a given that veteran players, who at one point were expected to be headliners in their own right, would readily accept settling into a new role. Both Cook and Sulaimon had an entire year to hear about the players who were recruited in their positions.

They had all summer to read about how guard Tyus Jones and forward Justise Winslow were going to take their positions. Even though, at the time, it was all speculation, it could have been hard to take.

Cook wouldn't allow it to be a factor. He openly embraced Jones and has tried to prepare him for the upcoming rigors he'll face.

"I've heard stories of the upper classmen not helping the freshmen or having jealousy," Cook said. "I don't think that can work. This is my senior year, I want it to be special and [Jones is] a special player. I want to just help him as much as I can."

Cook made it easy for Jones early during the recruiting process.

Jones did his due diligence during the recruiting process and was well aware that Cook was a starting point guard he'd potentially aim to replace. He was cautious on his visit until he spoke with Cook for the first time.

Instead of talking about competing against each other, Cook talked about playing together. So Jones, who was rated the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2014, was allowed to just be himself.

"He took me in as best I think you could have a senior take in a freshman," said Jones, who had 6 points and 5 assists.

That's the kind of unselfishness that seems to permeate the Duke locker room, and it's not just a veteran player who knows how to say the right thing publicly while privately fuming.

Throughout much of the preseason, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski experimented with using Cook off the bench. He and Sulaimon worked with the second team in both exhibition games.

Krzyzewski has started Cook alongside Jones in Duke's two regular-season games. And so far Cook, who had 17 points and 4 assists, seems to be playing better without the burden of having to be a playmaker.

"He's doing a great job with leading," Krzyzewski said. "His personality is so good right now with these young guys. They love him and he's giving them positive stuff."

There's plenty of that to go around.

Sulaimon said it was "mind-blowing" that he didn't take any of Duke's 62 field goal attempts and, frankly, it wasn't something he would have accepted in the past. His career scoring average at Duke is 10.8.

"Growing up all through high school I was known as an assassin, a guy who could score, who was relentless and going to continue attacking," Sulaimon said. "I think this is the first time ever since preschool where I had no shots."

But Krzyzewski said defensively Sulaimon applies the best ball pressure of any player on the team. Listed at 6-foot-5, he has the quickness to defend point guards, and his size affects their vision.

"You'll feel good if you made a positive impact on a game and you've won and he's making a very big positive impact," Krzyzewski said. "He's doing it in a way that no one on our team can do it exactly like him."

Sulaimon's word has weight like no one else when it comes to freshman forward Winslow. Both of the Houston natives played in the same AAU program, and they've known each other since grade school.

Winslow is well-versed in the Sulaimon chronicles of highs and lows at Duke. But Winslow said no player has been more instrumental in getting him acclimated.

"He's had his ups and downs with Coach, so he definitely knows he's been through a lot of things; he's been through the fire basically," said Winslow, who scored a game-high 18 points. "I can learn a lot from him, and he's somebody I've been just leaning on my whole life."

Sulaimon and Cook don't mind taking the weight of propping Winslow and the freshman class up.