Ah, Chicago, that toddling town. And it’s presumably somewhat less toddling suburbs. Whatever you call it, the Greater Chicago Area has been pretty good to Duke basketball.
Mike Krzyzewski, of course, is a proud alumnus of the Chicago streets and he’s leveraged his knowledge of his home town into some of the best players in Duke history. Jabari Parker starred at Chicago’s Simeon High School before becoming a first-team All-American at Duke in 2014, his only season at Duke. The following season Whitney Young High School alum Jahlil Okafor led Duke to its fifth and most recent NCAA title. Okafor paced that team in scoring and rebounding and was the first freshman to be named ACC Player of the Year. Corey Maggette was sixth-man extraordinaire in 1999, Sean Dockery a defensive stopper in the middle 2000s.
And, oh, the shooters. Phil Henderson, Marty Clark, Chris Collins and Jon Scheyer, the latter the leading scorer and playmaker on Duke’s fourth NCAA champion, back in 2010.
That brings us to D.J. Steward. Like Okafor, Steward is a graduate of Whitney Young. Steward says he talked to Okafor about Duke during his recruitment and got good feedback. So, give the big guy an assist.
Steward definitely is aware of his Chicago predecessors. He says Derrick Rose is his favorite Chicago-area player.
“I love his game.”
“Toughness mentally,” Steward describes what he learned as a Windy City hoopster. “Just always having to stay mentally tough and always staying positive.”
Steward is a lot more like Henderson, Collins or Scheyer than Okafor.
Steward met with the media via ZOOM Tuesday morning. Steward is an extrovert, engaging and articulate. Think skinny Chris Rumph, Duke’s gregarious defensive end.
And yes, he’s on the thin side. He’s 6-2, around 170. But Johnny Dawkins was about that size and we all know how little he was held back by his size.
We didn’t get a chance to see Steward in any of the post-season all-star games. Like the other newcomers he’s a bit of a blank slate.
Let’s let Steward tell us what he brings to the table.
“Coach K has me playing on the ball and off the ball, which is great, because he can mix up the lineups, JGold (Jordan Goldwire) and me, Jeremy Roach and me, sometimes me and Wendell out there on the court at the same time. . . . What’s translated well for me from high school is just playing off the ball, coming off screens and knocking down shots, playing great defense, getting my hands in the passing lanes, just being in attack mode.”
He compares his game to NBA stars Lou Williams, Ja Morant and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh fame, the last suggesting some holes in his knowledge of recent Duke history.
Yes, that one still stings.
Steward is one of 11 talented players competing for playing time for a coach and program that doesn’t often go 11-deep.
He sees the team accepts that.
“I actually don’t think there’s going to be conflict at all. People are going to make sacrifices at the end of the day for the good of the team. Our goal is just to win and whatever that takes, we’re just going to go out there and win and play together as one.”
Going back to Weldon Williams in 1986 every one of Krzyzewski’s Final Four teams has had a player from Greater Chicago except 2001.
Can D.J. Steward extend that streak? There’s no question that his shooting, his quickness, his versatility and his toughness can go a long way towards keeping Duke’s 2020-’21 season going deep into the postseason.