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ACC Preview #15 - Duke, Part III - The New Guys

High School Basketball: NOV 08 Pangos All-American Festival
CHANDLER, AZ - NOVEMBER 08: Paolo Banchero, from ODea High School, drives to the basket during the Pangos All-American Festival on November 8, 2020 at AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, AZ.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Duke brings in six new players, so let’s dive right in.


  • Theo John - 6-9 Grad
  • Bates Jones - 6-8 grad

John comes over from Marquette where he played for former Duke point guard and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski. He was a tough, defensive-minded player for the Golden Eagles and he’ll probably have that role at his new school as well.

At Duke, he’ll wear #12 to honor his former coach. He’s probably not going to start but he’ll be a key player anyway. He’s big, strong and an excellent defender. And when - if - someone else starts to bully Mark Williams, John will be able to counter that without too much of a drop off. And if the Duke staff chooses to, they can at times run John and Williams together, which would mean the interior defense would be very difficult to penetrate. Toss in Banchero and there’s a virtual lid on the rim.

Interestingly, in John’s case Covid worked in Duke’s favor: John had limited professional opportunities due to the virus and decided to take one more year in college. By the way, we have a theory that Duke and UNC basketball are sort of tied at the hip and that what happens to one happens to the other (for example winning national championships in consecutive years and then announcing new coaches within months of each other). So in support of that, John and Marquette teammate Dawson Garcia are both now on opposite ends of 15-501.

Jones is unlikely to be a rotation player but he was a trusted player for Davidson and comes from an athletic family. His brother is Daniel Jones, former Duke QB, and his sister, Ruthie, is a goalie for Duke.

He’s experienced though and at a minimum should be an asset in practice where he’ll help bring along the younger players. If he turns out to be more than that, then that’s a wonderful bonus. As the video shows, he’s a smart player who passes and shoots well. As the old cliches goes, he plays within himself and knows what he can and can’t do. And leaving him open behind the line is not a good idea.

Now let’s turn to the truly new guys.


  • Paolo Banchero - 6-10
  • AJ Griffin - 6-6
  • Trevor Keels - 6-4
  • Jaylen Blakes - 6-2

Banchero is the most celebrated recruit and by all accounts he’s going to be really good with one person comparing him to Kevin Durant, which is extraordinary.

Banchero was 6-9 when he announced and now he’s at least 6-10 and some say 6-11. He also has a 40” vertical.

But lots of guys have those things and don’t have skill, which Banchero does. He’s going to be a man among boys in college. Many have projected him as the first pick in next year’s draft (we’ve seen at least four players tipped for that though).

Griffin isn’t far behind. He’s 6-6, also powerful and athletic and has the advantage of an NBA coach for a dad (father Adrian is a Raptors assistant). His skills are also outstanding. Like Banchero he has three point range and also has solid ballhandling skills. He looks much older than he actually is on the court, closer to 24 than to 18. He also looks like an NBA player. Like all young players he needs polish but he is on track. We’ll make a prediction now: during the season, some analyst is going to say he’s going to be better than Banchero.

We think Coach K will love him because he’s passionate about defense and has the talent to really get after it. Duke fans are going to love watching him. That guy is a weapon.

Keels is a much thicker player than we realized but Zion Williamson proved that you can be big and still athletic and Keels is in that vein although not nearly as big as Williamson. He’s also got a really nice shot which will help Duke a lot.

He does have things to work on. He’s not a great ballhandler and he can be a bit reckless at times. But those are correctable flaws. He’ll be fine.

Also remember that, a bit like Sidney Lowe and Derrick Whittenburg at NC State, Keels and Roach played together at Paul VI and have a ton of experience together. That’s a special bond and Duke is very fortunate to have that.

Blakes is also a strong guard and at 6-2, he may spend time backing up Jeremy Roach. He’s the least likely of the four to leave for the NBA after his freshman year. He comes to Duke a bit more advanced than did Jordan Goldwire but he could follow a similar path and emerge as a critical player fairly early in his career. We think he’s got a very bright future.

As always in the one-and-done era, incorporating freshmen is a critical task and in the last decade, roughly, Coach K has simplified things to accommodate a shorter learning curve, particularly on defense. He’s even used zone at times, something that the young Mike Krzyzewski would have never done.

He’s talked at times about how much he enjoys building teams and he’s brilliant at putting the pieces together, often in ways no one else imagined. In Part IV, we’ll look at what he might do with this group.