Duke Basketball: Incoming freshman makes sacrilegious choice

Vernon Carey Jr., Duke basketball (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Vernon Carey Jr., Duke basketball (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

One incoming Duke basketball freshman has raised some eyebrows by deciding to wear next season what is now arguably the program’s most iconic jersey number.

Two years ago, some Duke basketball fans — mostly those who yell at kids for stepping on their lawn — expressed outrage when Marvin Bagley III asked to wear No. 35 as a Blue Devil.

But those fans’ disapproval over the decision to allow the eventual one-and-done stud to do so was understandable. After all, the number has hung from Cameron Indoor Stadium’s rafters for three decades due to Danny Ferry’s 2,155 points, 1,003 rebounds, and three final-four appearances.

Now, no offense to Ferry — he became my first sports hero when I was six years old — but Zion Williamson, who is now my all-time sports hero and whose jersey number does not adorn the airspace above Coach K Court but should, would have eaten the fellow power forward’s lunch had they played in the same era.

So back in January, I became one of the first to publicly express the opinion — to the disapproval primarily of those fans who agonize daily over the undisturbed growth of grass in their yard — that Duke should retire Williamson’s jersey number (1).

Even though it was common knowledge at the time the 6-foot-7, 285-pound freak of nature would only be in Durham for one season, I argued the combination of his unmatched personality and his jaw-dropping array of talents demanded number-retiring recognition — regardless of whether he graduated or won a national title.

ALSO READ: Zion Williamson’s number belongs in Cameron’s rafters

And I opened that article with this warning:

"“Imagine some future Duke basketball player appearing in a game while wearing a jersey with a ‘1’ on its front and back. At this point, that just doesn’t seem fair to the poor kid, right?”"

Well, it appears that poor kid will be Vernon Carey Jr.

According to a tweet from the Duke basketball program’s official account on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils’ highest-ranked 2019 signee (No. 6 on the 247Sports Composite) will wear Williamson’s number next season.

Too soon.

Maybe, though, Carey Jr. intentionally made the asking-for-added-pressure choice because he thrives off added pressure.

Or maybe the 6-foot-10, 275-pound center from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., viewed No. 1 as his second choice and was just too shy to ask if he could wear his jersey number from high school (22); Jason Williams, of course, ensured that number would hang forever inside Cameron by starring as a point guard for a national-title run in 2001 and eclipsing 2,000 points in only three college seasons.

Or maybe he just feels he will be the No. 1 player in the nation next season and thinks his jersey number should reflect that.

While all fans would love to see Carey Jr. somehow live up to the unrealistic expectations now forever associated with No. 1 at Duke, what Williamson did as just an 18-year-old freshman would seem fictional if we hadn’t witnessed it for ourselves:

  • 22.6 points per game
  • 8.9 rebounds per game
  • 2.1 steals per game
  • 1.8 blocks per game
  • 68.0 field goal percentage
  • In-game tomahawks, windmills, and a 360 that seemed straight out of a comic book
  • A clean sweep of the six major awards for national player of the year

Interestingly, the only Duke basketball players in history to wear No. 1 — Williamson, Trevon Duval, Harry Giles, Jabari Parker, and Kyrie Irving — all played in Durham this decade and stayed only one season before turning pro.

And even if Carey Jr. falls far short of putting up numbers like those of Williamson — no one will likely ever match the combination of those numbers at Duke — he is likely to extend the trend of only one-and-done Blue Devils wearing No. 1.

ALSO READ: Six-year streak in jeopardy for Blue Devils next year

As for Carey Jr.’s three class of 2019 counterparts, each went with a safer choice.

Four-star small forward Wendell Moore, who ranks No. 28 on the composite, will follow in the footsteps of Jayson Tatum and Austin Rivers by wearing No. 0.

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Four-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley, who ranks No. 36, will become the ninth player in Durham to ever wear No. 2 — sparking memories of notable Blue Devils such as Cam Reddish, Gary Trent Jr., Quinn Cook, and Nolan Smith by doing so.

Five-star power forward Matthew Hurt, who ranks No. 11 on the composite, will join a long list of Dukies to have worn No. 21 — 21 prior to Hurt, including names such as Trajan Langdon, Chris Duhon, DeMarcus Nelson, and Amile Jefferson.

The 2019 class may not yet be complete, though.

Three-star center Charles Coleman, a 7-footer who seems likely to exceed the expectations accompanying his No. 330 ranking, picked up a Blue Devil offer on May 15, two days after decommitting from Wake Forest.

And Duke is the favorite to be his college destination.

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But let’s just hope — for the sake of cranky, old Duke fans’ blood pressure — that one condition to Coleman committing isn’t his getting to wear No. 32.

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