Blue Devils, Reloaded: With the Departure of the National Champs, Who’s Next?

If I were seven feet, 285, and Eastern European, I would be Antonio Vrankovic

-Me and literally anyone else

You probably know that every blogger on this site is a current Duke student (with the exception, of course, of guest writer Arjun Joshi)1.  Some of us, like Nick and me, grew up in Duke families, and probably didn’t deserve to get in.  On the other hand, we also inherited lifelong Duke fandom, and have watched many recruiting classes–some better than others–come and go through Coach K’s system.

In my lifetime, none had really made an immediate mark on Duke’s history, even considering “The Shot” by Austin Rivers or the brilliant three game stretch played by Kyrie Irving (was it more than three games?  It didn’t feel like it) in 2011.  Until this year, that is, when four incredibly talented freshmen came in with one goal: to hang a fifth banner in Cameron Indoor.  They finished the season as champions, and three of them left to pursue greater things, already enshrined in the pantheon of Duke basketball greats.

All told, we lost a dominant offensive center, a freakishly athletic two-way wing, a cold-blooded magician of a point guard, and a level-headed veteran 2-guard with a gift for clutch scoring.  Most teams would be left hobbled after such an exodus of talent.  Duke isn’t most teams, however, and Coach K is the greatest coach of all time.  Out of uncertainty, Krzyzewski brought stability, assembling a class with highly-regarded positional replacements for all four of these players.  But how will they measure up?

Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard have each been committed to Duke since the fourth grade, and each should fill vital roles in Duke’s system.  As an accomplished scorer, knockdown shooter, and prototypical off-guard, Kennard would seemingly fill the Quinn Cook role as a steadying on-court influence and multi-year player.  He’ll be a great fit on the team, and may immediately challenge Grayson Allen for starting minutes in a suddenly-crowded backcourt, but he definitely has a ways to go in matching Cook’s preternatural finishing ability and on-ball defense.
Jeter, in a very literal sense, has much bigger shoes to fill.  As a 6’10” PF/C, he’ll be expected to fill the minutes played by last year’s ACC player of the year, Jahlil Okafor.  If anyone expects Jeter to match Jah’s production, though, they’ll be sorely disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong, Jeter is good.  He could someday be great.  But where many called Okafor the best offensive big man since Tim Duncan, Jeter’s comps have been much more…restrained.  He should be a nice defensive player, with a fairly well-developed 240 pound body and relatively quick feet, but he’ll be more similar (at least in his freshman year) to Amile Jefferson, making defensive hustle plays and chasing rebounds, albeit with a more polished midrange game.  Fortunately, if you’re concerned that Duke might not have a monster big man with triple your body mass, you can look to the end of Duke’s bench, where you’ll hopefully see Antonio Vrankovic’s enormous body firmly planted for the duration of the season.

In the first act of Coach K’s miracle late-season recruiting tour in April, he secured the commitment and reclassification of Derryck Thornton, a pure point guard in the Tyus Jones mold.  Possessing decent size and the #3 positional ranking in his recruiting class, he should be a really nice player for a team that had literally no other options at point guard.  What no player can really match, though, is the tremendous set of balls intangibles that Tyus brought to last year’s team.  Few players have his ability to consistently deliver in the clutch or replicate his leadership and impeccable chemistry with his teammates.  Tyus Jones is already a Blue Devil legend, so Derryck Thornton has a lot to live up to.  Let’s give him a lower bar to clear…can he at least be Duke’s best Thornton?

now kith

2014 Captain Tyler Thornton with
dismissed former-Dukie Rasheed Sulaimon

Duke was still a little thin on the wing after Thornton’s commitment, so Coach K called up the basketball gods and reminded them that he was still owed a favor.  Strings were pulled, some hypnosis probably occurred, and Brandon Ingram signed on to play with the Duke Blue Devils, shattering the hopes and dreams of every Tar Heel fan in the process.  Ingram is a top-four prospect in the class of 2015, and is the player that prompted many a media pundit to name Duke’s recruiting class the best in the nation.  Ingram is a smooth-shooting, incredibly long (and very skinny) small forward, which is another way of saying that he’s nothing like Justise Winslow.  As I’ve been told by my sister (also a lifelong Duke fan), “He’s not nearly as handsome” either.  Thanks Allie.  Where Winslow dominated with Harden-esque driving and finishing ability, Ingram has drawn many presumably misguided comparisons to Kevin Durant.  While he may share the “Thin Reaper’s” slight build, Ingram couldn’t possibly be expected to impact this program as much as Durant did the Longhorns…which really isn’t a big deal.  I’ve been called much worse than “not as good as Kevin Durant.”  Ingram will be a picture-perfect fit in Duke’s motion offense, and has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than Justise was in his short but spectacular Duke career.


Also, for all of you who had trouble pronouncing “Pagliuca” in garbage time last year, we have a new walk-on for you to scream at when we’re beating Georgia Tech by thirty points at home.  Everybody should give a nice warm welcome to Justin Robinson, son of David Robinson (and no, this isn’t a State Farm commercial), who joins the Class of 2019, and may actually have the potential to contribute within the next couple of years.

Looking way too far forward, Duke just secured Jayson Tatum, the top small forward in the class of 2016, and looks to add Harry Giles, his best friend and the top overall recruit, within the next couple of months.

What a time to be alive.


1If not, that means we finally got some external readership, which would be pretty neat

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