Intriguing questions. That’s par for the course for a program that turns over its roster as frequently as Duke and that’s certainly the case for a 2020-’21 team that includes seven newcomers, six freshmen and one grad-student transfer.
Which brings us to Jeremy Roach. He may not be at the top of the intriguing-questions-list but he’s certainly near the top.
Jeremy Roach is a 6-1, 175-pound freshman from Burgess, Virginia. He’s a top-20 recruit and he filled the stat-sheet last season, 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals per game. He did all this in his first season back after missing his junior (2019) season following ACL surgery.
Mike Krzyzewski has always been more than willing to hand the keys to the car to a true freshman and help keep them from driving it into the ditch. Going back to Johnny Dawkins in 1982-’83, Duke has had 13 freshmen point guards play at least 20 minutes per game. That list includes Duke legends like Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley, Jason Williams, Kyrie Irving, Tyus Jones and Tre Jones. It also includes decent but non-legendary Duke players like Greg Paulus, Derryck Thornton, Frank Jackson and Trevon Duval.
Where does Roach fit in along this spectrum?
Not just an intriguing question but a significant one.
Roach introduced himself to the Duke community by ZOOM Tuesday morning and I was able to participate in most of it until my local power provider decided I didn’t really need electricity and internet service as much as I thought I did.
Here’s some of what we learned.
This is Roach’s assessment of his game.
“I’m a scoring guard. I get my teammates involved, lead the team, play defense, just do anything that it takes to win.”
There are some areas of concern.
One is three-point shooting.
“Definitely something I’ve got to work on, just getting that consistency in my jump shot. But I think it’s coming along and I’m ready to show everyone during the season.”
Are his knee issues firmly behind him? Duke fans remember Quinn Cook struggling through his freshman after a junior-season knee injury.
“My body is coming along great. I’ve been getting bigger, I’ve been getting stronger. . . .Definitely close to 100 percent. Just some little ticky-tacky things I’ve got to fix.”
Like most players his age Roach practically salivates at the idea of playing some up-tempo basketball.
“It’s fun just to play fast, just to know you’ve got guys on the wing and the bigs that you can kick to, that you can dump off to and they’ll make plays to. You’ve got guys like Jalen Johnson, like Wendell Moore, like Matt Hurt on the wing. It’s just crazy to play with guys like that.”
“I think the main thing is spacing out. We have so many guards that can break people down one on one that we can just break people down, find that open man. We can swing it one more time. There’s just so much stuff we can do in the half-court.”
Roach isn’t Duke’s only option at point guard. Senior Jordan Goldwire can play either point or shooting guard, while fellow freshman D.J. Steward may have some point guard in his game.
Roach credits Goldwire for showing him the ropes and says the two sometimes play against each other in practice, sometimes play alongside each other.
But Duke has specialized in elite point guards over the years. Goldwire may be an elite defender but he’s still a guy who averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 assists as a college junior in just over 24 minutes per game.
Unless Duke goes weird and runs the offense through a bigger player, like Wendell Moore or Jalen Johnson, then Roach likely is Duke’s best bet to have an elite point guard this season.
That will require him to be an elite learner to Mike Krzyzewski’s elite teaching.
“You’ve got to be very confident, communicate and you’ve got to be very vocal. That’s one of his main things. You’ve got to lead the team, direct everybody, make sure they’re in the right spots, be the leader on the team, basically be that extra coach on the floor.”
The end goal is to “win as many games as I can. . . . If we just take it one game at a time, win one game at a time then the [individual] goals will fall into place.”