On April 6, Duke won the national title.
By April 15, Duke had lost half of its roster after freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow declared for the NBA draft. That left the Blue Devils with just seven scholarship players lined up for next season.
Less than two weeks later, Duke has reloaded.
In recent days, Duke added a three-star center (Antonio Vrankovic), persuaded a five-star point guard to reclassify and graduate from high school a year early (Derryck Thornton) and landed the top uncommitted player from the class of 2015 (Brandon Ingram).
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At a minimum, the Blue Devils took care of their basic need for players, raising the total number of scholarship bodies to 10. With two walk-ons (Nick Pagliuca and incoming freshman Justin Robinson), the total number on the roster comes to 12, same as it was at the beginning of last season.
Of course, the makeup is largely different. With the pieces Duke has acquired, it will allow the Blue Devils to be versatile, too.
It’s hard to even attempt to pencil in a starting five for Duke right now, beyond Thornton at the point (that one can be written in pen). Depending on how big, small, long or defensive-minded the Blue Devils want to be a a particular time, there will be options to mix-and-match lineups.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski generally likes to divide his guys into perimeter players and post players. Here’s a look at who fits in what group.
Perimeter players: Thornton, Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Ingram.
That group is listed in ascending size order. Thornton, Allen and Kennard will likely occupy the spots traditionally labeled 1 and 2 (point guard and shooting guard). Thornton is the true point guard, though Allen and Kennard could certainly spell him for short periods. And while Allen flashed his potential in the national championship game against Wisconsin, personally willing Duke back from a nine-point, second-half deficit, he will have to earn his starting spot next year. Kennard is a McDonald’s All-American with a sharpshooter’s reputation. Allen brings better athleticism and defensive abilities to the table.
Matt Jones, one of Duke’s tri-captains for next year, has played positions 2-4. He probably won’t be needed much as a stretch-4 (power forward), not with Ingram aboard, but his defense-first mentality will always earn him minutes from Krzyzewski.
Ingram is, in some respects, like a taller, leaner Winslow. Both have abundant length and versatility and can shoot from long range. Ingram isn’t a post-up type player, as he is a true wing, but he could certainly see time at small and power forward. His father, Donald, indicated that a major factor in Ingram choosing Duke was the availability of immediate playing time — Ingram will have to earn his spot.
Post players: Amile Jefferson, Sean Obi, Chase Jeter, Vrankovic, Marshall Plumlee
This group is also listed in ascending size order. There will be times when Duke wants to play a true center to defend an opponent’s back-to-the-basket big man — Plumlee and Jefferson are equipped to do so and have done so. Obi has the size (6-foot-9, 270 pounds) that suggests he should be able to body up a big man, too. Vrankovic is a solid 6-foot-11, but he is more of a project developmentally — a redshirt year is not out of the question.
Expect Jeter to log the most time at the 5. Jeter is 6-foot-10, 215 pounds, and he runs the floor and rebounds well. He has a nice jump hook, too. Given his frame, he may struggle against bigger guys (like UNC’s Kennedy Meeks), but that’s where the Blue Devils could turn more heavily to Plumlee or another option.
It will be interesting to see who Duke rolls out as a starting lineup. And, given all the youth and development sure to come over the course of the year, it could look significantly different come March, anyway.