4. Confidence rising
Except for a couple of hiccups, center Vernon Carey Jr. has looked self-assured at the college level from Day One, which is rarely the case for rookie big men. His averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game are a testament to his sheer power, buttery touch, deft footwork, and positive attitude.
On his current pace, with 12 in the books, by the time the season is over — likely marking the end of his career in Durham before potentially becoming a 2020 lottery pick — Carey Jr.’s double-double count will likely only trail the 22 of former one-and-one Marvin Bagley III on the list of the all-time most by Duke basketball freshmen.
As for Carey Jr.’s fellow Blue Devils, first, there’s now no doubt about Tre Jones. Clutch performances aside, per a tweet from the official Twitter account for Duke basketball stats, the sophomore co-captain is the only ACC player among the top 10 in the conference in all of the following: eighth in points per game at 15.5, ninth in field goal percentage at 43.4, second in assists per game at 6.6, fourth in steals per game at 1.9, and third in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.3.
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Scrolling through the roster, several Blue Devils stand out for excelling at times due to ever-growing confidence levels. Wendell Moore should obviously be better off as a result of his game-winning efforts at UNC. Cassius Stanley’s wings seem to grow after each of his jet-like flights and Zion-ish flushes.
Sophomore forward Joey Baker has proven his ability to contribute by knocking down open looks with his smooth stroke, creating other scoring opportunities with his strong drives, and generating team energy with his heart-filled vibes. Though senior co-captain Jack White has seen fewer minutes as of late and is riding a three-game scoreless streak, in general, he has gradually dusted away the cobwebs from his shooting hand, which went dormant via 28 consecutive misses from deep midway through last season.
Sticking with the theme of improved shooting and wrapping up this article with the most surprising individual confidence boost this season, let’s give junior guard Jordan Goldwire the credit he deserves. The former three-star recruit, who came to Durham with little in terms of weapons on offense, has suddenly added a reliable 3-point shot to his role — which has always included superlative perimeter defense.
After going 3-for-25 (12.0 percent) from downtown last season, Goldwire is 14-for-36 (38.9 percent) this season, including a 3-for-3 clip against Florida State (on his way to a career-high 13 points) and a 10-for-20 stretch across the past 11 games.
Altogether, the Blue Devils appear on track to enter the spring in top form. So before it’s too late, it’s time for Duke basketball faithful to adequately appreciate what has the makings of something great.