Oct. 9, CHARLOTTE — It's different for Duke this season.
Yes, the Blue Devils will be among the favorites to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta and cut down the nets as national champions.
But there's a noticeable void as Duke prepares for its 40th season under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
It's the post-Zion era in Durham.
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"It's just different," said senior captain Javin DeLaurier, who, along with fellow captain Jack White, represented the Blue Devils at ACC Operation Basketball in a crowded ballroom at the Charlotte Marriott City Center.
"Obviously, when you have a once-in-a-generation athlete like that come along, it's going to be different. It is what it is. The freshmen have come in, and it's not in any way a slight on them because they're so talented, it's just different. They're young and they're more like what you expect a freshmen to be like. We were those freshmen. Our job is to be upperclassmen like Matt Jones, the guys that came before us, and really just help them along."
With Williamson, the reigning ACC and National Player of the Year, now in the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick of the New Orleans Pelicans, a different kind of Devils will take the court this season.
Last year's group won the ACC Tournament at Spectrum Center in Charlotte and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8 before Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish decided to make the jump to the NBA. Each were lottery picks.
With that quartet gone, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore enter the mix as the latest crop of talented freshmen to join the Blue Devils.
They're just, as White put it, "super young."
"Wendell turned 18 like two weeks ago and I'm sitting here at 22 like, I don't even remember when I was 18," White said with a smile.
"It's just a different group and different situation, as it is every year. ... It all makes an impact. Nothing to take away from the freshmen coming in, it's just a different situation. Guys like Zion and R.J., they were young but they were ready."
Krzyzewski expects the Blue Devils to be more balanced this season with a plethora of returners to compliment the freshmen, including sophomore point guard Tre Jones.
"We don't have a player like Zion or RJ that could make up for some slippage because of their talent level," Krzyzewksi said.
"We have talent, but I think we need to be a team that needs to be a little bit more precise — especially on the defensive end."
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Krzyzewski said the "different mix" is "like going back to the past a little bit" before the one-and-done era in Durham.
"We have four talented freshmen, but they need those guys," Krzyzewski continued, looking to his right at DeLaurier and White.
"They need Tre."
Unlike last year, DeLaurier and White have been a little busier with getting the freshmen acclimated to life as a college basketball player.
"The best thing about our freshmen is they seek information out," DeLaurier said. "They won't just hold it in if they have a question. For the ones that don't, they'll take advice, which is invaluable."
White echoed DeLaurier's thoughts, pointing to the rookies and their growth since arriving on campus.
But there's no doubt things have changed since March.
"They've done a great job of maturing just with the time we've had so far," he said.
"It hasn't been too much of a challenge in terms of bringing them along. It's just a little bit different."
This article is written by Rodd Baxley from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.