Small-ball lineups might indeed be a winning strategy for the 2020-21 Duke basketball team, yet more big men than most expected months ago are likely to be on the roster.
The Duke basketball coaches have landed six high school seniors, all top 50 on the 247Sports 2020 Composite: Paul VI (Va.) point guard Jeremy Roach, Whitney Young (Ill.) combo guard D.J. Steward, Nicolet (Wis.) small forward Jalen Johnson, Trinity Episcopal (Va.) power forward Henry Coleman, Huntington Prep (W.Va.) power forward Jaemyn Brakefield, and IMG (Fla.) center Mark Williams.
And the efforts look to be, at least for the time being, 100 percent complete — which makes sense seeing that freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. is the only scholarship underclassman who seems like an absolute lock to leave after this season.
If the other eight were all to stick around — definitely don’t count on it, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility — then the Blue Devils would already theoretically be over the 13-scholarship limit. No need to fret, though, for end-of-bench junior guard Mike Buckmire surely understands the free ride he earned this year does not guarantee the same gift next year.
But even in this ideal scenario, would one center (Williams) be adequate? The quick answer is no. That said, recognize that one signee may no longer have the correct position next to his name.
See, 247Sports now lists Coleman — who ranks No. 44 among his peers and has a tight bond with Williams — as a 6-foot-8, 240-pound four-star. When Duke landed the chiseled athlete’s commitment in September, the same site contended he was 6-6, 190.
Please, just look for yourselves at Coleman’s arms, shoulders, and thighs from his most recent YouTube highlights. Someone’s obviously been living in the weight room:
Plus, the word on the street is that Coleman — a noted leader, nice guy, and workhorse — could still be growing vertically. And there’s little doubt that a player with his positive attitude will do whatever it takes to fulfill whatever role the team needs; in fact, one has to wonder if his bodybuilding is his way of getting a headstart on doing exactly that.
Assuming the measurements are accurate, Coleman is now nearly the same size that Duke basketball paint legends Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer were at his age. Granted, Brand could touch his kneecaps with his fingertips without bending over, and Boozer boasted remarkable strength in addition to interior footwork superior to 99 percent of teenagers who came along before or after him.
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Also, Coleman does appear to have enough perimeter skills to play on the wing. As noted above, however, if Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t opt to snatch a grad transfer or lower-ranked 2020 big after seeing what happens with his current underclassmen in the spring, one can imagine the Richmond native will gladly step up to battle the 7-foot-1, 225-pound Williams in practice next season and share time with his buddy at center during games.
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Though neither Coleman nor Williams is likely to produce on offense anywhere close to the same degree as Carey Jr. has this season, they could prove to be better defenders in the post. Yes, they would undoubtedly experience some teachable moments. Yet by March, with some inspired learning along the way, they’d probably provide at least a solid force as a pair.
Besides, except possibly the small-ball approach, no better options appear to be on the table at the moment for Coach K. Therefore, Coleman and Williams may have no other choice but to grow up on the fly in order to hold down the fort down low as Duke basketball rookie centers (no matter what the roster lists them as).