This morning, Jeremy Roach made his long rumored plans to begin his pursuit of a professional basketball career official, but with a twist: Roach framed his declaration for the NBA draft as a way to “gain valuable feedback and experience in the pre-draft process” and emphasized that he’s maintaining his college eligibility. He is, in other words, “testing the waters,” three words that lead to an anxiety spike in most college basketball devotees.
Duke fans may be especially on edge after last spring, when Trevor Keels went through a similar process and took his final decision making down to the deadline before staying in the draft. While fans may never know what went on internally with Keels and the program during that time, it certainly seemed as if the uncertainty may have hamstrung the Blue Devils’ pursuit of impact transfers. While it worked out in the end thanks to Tyrese Proctor’s decision to reclassify, Blue Devil fans likely aren’t relishing another month of waiting on a decision from a key potential returnee.
But those superficial similarities are largely where the parallels in these two situations end.
Make no mistake, the 2023-24 Blue Devils will be a significantly better team with Roach than without him. Roach would be the most accomplished senior leader Duke has had since Grayson Allen left campus, and his chemistry with Proctor improved exponentially down the stretch of last season. Roach’s return would likely put Duke at least in the conversation for preseason No. 1 regardless of any further roster developments.
But it’s also clear that Jon Scheyer crafted his 2023 recruiting class with the possibility that Roach would leave in mind. Either of incoming 5* guards Caleb Foster or Jared McCain could naturally slot alongside Proctor in the starting backcourt, with the other coming off the bench to make a potent trio. Barring a transfer decision, junior Jaylen Blakes and sophomore Jaden Schutt will provide valuable depth and experience at the guard position as well. No combination of that quartet will be able to replace the value of Roach’s leadership and experience, but the team won’t be left with a gaping hole either.
Last year was a different story. Without Keels, Roach was Duke’s only returning contributor, and the incoming recruiting class was full of instant-impact wings and bigs, not guards. Without the Proctor reclass, the Blue Devils may have seen Blakes or Schutt being thrust into a starting role earlier than planned. And while Keels tested the waters, many viable options in the transfer portal elected to go elsewhere.
Fortunately, all but the most spoiled Duke fans will agree that the 2022-23 season ended on a high note with an ACC Championship and sweep of rival North Carolina, but there was real anxiety last summer that Keels’ “testing the waters” might have put a ceiling on the Blue Devils’ potential. And while fans might still debate whether the ups and downs of the season might’ve been placated with a Keels return or a high-impact transfer guard, there’s little reason to have the same worries this year. Duke will undoubtedly be a better team if Roach chooses to return for his senior season, but the Blue Devils have good options in the fold now to fill his spot if necessary.
This isn’t Trevor Keels 2.0, Duke fans. Breathe easy.