This is one of those questions we wish we could ask the late Al Featherston because he’d have it at his fingertips: what freshman had the most impressive debut at Duke?
We can tell you some who didn’t: Jason Williams, who got a quick education after a poor first weekend in New York, Bobby Hurley, who had some growing up to do, Christian Laettner, who didn’t start as a freshman, Vernon Carey, who shot 3-8 against Kansas and JR Barrett, who was 13-26 against Kentucky in his debut.
Zion Williamson, who shot 11-13 in the same game and stunned the basketball world with his incadescent game, has to be in the conversation.
And so does Jalen Johnson.
Duke had a tougher than expected game against Coppin State but individually, Johnson was brilliant. He hit every shot that he took, scoring 19 points, and pulled down 19 rebounds. And he showed remarkable versatility, blocking shots at the rim and leading the break.
Realistically, against a smaller, less talented team, a good player could, maybe should, be perfect from the floor.
Even against a smaller team though, 19 rebounds in your college debut is pretty amazing. Not many players have 19 rebound games in their careers.
It was impressive enough to overshadow Wendell Moore’s 13 and Matthew Hurt’s 12 respective boards.
How do you categorize him? We’re in the era of positionless basketball, at least until the next great big man comes along, but even by that standard, having a 6-9 guy who can play point and dominate inside is unusual.
He’ll have his ups and downs like any player, but a guy with that kind of versatility is going to see a lot of time in Mike Krzyzewski’s system.
Things won’t be as easy on Tuesday when Duke faces Michigan State though. We look forward to seeing what Johnson can do on a bigger stage.