GREENSBORO – The vision, the plan, and the process have paid off Duke Basketball at Greensboro Coliseum.
Standing on the field with blue and white confetti under his feet, assistant coach Emil Jefferson gawked at a Blue Devils group of four starters around one start — rookie captain Jeremy Roach — from the 2022 Final Four squad in legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.
Even going from Coach K, the best coach in basketball ever, to a first-year coach John Scheer, The Blue Devils have never wavered in their belief that the tradition of excellence will continue.
“It’s a beautiful operation. One thing you can’t do: You can’t cheat the operation,” Jefferson said Saturday afterward Duke’s 59-49 victory over Virginia in the championship game of the ACC Tournament.
“I think John’s vision was incredible. I’m here because of him and because of his vision, and because of Coach K. I owe them an incredible deal. John was amazing the whole time. That’s not to say we were perfect, but we’ve grown all year – and we’ve kept the course. We have a group.” Brilliant, and we believe in them, and we work every single day…. It’s been a beautiful journey.”
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A former captain and 2015 national champion, Jefferson joined the Coach K staff in 2021 as the team’s director of player development before being promoted to assistant coach prior to Scheyer’s senior season.
“I will say that I’m not sure any of this would happen without Coach K’s initial vision of desire — some coaches can say that, but not everyone means or believes it — where they want to see the program continue at such a high level,” Scherr said.
“And he wanted to. … For me, it was about the belief we had in each other, and it started with that moment there.”
Although Jefferson described the ride as beautiful, there were some blemishes on the road to the gridiron cut portion of Duke’s season. After a win that clinched the program’s 22nd ACC Championship, the Blue Devils (26-8) cruised as they celebrated the culmination of a trip that included its share of ups and downs.
“It’s not crazy that we pulled it off. We knew what we had,” said Roach, who scored a career-high 23 points against the Cavaliers. “Obviously we were struggling a little bit in the beginning—we’re a bunch of guys. They will learn and learn real fast. Right now, we’re ACC champions.”
Duke’s schedule is marked by a 19-point loss to Purdue in November, a 24-point bombing at NC State in January and back-to-back losses to Miami and Virginia in February.
There was a message on the chalkboard inside Duke’s locker room on Saturday that read: Physically strong, mentally strong, go get it. The Blue Devils checked every box during their week in Greensboro.
“There wasn’t a season that I was a part of, be it as a player or as a coach, and there weren’t those ups and downs,” Shire said. “It’s a matter of their timing and circumstances.”
The Blue Devils haven’t lost since that controversial defeat in Virginia, snapping a nine-game winning streak and improving to 17-1 with a full roster available. Jefferson said it was “amazing” to see Duke’s young players rise to championship status.
Mark Mitchell, Therese Proctor, Derek Lively, and Kyle Filipowski—ACC Tournament Player of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP—are the four regular starters who surround Roach.
“When I was an older guy and we got to this point — we now see Jeremy and these guys at this point — once you get to February and March, there are no more classes,” Jefferson said.
“We’re just one team. A freshman talks to a senior the same way a senior talks to a freshman, and that’s when you start to build a truly unbreakable bond and that’s when you become brothers.”
The Blue Devils are closely related, and had similar quotes about sticking to the process, the plan, and creating the chemistry that led to the observance of the Sabbath.
“We were just able to trust each other. We weren’t listening to anyone else, we weren’t listening to any media, we weren’t listening to any hecklers or anything like that,” Lively said. “We just focused on ourselves. We focused on ourselves – building chemistry, building connections. We definitely did.”
The scary part is that there’s still more basketball to be played with the Blue Devils discovering their destination in March Madness on Selection Sunday as CBS reveals the class of the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
“We had guys,” Jefferson said, “They just needed time to adjust.”
“They’ve done it beautifully. The one thing they haven’t stopped doing is working. I’m not surprised to see the leaps and the improvements they’ve made. We’re a better team today than we were a week ago, than we were three weeks ago, because of that work ethic.”
On the stage inside the Odeon Theatre, with Shire on his left and Roche on his right, Filipowski gave his view on Duke’s rise from a new group to one that feels like a veteran band.
“Just seeing how well we came together as a team, where we started, we almost had a new team, and (Roach) had to lead the way,” said Filipowski.
“Just everyone in their roles, knowing the main goal, we really believed in that. And we bought the tagline — one vision — and we’re going to continue to do that. I think that’s just what makes us so special is just the push ups and downs.”
Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at email@example.com or @RoddBaxley on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Duke basketball goes from Coach K to Jon Scheyer, and wins the ACC Tournament