1.an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure. See also Cameron Indoor Stadium
Suffice it to say the 2018-2019 Blue Devil squad under Coach Mike Krzyzewski will have their work cut out for them. Outside expectations aside, this iteration of Duke Men's Basketball has big shoes to fill. The one-and-done era has taken from Duke as much as it's rewarded them. What Duke has lost in terms of continuity it's gained in branding, marketing and clout amongst elite recruits. The Blue Devils lost their top 4 scorers to the NBA Draft and their top 2 rebounders. Duke has replenished the well with 5 new recruits all ranked 4 star or better. Obviously there is no magic 8 ball when it comes to how each recruit will fare but the pieces are in place and those pieces are intriguing for sure.
While recruiting is always an important facet and integral to success, there is no substitute for experience and this may be one of the least experienced groups in terms of actual on-court time that the Duke coaching staff has had in a very long time. Duke's experience, for the most part, is coming from the post position.
The gauntlet for the Duke coaching staff lies in attempting to replace the lion's share of their productivity with players who have yet to play a college basketball game. The numbers are staggering when you calculate what was lost from last years squad.
Men in the Middle
Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier both are heading into their junior seasons with the Blue Devils, with the expectations of not only being key contributors but anchors to Duke's defense. Bolden, the more offensively skilled of the two big men has yet to fulfill the promise he showed as a recruit - partially due to significant injury issues that have kept him from being able to string together a strong sustained rate of play and the other reason is the recruiting machine at Duke University - it waits for no man. Some call it recruiting over and others call it not putting your eggs in one basket. It would be fool-hearted for Coach K or any coach to "wait" on a player. Players will progress and grow at their own rate but regardless of what a player sees as this path (one and done or otherwise) that path is determined by his play and by his contribution. They key to Bolden's success at Duke is going to be his ability to simply stay on the floor. Coach K has upped the ante and made it clear that he expects Marques Bolden to be one of the best big men in the country. The talent is there, the durability is the only question.
Javin DeLaurier hasn't shown the offensive repertoire of Marques Bolden but the athletic big man has shown that he does have attributes that aren't necessarily teachable. DeLaurier has quick hands and is a pretty good post defender but has had issues defending without fouling. What he can bring in his junior season is toughness, defensive-mindedness and with the right point guard at the helm, some easy opportunities at the rim. DeLaurier with the current Duke lineup should be able to, if he stays healthy and out of foul trouble, earn more than spot minutes. Having been in the program now going on 3 years and practicing against some of the most talented big men to come through Cameron he should be well aware of the team needs and where his role could and should be.
It's difficult to quantify what if any impact Jack White will have on this years team. He has a mishmash of skills that could be useful but it's hard to see where he fits in the grand scheme of things. In practice he's one of the best shooters Duke has had in his years in Durham, but at 6'8 and strong he is a better fit perhaps as a rebounder. Having a much more solid frame than a Reddish or Barrett he may be asked to do a few different things on the floor depending on the lineup. This team looks poised to run so to make his mark on this team he needs to be able to get up and down the court, the slimmer White that was measured at Duke this offseason could very well be something asked of him by the staff in preparation for this upcoming season.
A Place on the Perimeter
Perimeter-wise Duke brings back guards Alex O'Connell and Jordan Goldwire. O'Connell had big moments for Duke last year and shot the ball, albeit with a small sample size, very well. As the only proven shooter on this Duke squad O'Connell's role will be as big as his shot-making ability and his performance on the defensive end. He's added a reported 12-13 pounds of muscle to his frame and already has the ability to both handle and pass the ball effectively. Duke will need someone to stretch the floor and his ability to do that should give him a pretty important place among the guards on this Duke squad. Goldwire could also see a jump in his minutes depending on how well he can adapt to his new teammates and also where the coaching staff plans to use certain players. With several of the freshmen having a varied skillset it's very possible that they may also have roles as secondary ball handlers. Goldwire, however, has the instincts of a true point guard and is also a player that can defend his position well. With only one other true point guard on the roster, the progression from freshman to sophomore in both comfort and knowledge of Duke's scheme should work in Goldwire's favor.
Duke once again brings in a recruiting class with high rankings and high expectations. This class includes 5 players ranked in the top 50, 4 of whom are top 15.
Reddish is a smooth athletic wing who can stroke it from beyond the arc but can also attack the rim effectively with his long frame. His ability to handle and play both inside and out makes him a hard cover. His motor and attentiveness have been question by some but most agree that when the lights come on Cam is as competitive as anyone. If his 3-point shot progresses to a more reliabl weapon his versatility will be a problem for the rest of the ACC.
Barrett is an alpha dog and a born leader. He's been trained his entire life to be a pro and does pro things. R.J. is best with the ball in his hands and is a gifted scorer. Adept at getting to the rim, like his counterpart Reddish he is a hard cover at 6'7. Another versatile wing in the toolbox of Coach K with pro moves and a pro attitude.
Zion is the unknown in this class in a lot of ways. His off the charts athleticism is the stuff of legend and most fans have only seen his highlight dunks. What has been questioned is his ability to affect the game in other ways. An underrated passer, Duke will work to make sure his shot is solid for the next level and use him to both play bully ball underneath and to create mismatches on the perimeter. Also questions is how effective he can be at 285lbs, he is a freak athlete but his frame is chiseled and he has shown no signs or adverse effects due to his size.
Tre is a true point guard. He is a prototypical floor general with the ability to score the basketball. Tre is sneakily athletic and can get to the rim with ease and has a great handle. Like his brother Tyus before him, he's a good decision maker and a heady player that has had a lot of experience playing with great players since he was young. Tre, like R.J. is ready to step into a leadership role on this Duke team and should be able to take the complimentary pieces and merge them into a functional team on the offensive end. For the players on this team who are not necessarily offensive-minded, Jones should be able to put them in positions for easy points.
Baker is another versatile piece in the class. After reclassifying the jury is still out on whether Baker will play this year or redshirt. If he proves to be physically ready then his ability to shoot from long-range could be a huge benefit to a Duke team that has some perimeter shooting question marks. Baker is listed as a forward but ideally possibly a stretch 4 that can utilize his perimeter skills is more his speed.