COLOMBIA, SC (WBTV) - The Duke Blue Devils are gearing up to play No. 16 seed North Dakota State in their NCAA Tournament Round 1 matchup, and while Duke is an experienced program known for making deep runs in the tournament, this year four of Coach K’s five starters are dancing for the first time.
“Extremely excited, ready to get going for sure," Duke guard Tre Jones said. "Obviously, being around this before with my brother (Tyus) I got to see kinda what this was like, but being my first time in here I’m just extremely excited to get started.”
“It really hasn’t hit me until we got here and now all of this is happening, but it’s been great . . . just the summary of the whole year so I can’t wait to be a part of this," Duke forward RJ Barrett said. “This is March Madness. This is every young kid’s dream. Everybody that wants to play basketball at a high level - this is the place to be so it’s going to be fun.”
Coach Krzyzewski has made sure to set the tone for his freshman, and in part does so by treating them anything like first-year collegiate players.
“Coach K doesn’t really approach it like he has a young team, he approaches it like we’ve been here before, but just keep preparing for games the same way, keep playing with the energy,” Jones said. “Especially on the defensive end knowing that the way we can shoot and things like that we can’t control that a lot, but we can bring that on the defensive end the same way every single night.”
The Blue Devils are coming off of winning the ACC Championship less than a week ago, and hope to bring that momentum with them to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re gonna bring our fight, we’re just gonna continue to fight," Freshman forward Cam Reddish said. “We’re not necessarily focused on what other people are saying about us we’re gonna go out there and play our game, play hard, play for each other."
“The way we played on the defensive end for sure. I feel like that’s the reason we won that tournament because of how consistent we were on the defensive end in all 3 games and that sense of urgency and hunger we played with as well,” Jones said.
For Duke star Zion Williamson, getting to play a collegiate game in his home state of South Carolina brings everything full circle.
“It means a lot because the last game I played in South Carolina was at the Sumter County Civic Center for my state championship and for this to be my first (collegiate game) March Madness, I mean it’s a blessing,” Williamson said.
But most importantly for Zion, it’s about the bond he’s formed with his Duke teammates and seeing how far this ride will take them. “We bonded real easy off the court, and it’s translated to on the court. Once we got on the court it was like magic, we love to play with each other, and we don’t care who scores, whoever scores we’re happy for them,” Williamson said.
Duke and North Dakota State tip-off at 7:10 p.m Friday at Colonial Life Arena in Colombia, South Carolina.