Duke Basketball: Captain Jack White plays like he’s auditioning to coach

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball freshmen garner most of the attention, but whatever this team ends up accomplishing, their junior co-captain — the sixth starter — will deserve a fair share of the credit.

Ladies and gentleman, it’s my honor to introduce to you the next head coach of the Duke basketball program, Mr. Jack White.

I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that one day. I just plain like Jack White. And I’ve yet to come across anyone who doesn’t.

What’s to like? Well, that’s easy: Everything.

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However, the first time I watched him play in a Duke jersey — at the Countdown to Craziness prior to the 2016-17 season — despite noticing that he was a nice kid with a little-engine-that-could determination, I didn’t think his skills were worthy of him playing often.

And I was right — at least at that point. During his early days as a Blue Devil, the 6-foot-7 forward had a reserved seat near the end of the bench. He appeared in just 10 games as a freshman. And as a sophomore, he played in 28 games but only averaged 5.7 minutes.

But he obviously didn’t come to Durham from Australia with an expectation to quickly earn a ticket to the NBA. No, he came to better himself. He came with an inner dialogue that evidently includes the following four words set on auto-repeat:

I think I can.

“You can always find something to get better at,” White said shortly after committing to Duke in March 2016, according to Hayley Wildes of Basketball Victoria Country.

Now, after watching the way the junior captain has started this season and repeatedly hearing about his work ethic in the offseason, I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything White can’t learn to do. And I think his ultimate vision when he decided to join #TheBrotherhood is starting to take shape, which bodes well for his teammates, coaches, and fans.

“All I want to do is win games and be known as a winner,” White said before he ever played a game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Well, a winner is just someone who wins something. And White seems to do exactly that almost every moment he is on the court — and based on episodes of Duke Blue Planet, his winning way extends beyond the court.

  • First, he wins over the hearts of Krzyzewskiville residents with his friendly demeanor when he pays them visits — he even brought them donuts the morning of Duke’s latest win, a 90-69 blowout over Indiana on Tuesday night.
  • During games, he wins battles for loose balls because he isn’t afraid of floor burns.
  • He wins battles for rebounds — he’s averaging 6.7 across Duke’s first seven games this season — because 1) he has worked hard in the weight room ever since arriving on campus, 2) he has the instincts to know where he needs to be, 3) he has the proper technique when boxing out, and 4) he forcefully uses both hands to secure the ball.
  • He wins my trust in his shot from beyond the arc and from the foul line every time the ball leaves his hand — he’s drained more than 37 percent of his three-pointers and more than 81 percent of his free throws this season (he’s averaging 7.7 points).
  • He wins the respect of his teammates by often being the first to offer a hand whenever they are on the floor and offering a chest bump whenever they do something amazing.
  • He further wins his teammates’ respect by hustling to set screens — and other selfless deeds that don’t show up on a stat sheet — just so that they can be more open.
  • He wins the admiration of coaches and fans by seemingly using every second during any stoppage of play to direct his teammates as to either where they need to line up for the next play, who they need to guard, how they need to be proud of their recent plays, or what they need to forget about so that they can successfully move on to the next play.
  • He wins the honor of having the fewest turnovers for the season (two) of any Blue Devil who is part of the regular rotation.
  • By regularly doing all of the above, he wins playing time — despite coming off the bench, he is averaging 26.4 minutes, ranking fourth on the team, trailing only freshmen starters R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, and Zion Williamson.

White can adequately fill roles from guard to center without the team skipping a beat, meaning he is the perfect sixth man for this squad and a candidate to become one of the most valuable sixth men in the history of the program.

All of his contributions make one fact clear: Coach K made the right choice by naming him a captain — he shares that role with his roommate, fellow junior Javin DeLaurier.

"“He’s playing great,” Krzyzewski told the media after the Indiana game. “He’s such a glue guy. His two threes in the first half kind of gave us separation, but he’s doing everything right, playing defense, rebounding, doesn’t need the ball for a long time. But he’s done that in every game. So he’s going to play a lot. Really, he’s like a starter.”"

Really, though, assuming Coach K sticks around for another decade or so — fingers crossed — Captain Jack is exactly the kind of guy I, as a lifelong fan, would trust to succeed the GOAT if he thought he could.

In other words, I think Jack can do whatever Jack thinks he can do.

When is Coach K most likely to retire?. dark. Next

Yet no matter where he ends up after college — don’t be surprised if an NBA franchise sees the value in having him around — all of the Blue Devils’ coaches, players, and fans are likely to always feel blessed that the mature, friendly, hardworking Aussie decided to join the Duke basketball family.