Normally, if you lost the #1, #15, #16, #26 and #42 picks in the NBA Draft and only returned two scholarship players and just one starter, not to mention losing your long-time head coach, you’d be in trouble.
Deep, deep trouble.
But this is Duke, and Duke may be able to pull that off.
The Blue Devils sent Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams, AJ Griffin and Wendell Moore to the NBA as first-round picks while Trevor Keels went in the second.
Only Jeremy Roach and Jaylen Blakes return, and while Roach started and was superb down the stretch, Blakes only got 95 minutes all season.
Then there’s losing legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski, which we discussed in Part I of our Duke preview.
As we’ve seen for more than a decade now, Duke recruits at a very high level and this year brings in essentially a whole new roster with enough talent to be ranked in the Pre-season Top Ten in most polls.
This is a young group, so Scheyer gathered some experienced transfers too. Look! Everyone is in transition!
Kale Catchings, 6-6/210, played for Tommy Amaker at Harvard. He frequently saw 6-4/210 Max Johns, who was at Princeton. Ryan Young, 6-10/240, comes over from Northwestern where he played for Chris Collins, while Jacob Grandison, 6-6/210, was a Big Ten rival at Illinois.
Those are the pieces. So let’s take a closer look.
At the start of last season, Roach didn’t look like a great player. Against Lafayette, a relatively weak opponent, he shot 0-6 and didn’t score. Against Gonzaga, he was just 3-13.
But down the stretch, he really turned it up. He began driving in a way that we hadn’t previously seen. He’s not Alan Iverson or Isaiah Thomas, but his drives were gutty like theirs were. His confidence and production soared to the point where he could have entered the draft. He would have been a lower pick but he had a legitimate shot.
Ultimately he decided to come back and refine his game further. If he can continue to advance and also to lead a very young team successfully, his odds of being a first-round pick go up.
Blakes was talented but obviously raw last season. You saw glimpses of his potential but he has work to do. From what little we saw of him on video over the summer, he appears to have worked hard. His offense was far behind his defense, and defense, like Jordan Goldwire before him, is where he can start building out a role.
And that’s about it for the returnees, although we remain curious about 7-0 walk-on Stanley Borden.
After the challenging Covid season, Mike Krzyzewski decided not to bring in a lot of transfers, opting to bet on his own guys. He did add Theo John and Bates Jones, but that was it. John was at times a superb backup for Mark Williams who added some great toughness. Jones didn’t play huge minutes, but when he came in, he was smart and reliable.
Scheyer apparently thought bringing in older players was a good idea for this group and Grandison is the prime catch. He came up the hard way with just one scholarship offer we believe, from Holy Cross. He transferred from there to Illinois, where he excelled. He’s an outstanding three point shooter, hitting 41 percent last season for the Illini.
Young has been a revelation. We’ve only seen video obviously, but he has basketball smarts in a big way. He’s been schooling Duke’s younger big men, slipping behind them and catching them unawares and at times looks good enough to start. He probably won’t this year, but he has two years left.
He’s not going to block shots or dominate physically, but you simply can’t ignore him because he’ll burn you. He’s one of those wide guys who knows he can’t dunk in your face, but who knows precisely how much room he has to work with and uses it all. He’s also really good about things we don’t always notices but coaches do, like boxing out quickly. He’s going to help and possibly a lot.
He reminds us a bit of Loyola’s fantastic Cameron Krutwig who was a brilliant, brilliant player with limited physical ability. He should be Young’s role model and they may know each other since they lived close enough in Chicago to play pickup ball.
Catchings was a solid player at Harvard. He’s strong and this will be a Scheyer theme - versatile. He probably won’t start but he could. Duke won’t fall off much when he comes in. He’s not as good a shooter as Grandison is, but he’s also not bad, hitting 36.5 percent. Oddly though, he’s a terrible free throw shooter at just 56.1 percent. He could carve out a role as a defensive stopper too.
Catchings comes from a basketball family - grandfather Harvey had a long NBA career. His mother Tamika had a superb career at Tennessee and with the Indiana Fever. Her sister also played college basketball (Illinois) and a cousin of hers plays for Eastern Illinois. Kale’s stepfather played at Buffalo. As we said, a basketball family.
Johns is not expected to play a lot but rather to be mostly a practice player. Even if that’s his role, he can still be very useful. There’s a lot to learn for the young players, from stations to expectations and there are standards off the court too. Like Jones last season, or Justin Robinson, perhaps Duke’s best walk-on ever, Johns can have a major behind the scenes impact.
And that brings us to the freshmen.
Judging freshmen before they prove themselves is tricky. A great class with Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones is better than most classes are going to be. It’s entirely relative to the strength of the class overall. Nonetheless, this one should be good too.
Scheyer’s brings in 7-1/215 lb. Dereck Lively, 6-11/22 Kyle Filipowski, 6-7/215 Mark Mitchell, 6-6/190 lb. Dariq Whitehead (see below for more on Whitehead’s possible growth), 6-5/178 Tyrese Proctor, 6-4/175 Jaden Schutt, and 6-11/210 Christian Reeves.
Lively is a long and skilled big man. He’s a shotblocker on defense and mobile and skilled offensively. We haven’t seen a whole lot of him yet but he will need to muscle up to reach his potential. He’s a good bit thinner than Mark Williams was, and as you may remember, Williams got shoved around as a freshman. From what we’ve seen so far, Lively going to be at a disadvantage against more physical players. It will change as he matures, but right now he just doesn’t have the mass to push back and he tends to shy away from contact.
That will be less of a problem for Filipowski. Flip, as he’s called, has solid all-around skills. He can handle the ball, he can work in the high post or down low. He’s stronger than Lively but still more likely to hang on the perimeter, or at least that’s how it seems now. Either of those guys have the potential to draw defenders away from the basket, as a number of Duke players do, but having big guys do it means easier penetration for Whitehead, Roach and Mitchell, among others.
Filipowski’s brother, Matt, is playing for Amaker at Harvard. Both brothers played water polo in high school which certainly contributed to their physical maturity. Filipowski has strength that Lively can only dream of at this point.
Both of his parents played college ball and his mother, Rebecca, was a high school sensation, setting the New York State scoring record with 2,164 points. His aunt and uncle played college ball too.
Dariq Whitehead is an elite talent and at 6-6 a guy who can guard four positions. Whitehead’s build may remind you a bit of Jimmy Butler although he’s probably more comfortable in the backcourt. The three point shooting his teammates will provide should open the court up for him in a major way and he’s going to beat a lot of guys off the dribble. He injured his foot over the summer and is still rehabbing, but should be back before too long. When he’s 100 percent, he’s likely going to start. He looks like Duke’s best athlete.
Incidentally, while he has been listed at 6-6 and 190, which we did at the top, Duke now has him at 6-8 and 220, which would make him a very different player if that’s correct. We had assumed he could play both guard positions and small forward. If he’s that size, he could play four positions and, conceivably, five. His brother, Tahir, had a respectable NFL career. He played at 6-1 and about 240. His mother sounds like a formidable woman.
Australian Proctor was supposed to be at Duke next year, but when Trevor Keels decided to jump to the NBA and possible transfer AJ Green did as well, he reclassified and voila! Duke’s class got that much better.
The son of Dinky Proctor who played at NC State for Jim Valvano, Tyrese brings point guard skills and an all-around game that’s impressive. Like most players on this roster, versatility is a big part of his game and like several others, he shoots well from outside. He and Grandison should help Duke’s offense a lot. And while that may be his most immediate contribution, he’s a smart player who will find ways to fit in.
This past summer, Proctor played on the Australian National Team, along with former Blue Devil Jack White, and gained invaluable experience against ill-tempered grown men (you should watch these games more closely. Many international players have marginal talent and compensate for that in surliness).
Most people wouldn’t know this now, but before injuries set in, Dinky was immensely promising. We’re sure that Tyrese has drawn heavily on his dad’s knowledge of the game and will be relatively sophisticated for a young player.
For his part, Mitchell has a solid set of skills. He can shoot, handle the ball and is also a nice passer. He’s reportedly done very well this summer and is a candidate to start. At a minimum, he’s going to play a lot. We like his instincts. He’s a quick passer and unselfish. He also shoots well.
He grew up in Kansas City, which is about 40 minutes from Lawrence and less than two hours from Mizzou. That’s a nice pickup, somewhat like Vic Bubas getting Jeff Mullins and Bill Foster reeling in Vince Taylor: both were from Lexington, Kentucky and surely were expected to be Wildcats.
Like most freshmen, he’s lean and needs to bulk up.
Schutt is pronounced shoot and Schutt is a shut down shooter. He studied JJ Redick’s form and while he may not quite have a golden arm like Redick’s, he’s really good.
He’s also driven and a gym rat. He even started tweaking his diet which is something most athletes start doing when told to in college, if at all. His drive and intensity are really intriguing. It’s hard to say how far he can push his game, but those are priceless intangibles. We wouldn’t bet against him.
He’s also interesting because if you look at the early practice videos, he was really, obviously, trying to figure things out and was reticent. Well he’s not anymore. He’s gone from a little-known recruit at a private school to someone who can compete at this level and done it in just a couple of months.
Reeves is almost certainly going to redshirt as we mentioned, but don’t forget about him. He could really turn out down the road and playing against three quality big men this year will only help. With a year against Lively, Filipowski and Young in practice, and maybe 25 lbs, he’s going to be a very different player.
Duke’s priority right now is to get Whitehead back. He’s the best talent on the team and, unlike most freshmen, he’s physically mature.
Even without him though, Duke has Mitchell, Grandison, Proctor and Catchings, who can provide most of what Whitehead does by committee, although none of them are as athletic.
Duke has a lot of talent but there are also a lot of questions. If this were a Krzyzewski team, we’d have a very good idea of what he might do. But obviously it’s not. This is Jon Scheyer’s team and while he learned amazing things from Coach K, he is not Krzyzewski.
There’s a lot we won’t know until the season is under way, but in Part III we’ll start to discuss the Scheyer Era in Duke Basketball and where things may be going.