Is this the year? Is this the year Lucy lets Charlie Brown kick the football?
Or in Duke basketball terms, is this the year Duke goes deep into its bench, really, really deep, not only at the beginning of the season but as long as the season may last?
Duke has 11 recruited players, only four of whom played at Duke last season. There are early indications that sophomores Matt Hurt and Wendell Moore and freshman Jalen Johnson have star potential but right now the emphasis is more on potential than on star. And none of the 11 seems to be completely out of the question as a rotation option.
Associate head coach Jon Scheyer addressed that question Friday on a Zoom press conference.
“We’re excited about that,” Scheyer says of that depth. “In practices it may be where D.J. Steward is the best guard for a couple of days, then Jordan Goldwire, then Jeremy Roach. It’s less about the inconsistency of our players then the fact that we have some really good players and it’s not just three, four or five guys standing out, it’s a much deeper team in terms of everyday production. We still have some time for guys to separate themselves.”
Scheyer added that freshman forward Henry Coleman has opened some eyes.
Coleman has done “a heck of a job. He’s been very impressive, runs the floor hard, great attitude, great motor.” His skill set is “improving.”
And this is the guy many of us had pegged as the 11th man.
Well, there’s no Zion Williamson or Marvin Bagley or Vernon Carey on the blocks.
“We’re still figuring out our lineups, rotations and all. We don’t necessarily have a guy we’re just going to throw the ball to. . . . We need to score together, score in a different way, not throwing the ball into the post.”
How will Duke score?
Transition, 3s, hitting the boards.
The two sophomores will be significant parts of that. Scheyer used similar terms in describing their development.
Scheyer says Moore doubted himself as a freshman. “He didn’t play as aggressively as he could. He has more confidence this season.”
Scheyer also reinforced the growing narrative that Matt Hurt has a chance to be something special. Scheyer said that Hurt is scoring from all over the court, in a variety of different ways. He’s been the leading scorer in almost every practice.
But it’s more than that. Hurt is playing with a swagger Duke hasn’t seen before.
Hurt has developed “an incredibly high level of confidence. He’s done it everyday. He’s gotten stronger, gotten more athletic. He’ll score and talk smack. It’s a mentality so exciting for us to see.”
Then there’s Jalen Johnson, the most touted of the freshman. Scheyer says the two things that stand out about Johnson are his versatility and his passing, especially in transition.
But Johnson missed much of his senior season.
“He’s figuring it out because he can do so many things. What is my base, what are my go-to’s. He can play everywhere.”
Moore, Hurt, Goldwire and junior Joey Baker are the guys with time in the Duke program and Scheyer says all four can be leaders.
Leadership is “still forming. The thing we like to see from our four returning scholarship guys . . . all of them have led in their own ways. Sometimes it’s by committee. . . . All four of those guys are figuring out their roles on this team.”
Six freshman and a grad-student transfer. A lot of learning to be done.
“I think we’re going to be a team that develops during the season,” Scheyer says, seeing a completely different team” as the season progresses.