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When current Duke sophomore Jaylen Blakes was robbed of his senior season by the COVID-19 pandemic, things fell into place for the Duke Blue Devils. With health and safety protocols in place, recruiting became a much more tricky proposition for coaches. Crazily enough, a call from Blair Academy coach Joe Mantegna back in 2021 changed things for head coach Jon Scheyer’s 2022-2023 team.

Jaylen Blakes had offers from Connecticut, Georgia, Iona, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, St. John’s and Yale, but the call of coach Mike Krzyzewski and what the Blue Devil program had to offer in terms of both academics and athletics was too much to turn down.

Blakes always had a reputation at Blair as a scorer, averaging 18.2 points and 3.5 assists his junior year. Duke has never lacked for scoring or high level scorers, NBA rosters are littered with talent that came through Durham; what Duke hoped Blakes would bring to the table was coachability, patience and intangibles. According to his high school coach, “his will to win is literally his best feature.” That coupled with a 6’8″ wingspan as a guard (making him a pest on the defensive end) is paying dividends for the Blue Devils today.

It was relayed to Jaylen by the coaching staff that this summer would be huge for him, and the Somerset, NJ native took full advantage, using this summer to put in both travel and work including stops in Georgia, Phoenix and eventually Barcelona. According to Blakes, he was living in the gym. Going from a player that played 94 minutes all of last year to 217 already this season meant that in addition to stepping up his skillset, he would need a confidence boost as well. He got plenty of that from his time in Phoenix where he got to play pickup with members of the Suns and his time in Barcelona where he played more of an alpha role in USA East Coast Basketball as they played against Spanish professionals.

Blakes has turned his experience into results for Jon Scheyer and crew, leading the Blue Devils in assist-to-turnover ratio, improving in every statistical category and setting career highs in scoring and assists. Blakes’ trust in his work is working out for Duke.

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