Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton have been quite the pair for Duke this season. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Tyler Thornton is Duke’s unsung hero.
I wrote about this after the Temple game when head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned that Thornton plays the role of Seth Curry in practice. Curry can’t practice much due to his lingering right shin injury but he hasn’t had any problems getting into a rhythm with his teammates on the floor.
Curry isn’t the only benefactor from Thornton’s team-first mentality. Thornton has also helped developed Quinn Cook, a friend of his since middle school, even though Cook’s rise meant less playing time for Thronton. I wrote about the dynamic of that relationship for today’s paper.
“Any time he can help Quinn, that's what he tries to do,” associate head coach Chris Collins said of Thronton. “They work out together, they get extra shots up, they watch film, all the things that a good leader does, that is what Tyler has done for Quinn.
“Tyler has an amazing security with who he is as a player. He's one of those rare guys where it really doesn't matter if he starts or comes off the bench. He knows what his role is. He knows he is good at it. He's confident in who he is.”
Cook and Thornton had an open competition for Duke’s starting point guard role this summer, which Cook won, a brief two-game stretch at the beginning of the season notwithstanding (before the Georgia State game, though, Cook gave Thornton a hug right before he took his spot on the court).
I asked both Cook and Thornton about whether it was at all tough to compete against such a good friend.
“No, not really because we understood that before we got here,” Cook said. We understood that we were going to be competing because we're both the same position. But that didn't take away from our friendship, that kind of made us stronger because we understood in practice and offseason workouts that we just wanted to make each other better. So, we did the battles and competitions this whole summer and fall, and they were incredible. We both gained a lot from it.”
“We both wanted to do what we could to help the team get better,” Thornton added. “We knew the coaches were going to put us in the right situations. So far, so good.”
Thornton actually adds depth to the Duke roster. He can play any of the three perimeter positions on offense or defense, and he prefers to play off the ball on defense so that he can see the whole floor. That leaves Cook free to focus on the ball defensively and run the offense, which is his most natural position.
“He's a natural point guard,” Krzyzewski said of Cook. “I think if you're a natural point guard, and there aren't that many anymore, there's scoring point guards, different names for point guards, but just a natural point guard is somebody that is judged by winning. “Quinn understands that. If we win, he's done a good job. If we didn't win, he hasn't done as good a job, no matter what his stats are.”
The same can be said of Thornton, too. As Duke’s sixth man, his job is to do whatever it takes to help the team win. So far, so good.