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Jim Looks At Next Season For Duke Basketball Part II - The New Guys

What will the freshmen bring to the team?

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Jordan Brand Classic
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 20: Wendell Moore #0 brings the ball up the court against Cassius Stanley #4 during the Jordan Brand Classic boys high school all-star basketball game at T-Mobile Arena on April 20, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“One and done” are the most divisive words in the Duke basketball universe. Beginning with Kyrie Irving in 2011 no fewer than 14 Duke players have declared for and stayed in the NBA draft following their freshmen seasons. Thirteen were drafted, 11 were drafted in the first round and all have played in the NBA. Three more Blue Devils will go in the first round later this month.

Success? Depends on which metric one uses. At the individual level Duke has had six of the last eight ACC rookies of the year and Duke freshmen have won three of the last five ACC Player of the Year awards. Duke has won two ACC Tournament titles during this span, advanced to four Elite Eights and captured the 2015 NCAA title.

On the other hand that 2015 title is Duke’s only Final Four appearance in those nine years, with no ACC regular-season titles.

Duke did a lot better in the good old days, critics complain. But the days when Johnny Dawkins and Christian Laettner and Grant Hill stayed four years are gone and they are not coming back. Comparing 2011-2019 to 1986-1994 is apples and oranges. Mike Krzyzewski says Duke is going to continue to do what it has always done, recruit the best possible players who fit the needs of the program within Duke’s academic profile.

Which brings us to the high school class of 2019. Duke’s four freshmen don’t have the star power of a Jabari Parker or a Marvin Bagley or an R.J. Barrett and Duke’s recruiting class is not ranked number one by the recruitniks.

But make no mistake, Duke will again rely heavily on its freshmen. At least three should start and I wouldn’t be stunned to hear all four’s names called at the beginning of some games.

Vernon Carey, Jr. is the highest-profile recruit. Carey dropped a few spots in the rankings but that is more a reflection of a sprained ankle that caused him to miss the all-star games than any decline in his game. He’s still a top-five recruit.

Carey is 6-10, with advanced low-post skills and the ability to step outside and hit the jumper. He has been listed as much as 275 pounds but should be closer to 260 when Duke opens up next fall. He doesn’t run the floor like Bagley and doesn’t have the length of Wendell Carter. But the things he does well, he does very well.

And no one else on the Duke roster does them. He could be Duke’s only consistent low-post option.

Matthew Hurt is 6-9 but he’s more of a forward then a center. Think Mike Dunleavy more than Kyle Singler. Hurt is a shooter, the kind of player who can stretch the floor.

But Krzyzewski says Hurt is more than just a shooter.

He discusses his two freshmen bigs.

“Obviously Matthew can really score the ball. He’s a gifted scorer. He can shoot, he can handle, he can play inside and out. He can score from a number of positions and he’s a heck of a free throw shooter. Actually, Vernon is very similar. He’s not what you used to say-’he’s a big guy.’ They’re really good basketball players and we’ll use them in that regard.”

Wendell Moore should be the third freshman starter. It starts with his hard-nosed and versatile defense. Moore is quick enough to guard points, long enough to guard power forwards. He has some Justise Winslow in him. But he’s also improved his offensive game and Duke has asked him to work on his point-guard skills. Moore might actually become the back-up point guard.

“We’re really excited about Wendell,” Krzyzewski says. “He’s a winner and he can play everywhere on the court.”

Moore has been described as “old-school.” I asked him what that meant to him.

“I find it a compliment. I play like the old guys used to play. I keep it real fundamental but at the same time I get the job done. Like Grant Hill used to play. Kawhi Leonard has that kind of game today. I kind of slow it down for myself and play the kind of game I can play. I can do it all on the floor, scoring or doing whatever it takes to help my team win.”

Krzyzewski was more measured discussing Cassius Stanley, saying “athletically and basketball wise, he can contribute.”

Stanley is a west coast guy and wasn’t mentioned with Duke until fairly late in the recruiting cycle. He’s an exceptional run-jump athlete. If his skill set catches up, he will see the floor.

Moore says his class “will gel together real well. I know all the guys. They all bring different pieces. Vern can do it all on the offensive end. He’s an offensive juggernaut. He’s so hard to stop. Matt brings a lot of versatility and shooting. He can score really well. Cassius brings athleticism, his defense and scoring ability. We all bring different things and that’s what’s going to make us so good.”

Tomorrow I’ll try to tie it together in a pretty little bow.

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