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What To Make Of Dariq Whitehead So Far?

Duke’s prize freshman is only going to get better.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland - E. Shore at Duke
 Dec 10, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Dariq Whitehead (0) dunks over Maryland Eastern Shore Eagles forward Troy Hupstead (24) during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting Jeremy Roach out for Saturday’s game against UMES proved doubly beneficial for Duke: it allowed Roach a 10-day window to heal his toe and also let Dariq Whitehead step up.

So what did we see?

It’s still early, but Whitehead appears to be in a fairly small class of Duke players that includes Luol Deng, Mike Dunleavy, Jack Marin, Danny Ferry, Gene Banks, Arts Heyman, Jeff Mullins, Jason Williams, Zion Williamson and Grant Hill.

You’ll notice that most of the players on this list are mid-sized; today, we’d call them wings. In the 1960’s, the 6-5 Heyman was a power player and Marin wasn’t as skilled overall as later players would be (he was plenty skilled by the standards of the day, however).

What these guys have in common though is that they had (or have) superb all-around skills and they can do almost anything the game requires.

The supreme example here is Hill and we hesitated about putting him on this list. But he is the gold standard. His only meaningful weakness was three point shooting.

It’s impossible right now to know just how good Whitehead can be since he’s still getting back into game shape following foot surgery, but the evidence that he’s going to be special is stacking up.

He has brilliant instincts and some of the best evidence is when things go wrong: when he has to come up with something, Whitehead is really good at finding a solution. He can pass to an open guy, or he can fake someone out and get a shot.

We’ve seen him several times now find his way out of a jam. No one can teach you how to do that; it’s something you either have or don’t.

Think of the late Robin Williams in comedy. He could be anywhere in his act and he always, always found the funniest solution. Nothing could trap him.

Most comedians are formulaic. So are most athletes.

Whitehead looks as if he may not be.

We hesitantly combined him to Hill because a healthy Hill is just a step or two below Michael Jordan. He was that good at his peak.

A better comparison for Whitehead is probably Dwyane Wade.

He may not be as elite of an athlete as Wade is, but he’s got a similar build and the potential to influence the game wherever he wants to: three point shooting, mid-range, driving, passing, defense - he has the potential to be sound in every aspect of the game.

We’re not leery of his talent; not at all. It’s just that he hasn’t had enough time to really show it.

Clearly, he’s an NBA-caliber player. The only question anyone should have, and only because we can’t see this, is how hard he works.

And this is really important. A guy who played college ball out West told us you’d never believe how many players aren’t really in love with the game. They have talent, but not the desire to refine it.

The bottom line for Whitehead? If he’s willing to pay the price for greatness, he has a solid chance to achieve it.

The bottom line for Duke? His talent and versatility have the potential to give this team a focal point and to raise it to another level entirely.