Duke assistants adjusting to new roles
By Joedy McCreary
DURHAM ó Nate James calmly stood near one corner during a scrimmage, and the Duke assistant coach scribbled notes while his players ran their offense and played tough man-to-man defense.
A month into his new job, it finally was time for Mike Krzyzewski’s newest lieutenant to hit the practice floor and get down to the Xs and Os.
But his pupils weren’t Greg Paulus or Kyle Singler ó not yet, anyway.
For now, James is mentoring the roughly 75 wealthy weekend warriors who plunked down $10,000 apiece to take part in Coach K’s annual fantasy camp.
“It’s going to be good practice for me,” James said Wednesday at the start of “K Academy.” “It’s one thing to be on the sideline observing, but I’m so looking forward to getting out there and getting to show guys what I’m capable of, and try to help them maximize their skills as well. I’m looking forward to the guys come back and getting the season started.”
Before that happens, James ó who helped lead Duke to its most recent national title in 2001 ó is joining roughly two dozen former and current Blue Devils who are mentoring the wannabe players decked out in personalized warm-ups and showing off their jump shots on the hardwood at the school’s new indoor practice facility and at venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Along the way, he’s looking to settle in as the replacement for Johnny Dawkins ó whose departure broke up the longest continuous serving coaching staff in the ACC ó while continuing to develop similar chemistry with Krzyzewski and veteran assistants and fellow ex-Blue Devils Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins.
“That’s what’s unique about our staff ó when you have all Duke guys, there’s already a familiar, family-like atmosphere and trust level that’s there, and our chemistry will grow in time,” Collins said. “He’s been great. He will be great. He realizes he’s new to the business, and he has a lot to learn, but we love the fact that he’s jumped right in and he’s had a youthfulness and an excitement that will be great for our staff.”
For the first time in years, Duke is dealing with a shake-up on the coaching staff.
Dawkins ó one of Duke’s career scoring leaders, Krzyzewski’s longtime right-hand man and “the Godfather” of the program, Wojciechowski said ó left in April after more than a decade in Durham to take the Stanford job. James, who was the assistant strength and conditioning coach, earned a seat on the bench closer to Coach K.
“I kind of have a buildup of all the things I wanted to say and to do with the guys,” James said. “Now I get to actually be hands-on with them.”
Collins and Wojciechowski also were promoted to associate head coaches and “are a little bit closer to the hot seat now,” Collins said.
“Wojo and I are now the old heads, which sounds weird to me ó I always view myself as a young guy,” he added. “As excited as I am for (Dawkins) and the opportunity he has, we miss him. It’s weird not having him around.”
Things are settling down after the first major change to Krzyzewski’s staff since 2001, when former Duke player David Henderson left and Collins replaced him.
Wojciechowski and Collins say their roles haven’t changed much, emphasizing that they will continue to be heavily involved in recruiting, scouting opponents and planning practices. James, who has moved into the office formerly occupied by Dawkins, is getting comfortable with cold-calling high school and AAU coaches to familiarize himself with the high school players on Duke’s recruiting radar.
“It’s still strange to sit in Johnny’s office and get these memos of kids I haven’t heard of, start to do research on,” he said. “But in all … the responsibilities of my position, I’m excited for it all.”