Duke brings in seven new players - six freshmen and a grad transfer.
The grad transfer is Patrick Tapé, a 6-9/233 lb. native of Charlotte who graduated from Columbia last spring.
Expected to shore up Duke’s inside game, Tapé caused some consternation when he verbally committed, then changed his mind about a week later, only to re-commit a few days after that.
He sounded a bit abashed about the flip-flop, saying first that he thought he rushed his decision and then that “I actually spoke with the Duke coaches again and they’ve agreed to let me join the team again.”
Side benefit: for a brief period, Syracuse thought they’d get Tapé on the rebound, if you will. It’s always fun to take something away from a conference rival.
In his junior year at Columbia - he wasn’t able to play his last year due to injury - Tapé averaged 11.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg and 1.0 spg. He also left with Columbia’s career record for field goal percentage.
Depending on how things shake out, he might start. He’s got far more experience than anyone else but the freshmen are more talented.
Start with Mark Williams. At 7-0/243, Williams is really long.
Like really long.
Duke posted a brief video featuring him jumping just a few inches to hang on the rim. We had to look to see if his feet were on the ground. It looks like he’s put on a fair amount of weight since high school too, which will help.
If he’s physically ready for ACC play, that’s a major break for Duke. Given his length, he has tremendous potential as a shotblocker. The video we’ve seen from high school suggest he has a ways to go to being assertive inside, but the weight should help. As we’ve heard a million times, big men take longer to mature. You try growing seven feet in 17 years.
By the way, if you don't know, he’s also the younger brother of former Duke star Elizabeth Williams.
Some people have said that this class may not be as talented as some recent Duke classes. Time will tell about that, but what is obvious to us is that these guys are all really confident. Take Henry Coleman. He came to campus and immediately took a leading role as Duke Basketball spoke out during this summer’s social justice protests.
That confidence will translate to his game. At 6-8 and 230, he’s not as highly regarded as some of his teammates, but he’s one of those guys you get a feeling about. He just seems like a winner. He’s a power player but has more to his game and should develop a lot of useful ways to help his team.
He may see time in the post, depending on how Tapé, Williams and perhaps sophomore Matthew Hurt work out. We just like his approach to things. That will serve him - and Duke - well.
Jaemyn Brakefield (6-8/216) also isn’t lacking in confidence. A native of Menasha, Wisconsin, his commitment was a bit of a surprise, somewhat unforeseen by the recruiting industry.
Brakefield brings a lot of versatility. He can play inside or out, has three point range and can pass. Assuming he can defend, his skill set should earn him minutes. He’s the sort of player who might emerge later in the year when (if) Coach K does his winter lineup mods.
Like a lot of young guys, Brakefield needs to get stronger, but that’ll happen, as it’s happened to Hurt since last year (one of the things that people don't see is that Duke has a hidden advantage when it comes to training and nutrition. You’d be amazed at how high tech it has become).
The other “big,” if you will, is 6-9/220 lb. Jalen Jackson. He has big man size, but pairs it with guard skills and so the sort of versatility Mike Krzyzewski has long coveted in his front court players. He’s also probably going to be the early star of the freshman class and the most likely to be drafted first by an NBA team.
You don’t have to watch him for long to see he’s really talented. He has a solid package of skills - shooting, ball handling, runs the floor beautifully - but he also seems to understand the game on a deeper level. Anyone can see what good players do. Great players you have to work harder to understand. Like Wayne Gretzky seeing the pass that led to the pass that led to the score, great players can see a few steps ahead. You might not even recognize their influence.
We’re not saying that Johnson is at that level, but he intrigues us. He could develop into an extremely good player. We’re not talking about his talent, but rather about his intellect. He has all the tools to construct greatness.
Like Brakefield, he’s a native of Wisconsin.
In the backcourt, Duke brings in two guys who should excite fans: DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach.
Like Coleman, the 6-3/163 lb. Steward, a product of Chicago’s Whitney Young, also the alma mater of former Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, looks to have natural charisma. He’s also an outstanding three point shooter and could see time at point guard too, giving Duke at least three guys who can run the team and possibly four including Johnson.
He gets a lot of mileage from the respect opponents are forced to give his shot and he uses it to penetrate. He’s got a little Isaiah Thomas in him when it comes to operating in the lane too. Strength is going to be a worry for a while but not courage. He’s got plenty of that.
Coach K has always put an immense value on point guards. Just look down the list: Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley, Steve Wojciechowski, Jon Scheyer, Kyrie Irving and the Jones brothers, Tyus and Tre.
You could go to war with any of those guys. They were all superb.
Jeremy Roach (6-1/175) might join their ranks.
Coach K saw Roach and like a lot of the point guards he’s gone after, quickly knew that was his guy and pursued him single-mindedly. He may have even had a little ceremony on the first day of practice, like he has before, to officially anoint him as the team’s floor leader.
Roach is athletically gifted and like the elder Jones, has a natural feel for the game with excellent court vision and he’s unselfish as all point guards should be.
He’s also good in transition.
We don't have a sense of his defense yet but if he’s good on that end, there’s really nothing holding him back.
He looks like a natural fit for what Coach K likes at the point. We’re excited to see the subtleties in his game.
He also has a tremendous benefit of having Jordan Goldwire as a mentor, much like the elder Jones had Quinn Cook. Goldwire came to Duke with minimal fanfare and has greatly expanded his game. He’ll spend time at point too but one of the main and unsung roles of his final campaign will be to help bring Roach up to speed.
One last note: Roach missed his junior season with an ACL injury but did bounce back to have an outstanding senior year so it shouldn’t bother him.
Next time we’ll look at some of what we might expect out of this team and what Coach K might do with the players at his disposal.