For This Year’s Crop of Duke Freshmen, Patience is a Virtue

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 19th, 2015

What last season’s iteration of Duke basketball made us forget, this season’s version reminded us quite vividly during the Blue Devils’ loss to Kentucky at the Champions Classic — which is that the adjustment from high school to high-level college basketball isn’t all that easy. After a pair of tune-up tilts in Durham last week, Duke took the floor in Chicago boasting the most discussed player in the country in Grayson Allen along with the nation’s top-rated crop of incoming rookies. After a sound humbling at the hands of the hungry Wildcats, what they left with were a bunch of question marks and a better appreciation of the special nature of last year’s special freshman class.

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Coach K will have to exercise some more patience with this class of rookies than was required a year ago. (AP)

Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Allen made up the Duke’s incoming class of 2014, and while the the holdover sophomore initially struggled to adjust, the others seamlessly transitioned to the college game. In last year’s Champions Classic win against eventual Final Four participant Michigan State, the trio had their handprints all over a 10-point victory. Jones played with the poise of a point guard well beyond his years, scoring 17 points and committing no turnovers in his 31 minutes of action. Okafor showed the dominant form that would define his only season at Duke, making eight of his 10 attempts from the field. And Winslow proved to be a whirling dervish of controlled aggression, scoring 15 points of his own and grabbing six boards in a team-high 36 minutes.

A year later, the class of 2015 entered Durham with similar hype and the same top-ranked billing, but Tuesday’s result against another group of heralded rookies tells a different story. Brandon Ingram, the most ballyhooed of the group, struggled mightily with only four points and four turnovers in his first real test after averaging 18.0 PPG in two collegiate games. Luke Kennard, the second all-time scorer in Ohio prep history, looked overmatched in his 14 minutes against the superior athletes the Wildcats threw at him. Chase Jeter played only four minutes, as he appears to be the freshman whom Mike Krzyzewski may have to have the most patience with as he adjusts to the speed and athleticism at this level of play.

Luke Kennard, the second all-time scorer in Ohio prep history, quite frankly looked overmatched in his 14 minutes against the superior athletes the Wildcats were able to throw at him.. (Dayton Daily News)

Luke Kennard, the second all-time scorer in Ohio prep history, quite frankly looked overmatched in his 14 minutes against Kentucky’s superior athletes. (Dayton Daily News)

The most productive of Duke’s first-year players happened to be the person may hold the keys to any designs Duke has on defending its national title. Derryck Thornton, the only true point guard on this year’s roster, scored seven points and dished out three assists in his 27 minutes of action. When the 6’2” guard reclassified from the class of 2016 to join Duke a year early, he was deemed as the heir apparent to Jones. But Thornton has yet to be entrusted in a starting role and he really struggled shooting the ball in the Blue Devils’ first two contests. The improvement of the point guard is paramount to this team’s success, as too often, particularly with the pressure applied by Kentucky’s dynamic backcourt, the Blue Devils struggled to get into their offense.

The loss to Kentucky wasn’t bereft of any positive notes. The veteran Blue Devils played extremely well in defeat, as Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson kept the team in the game early by combining for 28 points and 25 rebounds. Junior Matt Jones was the steady player we have grown accustomed to seeing, scoring 16 points with the help of three triples. And while Allen failed to match his superhuman efforts of the first two games (as our own Brad Jenkins saw coming), he certainly has the ability to step into the role as the Devils’ featured offensive threat on the perimeter; he just needs some help, namely from Ingram and Thornton.

The season is barely a week old and it is certainly no time for panic to set in. The loss to Kentucky was merely a reminder of just how exceptional the departed triumvirate really was. And while patience with freshmen is mostly a thing of the past in today’s college game, the smart money would be on the five-time championship coach nurturing his class, oozing with talent, and developing them over the course of the next four months to where they will be major factor in the ACC and national landscape.

Matthew Auerbach (60 Posts)


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