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Question: what’s the biggest difference between this year’s Duke team and last year’s model?
Answer: no transfers, other than Neal Begovich, who, no offense, seems like a bit of lagniappe.
We don’t think Duke was actively pursuing a guy who barely played at Stanford, but he was accepted at Fuqua and he could be useful, so it worked out well for both sides.
Last year you’ll remember, Jon Scheyer brought in Ryan Young, Kale Catchings, Jacob Grandison and Max Johns, all of whom were grad students.
He did that because, we suspect, that he had seen several recent Duke teams that were very talented but overwhelmingly young and that fell short of their potential. He's spoken more than once about preferring experience. It’s a shift in philosophy from the Late-K era one-and-done model, obviously.
This year, only Young is back from the grad students. He was a major revelation last season. Young is not enormously talented, but he is wicked smart and knows what he can and can’t do, and sometimes that’s half the battle. We loved watching the preseason video last year and seeing him more than hold his own against Dereck Lively, Kyle Filipowski and Christian Reeves. It was really something.
This year he’s likely to be more confident and more of a leader too, not that he wasn’t before. But he has a Duke year under his belt and no doubt he’s more comfortable in his role.
Duke had significant injury problems last year with Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Jaylen Blakes all having issues. And so did Duke’s most experienced returnee, Jeremy Roach.
In his junior year, Roach was a superb force in the tournament. He was able to penetrate consistently and he emerged as a steady leader. Last year, he hurt his toe in December and we don’t think he was ever 100 percent. He is a very steady player and while his offense is good, his defense can be superb. He can follow someone from end to end and be unbelievably close to his man the whole way, all with superb balance. Roach is nothing if not tenacious.
Blakes was erratic as a freshman but last year he really began to contribute, especially when Tyrese Proctor was still adjusting to college basketball.
Blakes was getting solid minutes prior to his injury and had back-to-back 17 point games against Wake Forest and Florida State.
After his injury, his minutes really fell off and he only pulled double digit minutes three times in the last 12 games. It was too bad because he had emerged as a physical, tough player, particularly on defense. Duke could have used him against Tennessee, the team that knocked Duke out of the NCAA tournament.
Scheyer’s first recruiting class was really good but somewhat star-crossed: Whitehead’s injury and surgery really set him back. We saw some brilliance at times, but he was never close to 100 percent. Lively took some time to be effective and Proctor arrived late and took some time to get up to speed, too.
Whitehead and Lively are gone but the other members of the class are back and a lot is expected of Proctor, Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell.
Proctor played internationally for Australia last summer and didn’t get to Duke until quite late, thus missing the summer work that Duke freshman typically put in. He was pushed into the lineup immediately with predictable results. But by January or so, he was up to speed and his defense in particular was very good. Watch his footwork: he does a brilliant job of keeping up with his man. When was the last time you saw an international guard with a pit bull mentality on defense? He and Roach are well paired.
Mitchell was put in the lineup in place of the injured Whitehead and even when Whitehead returned, he never came out. At 6-8, Mitchell was versatile enough to guard most players on the court. He has a curiously flat shot, but he’s a wonderful presence. He’s much stronger this season too, which will help a lot. He’s arguably the most versatile player on the roster.
Filipowski was a major revelation. At 7-0 and 230 last year, Filipowski unleashed a tremendous offensive game. He has range and is surprisingly mobile. He has a wonderful spin move and once he learns not to do it around guards, it will be very effective, even more so in the pros. He’s up to 248 this season, so he should be able to push back more effectively. As you probably know, he had surgery on both hips over the summer and Scheyer says it’s really helped his mobility and athleticism. He also has a nice mean streak, which reminds us a bit of Christian Laettner.
Schutt came to Duke from a small private school and didn't play a lot last season, but he has a beautiful shot. He looks to have improved a good bit from last year’s campaign. We liked him in high school because he worked hard. Apparently he still does, and it should pay off.
The final sophomore is Christian Reeves. Last year he was 7-1 and 245; this year, he’s up to 261. He’s an investment in the future and obviously he’s been working in the weight room. He was raw last year but he’s got potential. It’s possible he could emerge as an inside force this season. His high school coach was very high on his potential.
The freshman are Jared McCain, Caleb Foster, TJ Power and Sean Stewart.
McCain looks like he’s never skipped leg day. Like never. He’s got very powerful legs. We also saw a video where he hit the floor about six times on defense then bounced right back up and you know coaches will love that. But he can also shoot and he’s a smart passer. He seems likely to start. He’s also obviously got the rizz. And he won the three point contest at the McDonald’s Game, which is a plus.
Foster is a 6-5 guard who, like McCain, can certainly play some point. He’s thin but time cures that. As the cliché goes, he plays within himself. He is smart, he can score from all three levels, and he appears to be a guy that other guys like to play with. His mom is a good follow on Twitter, by the way.
Stewart is 6-9 and bouncy: he broke Zion Williamson’s standing vertical record, and we weren't sure that would ever happen. We’re not sure what to expect offensively, but defensively, he could be Duke’s best rim protector. If he can defend and rebound, he’ll have a significant role. If he’s dynamic offensively, that role will expand.
Power is an interesting player. At 6-9, he’s got a classic stretch four profile. He can shoot from deep and can get inside too. He may be further down the rotation than he likes as a freshman, but he’s got potential to be really good. He was a very powerful baseball pitcher in high school and intriguingly, he shoots righty but pitches lefty. We don’t know how ambidextrous he is as a basketball player, but that’s a pretty handy skill (pun intended).
We’re not sure what to expect from him this season. There was some buzz early in the summer about him being ahead of schedule, but in the scrimmage videos we saw, he was kind of in the background. That’s somewhat like Schutt, who started his career deep on the bench but who could become a significant contributor as he matures. That could be Power’s path as well.
In Part IV, we’ll look at how Scheyer can structure this team and what we might expect in Year II of the new era of Duke Basketball.