Jazzing Up The Blue Devils

Freshman Jasmine Thomas allows Duke to play at a higher level

Nov. 21, 2007

By Jeff Lippman



Jeff Lippman

Jeff is CSTV.com's lead women's basketball writer.
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Duke does know how to reload, doesn't it?


Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year with superstar Alana Beard gone from Durham. The Blue Devils only went undefeated in the regular season.


This year, with coach Gail Goestenkors matriculating to Texas and point guard Lindsey Harding and 6-foot-7 Alison Bales both gone, how could this be anything but a rebuilding year?




But before you can blink, the Blue Devils are already cocked and loaded for the next run.


Only time and better competition will tell how far new head coach Joanne P. McCallie's team can go. Certainly another undefeated season seems out of the question.


But after three dominant wins, the Dukies have shown they can light up the scoreboard, even without their star All-American Abby Waner, who missed the last two games with an injured ankle.


"We are getting better," said McCallie, wary of getting too comfortable with her team's performance this early in the season. "Every game we've improved quite a bit. It's so early and we need more competition."


And it certainly hasn't been all positives for the Blue Devils.


At the onset of their second game of the year, against USF in Tampa, Fla., Duke looked slow and out of sync on offense. Sure, 6-foot-5 Chante Black is going to be a star this season and she was able to have her way with the smaller Bulls, but something was missing.


Harding ran last season's offense with a quick, up-tempo style that stretched the court and forced other teams into a game they were not used to playing. Duke's starters in the USF game, Brittany Mitch, Wanisha Smith and Keturah Jackson, do not have the handle that Harding had.


Freshman Jasmine Thomas does.


"She definitely brings her own impact," McCallie said of her new combo guard, who can play the one or the two. "I would say that Jas' ability, her speed and athleticism, and her ability to really dictate the tempo and upgrade the tempo in terms of going faster, the probability of that increases dramatically once she takes the floor."


It was immediately obvious that Duke is a better team with the ball in Thomas' hands. The 5-foot-9 frosh from Virginia looks like a natural leader with the ball in her hands. She is also a better shooter than Harding.


But shooting isn't her priority. Thomas likes to play amongst the trees.


"Going to the basket has always been a strong part of my game," Thomas said about her love for driving to the hoop. "I love to go to the basket and create but that's not always going to be there. So I don't mind adjusting. I love adjusting and taking on new challenges, but taking it to the basket is definitely my thing."


For now, McCallie is using the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it mantra as the reason why Thomas will remain outside the starting lineup, saying, "Right now she's doing a great job off the bench for us and I guess we'll take a wait-and-see approach."


Thomas is still getting adjusted to the college game, and her stats are showing that in the early going. But when she gets on the floor and has the ball in her hands, the Blue Devils look like a faster, more versatile and athletic team.


"I think she can be potentially the best combo guard on the team," McCallie said of Thomas. "She's done remarkably well. She is definitely getting more comfortable on the floor, at two positions, mind you."


Without Waner, who dropped 16 points in Duke's opener against Denver before dropping in practice with the injured ankle, the entire Duke team has raised its game.


Junior forward Carrem Gay is leading the team in rebounding with eight a game. Mitch, Thomas and freshman center Krystal Thomas have all been excellent defensively, with Mitch leading the team in steals and Krystal Thomas leading in blocks.


While last year's version of Duke consisted of the two All-Americans and everyone else, this year's team is deeper and can get scoring from all over the court.


"Everyone on our team contributes, everyone can score, so everyone is an option," Jasmine Thomas said of her favorite players to get the ball to when the team needs a score.


Thomas does have a favorite go-to person, but with Black's size and skill in the low post, you can't blame her.


"She's an amazing threat," Thomas said of the junior who is averaging near 14 points per game. "She can score at will, block shots and draw fouls. She just does it all. It's nice to have her and know that you can just lob it up and she'll just be there to catch it."


The Blue Devils wanted better competition, and as they head to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam they are going to get their wish.


Thursday marks a string of games against tough teams from top conferences that doesn't really let up until after Dec. 8.


During that stretch, Duke will meet No. 22 Purdue, Temple and either No. 2 Connecticut or No. 4 Stanford in the Paradise Jam, No. 25 Vanderbilt in Nashville, Penn State in University Park, No. 7 Rutgers at home and Pitt, who is just outside the Top 25, in New York City for the Maggie Dixon Classic.


McCallie will gain a better understanding of her team's level of play after that brutal schedule, but one thing is certain, the Blue Devils will do better the more Jasmine Thomas is on the court.