DURHAM, N.C. — The next wave of Duke basketball freshmen arrived on campus earlier this month amid little fanfare compared to the program’s previous crew.
That’s no knock on Cassius Stanley’s 451,000 Instagram followers. But Zion Williamson soared past the 1 million mark months before he arrived at Duke a year ago.
The accounts of Stanley, Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore combined are still in six figures.
Last year, Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Tre Jones and Joey Baker gave Duke the nation’s No. 1-rated incoming class.
Duke’s current class, featuring five-star players Carey and Hurt and four-star recruits Stanley and Moore, comes in at No. 4. With Williamson, Barrett and Reddish off to the NBA, those four will play key roles in any success Duke has on the court this season.
No one with a clear mind expects those four to approach the hype and attention Williamson and his class achieved last season.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski just wants them to mentally become part of Duke’s program as they physically arrive as freshman.
“Hopefully they interact with the upperclassmen,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke returns both its captains from last season in seniors Javin DeLaurier and Jack White. A year ago, as they became first-time captains, DeLaurier was coming off a sophomore year where he played 12.7 minutes per game. White played just 5.7 minutes on average.
This summer, they come in as established contributors.
DeLaurier started 16 games and averaged 16.7 minutes per game. White started just three times but played 20.5 minutes per game.
Krzyzewski doesn’t hide the fact that the freshmen will be counted upon heavily, though.
“A lot will be expected of them,” he said, uttering a sentence the has applied to every Duke class since 2013.
For this group, that’s especially true of the 6-foot-10 Carey and 6-9 Hurt.
The 6-10 DeLaurier dabbled with turning pro but came back. His classmate, 6-11 Marques Bolden, entered the NBA draft and didn’t return to school.
So Cary, Hurt and DeLaurier comprise Duke’s interior rotation this year. That means the two freshmen must be ready to handle 30-plus minutes a night from the opening game with Kansas on Nov. 5 to the NCAA Tournament.
Carey, at 275 pounds and DeLaurier are physically equipped to play inside. Hurt weighs in at 215, and while he can contribute in the paint, his skills take him all over the court.
“Matthew can really score the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a gifted scorer. He can shoot. He can handle. He can play inside and out. He can score from a number of different positions and he’s a heck of a free throw shooter.”
Krzyzewski warned not to typecast Carey as simply an interior player, suggesting his skills will also help Duke on the perimeter in the five-out motion offense Duke implemented last year.
Those sets spread the court to allow athletic big men — Williamson, Barrett and Reddish last year, Carey and Hurt this season — to be effective with jump shots or drives to the basket.
Moore and Stanley both stand 6-5, though Moore is a bit heavier at 210 pounds to Stanley’s 180.
Their places in Duke’s rotation will develop over the summer and perhaps even when practices get real in October. That’s not a knock on their abilities but more an assessment of Duke’s roster.
In addition to the 6-7 White, the Blue Devils return 6-5 junior shooting guard Alex O’Connell and 6-7 sophomore small forward Joey Baker.
None of those three are complete players. White’s 3-point shooting slump last season cost him minutes even while he was a valuable defender and rebounder. O’Connell shot well, particularly in two games against Syracuse’s zone, but was a defensive liability.
Baker, who didn’t see his first game action until late February, impressed the coaches with his practice work and projects as a good perimeter shooter. He has yet to prove himself defensively, though.
Moore’s shot is still developing but he possesses the athleticism and mindset to be a force defensively and in transition on the offensive end right away.
“We’re really excited about Wendell,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a winner and he can play everywhere on the court.”
Stanley, the final addition to the class in April, arrives with explosive athleticism that will make him fun to watch in the open court.
“Athletically and basketball wise, he can contribute,” Krzyzewski said.
Jones, back for his sophomore year while three of his classmates jumped to the NBA, will run the show at point guard. Krzyzewski wants him to shoot more, but Jones has already shown he’s adept at getting everyone involved in the offense. That will especially be true with Moore and Stanley in transition situations off live-ball turnovers.
Krzyzewski’s first assessment of this team is they will be balanced and deep.
Last season, Williamson and Barrett were such superior talents compared to the rest of Duke’s roster — and college basketball as a whole — it proved impossible for the Blue Devils to be balanced.
This year’s Duke freshmen possess a lower ceiling, but their floor is more elevated.
So while the hype is missing, they’ll still have a large say in Duke’s chances to repeat as ACC champions.
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