Duke Basketball: Incoming Blue Devil resembles former Tar Heel

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball team’s primary paint presence next season brings to mind a UNC center who wreaked havoc on the Blue Devils on a dark day nearly 15 years ago.

In a perfect world, when pinpointing a fitting comparison for any future Duke basketball player, fans could limit the search to former Blue Devils and avoid resorting to rehashing images of a former Tar Heel.

But the size, game, and face of incoming freshman Vernon Carey Jr. — a five-star center who ranks No. 6 on the 247Sports Composite and picked Duke in December from a final three-team list that included UNC — spawn no instant flashbacks to past Blue Devil big men.

  • The 6-foot-10, 275-pound Miami native’s inside touch has the potential to match that of Elton Brand, but Carey Jr. would need sumo wrestlers to play tug-of-war with his arms in order to make up for the six inches he lacks on Brand’s nearly 7-foot-5 wingspan.
  • Carey Jr.’s footwork is one of his strong suits but won’t likely come close to matching the ballerina hoofs of national champions Carlos Boozer and Jahlil Okafor, who each could create space by spinning either clockwise or counter-clockwise with equal explosiveness and by regularly putting on up-and-under clinics.
  • Next season’s likely starter at the five-spot has neither the same boulders for shoulders nor defensive prowess of Shelden Williams; in other words, Carey Jr. seemingly has no chance to average more than three blocks per game, a mark Williams surpassed in three of his four seasons as a Dukie on his way to becoming the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots (422) and the NABC Defensive Player of the Year as both a junior and senior — not to mention his jersey number (23) forever hanging from the rafters inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Unfortunately, the most accurate way to display what’s in store down low for Duke’s opponents next season is to relive a nearly 15-year-old nightmare for Duke fans: a 26-point, 24-rebound performance (not a typo) on March 6, 2005, from UNC junior Sean May.

Despite Williams, aptly known as “The Landlord,” being the interior defender for what was May’s last game against the Blue Devils — before the Charlotte Hornets selected him with the 13th overall pick in that year’s NBA Draft — May propelled UNC to a come-from-behind 75-73 victory in Chapel Hill, leading to the Tar Heels winning Roy Williams’ first national championship a month later.

A few key plays that day from May ignited the comeback from nine down with three minutes to play. While those plays highlight the type of plays Duke fans can expect to see from Carey Jr. next season — in what will likely be his lone season before turning pro — here’s a vital forewarning from one Duke fan to another: stop watching the following video with a minute or so to go.

[Pause to clean up vomit from any Duke fans who accidentally watched until the end]

Like the 6-foot-9, 270-pound May, Carey Jr.’s strength is literally his strength. Like May, Carey Jr. has a body like the trunk of a 100-year-old oak tree and a uniform weight distribution.

As for his game, like May, Carey Jr. has more than enough skills to compensate for his less-than-stellar length and vertical leap. Like May, who averaged a double-double for his college career, Carey Jr. is sure to demoralize a multitude of opponents in the paint with his soft touch from his rugged hands — when paired with his behemoth size, those hands should come down with his fair share of rebounds.

And although Carey Jr. has already proven to have a nice stroke from beyond the arc that May never showed in college or in the NBA, May did have an accurate jumper extending out to about 18 feet; besides, chances are Carey Jr. will end up leaving most of the outside shooting from Duke big men to fellow incoming five-star Matthew Hurt.

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For those who have yet to watch clips of Carey Jr. — or for those who need a dose of Dukie highlights to fully recover from this article’s previous video — take a gander:

Finally, as one can see from the mixtape, like May, Carey Jr. has a face that is sometimes as jolly as Santa Claus and other times as mean as the Grinch. Or put another way, in addition to their body types, both May and Carey Jr. share the expressions of a heavyweight boxer (or an offensive lineman, which makes sense considering Carey Jr. is the namesake son of an NFL tackle).

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And during heavyweight bouts between Duke and UNC next season, Carey Jr. may exorcise any lingering demons from what May did on that dreadful day in 2005 by going to work to the extent May did that day. Of course, the Tar Heels’ current director of basketball operations also had a 23-point, 18-rebound stat line in Durham that season — fortunately, though, that performance came in a losing effort.

Joining Carey Jr. and Hurt next season as Duke freshmen will be two four-stars: small forward Wendell Moore and shooting guard Cassius Stanley. The class ranks No. 4 in the nation, per 247Sports, and a Blue Devil starting lineup showcasing all four freshmen is not out of the question.

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Dream scenario: All four become instigators of Tar Heel tears.

dark. Next. Three reasons Duke sweeps UNC next season

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball recruiting updates, analyses, opinions, and predictions.