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Duke Freshmen Finding Their Way - Part III

The concluding part of Jim’s look at how Duke freshmen mature.

Duke v North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 08: Wendell Moore Jr. #0 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making the game winning shot to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 98-96 with teammate Jordan Goldwire #14 during their game at Dean Smith Center on February 08, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Let’s go the scorecard. Hurt is 6-9, listed at 214 pounds last season. He was ranked 12th in his class. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the field, 74 percent from the line. He hit 39.3 percent off his 3s.

Moore is 6-6, 213. He was ranked 25th. Moore averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, shooting 41.6 from the field, 80.6 from the line.

Hurt was a prodigious scorer at John Marshall High in Rochester, Minnesota and on the AAU circuit. The pre-season buzz was that he was a major talent, possibly on the order of a Brandon Ingram or a Jayson Tatum.

It didn’t work out that way. Hurt had the same kind of consistency issues that plagued Kennard during his freshman season. He had 25 points in Duke’s first game against Boston College. A few months later Hurt had two points in 11 minutes against the same team. He had 22 points against Miami and followed that with 21 points over his next four games. He scored two points against NC State and followed that with a 16-point, 10-rebound stat sheet against Virginia Tech.

You get the drift.

There’s no question that Hurt needs to get stronger. The spirit seemed to be willing but too often the flesh was getting pushed around on the blocks. Fewer than four rebounds per game in 20.5 minutes per game isn’t a lot for a 6-9 McDonald’s All-American.

Hurt showed some ability to post up, some ability to get to the rim. But almost half of his field-goal attempts were from beyond the arc and he attempted around 3.5 foul shots per 40 minutes

Krzyzewski gave an analysis of what Hurt could do after that Virginia Tech double-double.

“Matt is more of a four, but he played like an athlete tonight and he moved his feet well and that was one of the keys to this game and he really pursued the ball well in rebounding . .. . he was going after it with two hands, that was one of his better games. He’s practiced that way and hopefully we can keep moving.”

When asked about the importance of rebounding in jump-starting Hurt’s game Krzyzewski answered “You’re right, will you send him a note on that? We’ve told him that. As a young player there’s a lot of things they’re learning, he’s developing, he played really well tonight and hopefully he can keep that going.”

He didn’t. He ended the season playing 28 minutes in his final three games, scoring only seven points.

Aggression, confidence, movement. All keys for Hurt.

Moore doesn’t have to worry about building his body as much as learning what he can do with it. He’s got an NBA body, strong and long. He’s potentially the best defender in the ACC. He’s versatile enough to defend any position except center. Mike Krzyzewski consistently referred to Moore as “an athlete” and that’s a good thing. Krzyzewski loves those Swiss Army Knife types.

But Moore was also very young for a college basketball player. He was born September 18, 2001. He was barely 18 when the season started and sometimes he looked like a shaky foal learning to run. Missing six games in the middle of the season with a hand injury didn’t help. Moore had 14 more turnovers than assists and attempted only 19 3-pointers. He made only four.

Top-tier ACC wings do not maximize their potential by shooting 21 percent on 3-pointers.

Allen, Kennard and Jones all had lots of sweat equity in their improvement. You don’t make All-America without putting in a lot of time in the gym. Hurt and Moore both have lots of work to do this strange summer, somehow, somewhere.

But it’s more than just that. Athletes in numerous sports explain a jump in productivity by saying something along the lines of “the game just slowed down for me.”

Sports psychologists call it “flow,” a state in which an athlete processes useful information at an enhanced rate while blocking out extraneous information.

Consider the end of regulation of Duke’s meltdown loss at Wake Forest. Moore was in the middle of one of his best games. But in the final minute he tried to dribble through a double team. The result was a turnover and a fast-break basket by the Deacs. Moore’s handle wasn’t the problem. His decision making was.

He was 18. He’ll be 19 the next time we see him on the court.

Will the game slow down for Hurt and Moore? Hopefully, time, maturation, hard work and quality coaching will do the trick. When and if it clicks both Hurt and Moore have the potential to take huge steps in their development.

Duke will have seven new players next season, some of them very talented newcomers. Jordan Goldwire will lend veteran leadership and Joey Baker always has the potential to explode from the outside. But Hurt and Moore have more talent than Goldwire, Baker or grad-student transfer Patrick Tapé, more experience than any of the six freshmen. They should be the team’s best combination of experience and talent and their development could determine whether Duke becomes an elite team.

After all, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.