RJ Barrett showed a wide variety of skills and Flyin’ Zion Williamson answered a lot of questions about his game in a big damned hurry. If you thought that he was a guy who just dominated in a small high school league or that couldn’t play at this level, we have news for you: he dominated the game against Ryerson and like Barrett, has a nice toolbox of his own to work with.
Barrett finished with 34 points while Williamson had 29 points and 13 rebounds.
The two freshmen scored 63 of Duke’s 86 points and took 63 of Duke’s 81 shots.
We’ve all at least seen clips of both guys and knew that Barrett came with a reputation of being a very complete player. It’s justified.
With Tre Jones out, he started at point guard and while he was shaky with five early turnovers, in general he did okay. It’s not going to be his full-time position but clearly he can do it.
He was very good in transition and passed well.
He had one spectacular fast break dunk and managed to get inside and to the line quite a bit. We think the announcers said 14 foul shots.
He also had at least one outstanding block and in general showed a mature, sophisticated game.
Again, that was expected. He’s been seen for some time as not just a great talent but also a bright basketball mind. That’s an important distinction because there are tons of hugely athletic players who never fully grok the game.
There was one school of thought - we wondered ourselves honestly - if Zion Williamson would fall into that camp.
Didn’t take long to dispel that notion.
Everyone who has followed his rise to prominence understands that the guy is a physical freak. We’ve compared him to a bumblebee and called him a bulldozer with wings and both seem apt (the bee because the old story is that it shouldn’t be able to fly but somehow manages).
You don’t have to watch the guy for long however to understand that he’s much more than just a spectacular athlete.
He is, obviously. He would be, today, the second heaviest player in the NBA. Guys that size are not supposed to dunk from the foul line.
But when you see him making smart passes, or slipping inside with the grace of a much smaller man, or hitting threes, or when you see him catch a ball while going out of bounds and whip it to a teammate for an easy basket, you start to get it.
It’s not that he’s an extraordinarily large guy who plays basketball. He’s just a basketball player who happens to be extraordinarily large.
His size will make people marvel at first but look how many talented guys haven’t made it. We could do this all day but: Chris Washburn, Harold Miner, Earl Manigault, Skip Wise, Jimmer Fredette, Art Heyman...
You can’t project an NBA career off of one exhibition game but you can see that the idea that he wasn’t a skilled player is wrong. He’s got a lot of skills and a lot of room to grow. The skies the limit for Williamson.
Duke started Barrett and Williamson along with Alex O’ Connell, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier.
O’ Connell played only three minutes after getting accidentally popped in the face. No word yet on how serious it might be.
He did grab two rebounds in three minutes which is pretty good.
DeLaurier, who spent the summer in San Antonio working out with teammate Justin Robinson and his Hall of Fame dad David, seemed clearly improved. He grabbed 11 rebounds and shot 4-6 from the floor. He played 29 minutes and only picked up two fouls, which is significantly better than he often did last year.
Bolden played 19 minutes and didn’t score but had three rebounds and two blocks.
Jack White came off the bench and took more shots than anyone else other than Barrett and Williamson with 10, hitting three.
Williamson, Jordan Goldwire, Antonio Vrankovic and Joey Baker all played and of those four, Robinson probably looked the best, other than Goldwire. His role is quiet and understated but he did everything fairly well.
It’s pointless to get too wound up about an August exhibition game. Ryerson is a solid team but it has limited talent. For its part, Duke has the youngest team it has ever had and just a few days of practice.
And of course it played without Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, both sitting out with injuries.
Jones will be the point guard and he should be a very good one and Reddish is going to offer a ridiculous level of versatility.
There’s also a school of thought that suggests that there won’t be enough balls for Barrett, Williamson and Reddish but our guess is that’ll be proven wrong as well. All three guys strike us as team players and guys who like being part of something great.
In a sense, they remind us (even though we’re still waiting to see Reddish) of Arkansas’s triplets, which was one of our all-time favorite non-Duke teams.
Back in the ‘70s, Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief, all about 6-4, were a superb core for a superb team.
Later, Illinois had a team featuring Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Stephen Bardo, Kenny Battle, and Lowell Hamilton. Everyone was roughly between 6-5 and 6-8 and highly interchangeable.
To us, that’s what these guys should aspire to. This Duke team has a chance to set a standard for selflessness and versatility. If it ends up actually being like that, this season is going to be really memorable.
- Box Score
- Everything to know about Zion Williamson, the 285-pound dunking phenom set to take over Duke basketball
- Five instant observations from Duke men’s basketball’s win against Ryerson in Canada
- Canadian star Barrett has 34 points in Duke exhibition debut
- Duke’s 285-pound, top-ranked freshman is doing jumps that shouldn’t be possible
- Williamson and Barrett lead Duke to win in exhibition opener
- WATCH: Zion Williamson dominating in Duke debut
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