Pacifying the abundance of talent will prove a challenge for Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski next season, but who should get the starting nod at each position?
There are six scholarship freshmen heading to Durham this fall. There is also a graduate transfer traveling south from New York City. And there are four returning Duke basketball players who have seen significant minutes on Coach K Court. There is depth at each position on the floor, so decisions will abound for Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants.
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In the backcourt, returning senior guard and likely captain Jordan Goldwire will compete with incoming recruit Jeremy Roach out of Paul Catholic VI in Fairfax, Va., at the point guard position. Sophomore Wendell Moore Jr., who could prove to be a defensive mismatch on the perimeter, will likely be challenged at shooting guard by freshman combo guard DJ Steward from Whitney Young High School in Chicago.
The competition in the frontcourt will be even more contentious. Returning shooting forwards Joey Baker and Matthew Hurt will likely be pushed by newcomer Jalen Johnson, ranked No. 11 nationally out of Nicolet High School in Wisconsin. A pair of uber-talented freshmen will compete at power forward this season. Both 6-foot-8 newcomers Jaemyn Brakefield from Huntington Prep in West Virginia and Henry Coleman out of Trinity Episcopal School in Virginia will vie for minutes around the rim.
Last, at the traditional center position, two players new to the Blue Devils will compete for time. Graduate transfer Patrick Tape from Columbia University and 7-foot rookie Mark Williams from IMG Academy in Florida are Krzyzewski’s primary options at the five-spot.
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The Duke basketball staff will certainly try different combinations of those eleven until he believes he has found his optimal rotation for March. For now, we can only speculate as to how the starting five will shake out in Durham. Let’s begin with the point guard position...
STARTING POINT GUARD: Jeremy Roach or Jordan Goldwire?
The two candidates for one of the most prestigious positions across all college sports, Duke basketball point guard for Mike Krzyzewski, are 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior Jordan Goldwire and 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman Jeremy Roach.
In just over 24 minutes per game last season, Goldwire averaged 4.7 points, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals. He notched an unreal 2.5 assist to turnover ratio as a junior.
Roach is a five-star Gatorade Player of the Year from Virginia. During his senior season, the No. 22 nationally ranked recruit averaged 17.9 points, 5.2 boards, 4.8 assists, and 2.9 steals per game. The freshman has great handles and vision. He is not afraid to take defenders off the dribble with a killer crossover, and he can finish through contact at the rim.
STARTER: Goldwire has the experience of three seasons of competitive ACC basketball. However, Roach is just too talented to leave on the bench. While the senior may be atop the depth chart in October when practice begins, the freshman should have the ball in his hands when the Blue Devils tip against Michigan State in November.
Let’s consider Roach’s backcourt mate next...
STARTING SHOOTING GUARD: DJ Steward or Wendell Moore?
While many, including Jeremy Roach, may rotate to the shooting guard position, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke basketball staff have two primary choices at the backcourt spot.
Wendell Moore decided to return to Durham for his sophomore season. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound slasher has size and athleticism. If he is tasked with manning the off-guard position, then he will prove to be a defensive nightmare for opposing coaches. Per 40 minutes of play last season, Moore averaged 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.5 steals.
The other option at the two-guard position is freshman combo guard DJ Steward. The five-star recruit from Chicago is smaller than Moore at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds. The Prep Hoops Illinois Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American is ranked No. 25 nationally by the 247Sports Composite. Steward is athletic and looks to create his own shot off the dribble.
STARTER: While he needs to improve upon his 21.1 shooting percentage from beyond the arc in his second collegiate year, Moore should get the nod at shooting guard over his younger and smaller counterpart.
Roach and Moore complete the backcourt. Let’s now turn our attention to the three frontcourt positions...
STARTING SMALL FORWARD: Jalen Johnson, Matthew Hurt, or Joey Baker?
The small forward (or shooting forward) position may perhaps be the most contentious in fall practice. Junior Joey Baker, sophomore Matthew Hurt, and freshman Jalen Johnson all have the pedigree to start.
Baker is a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward who has shot 39.7 percent from distance for his career in Durham. In 28 games as a sophomore, Baker averaged 5.0 points and 0.9 rebounds in just over 12 minutes per contest.
Rumors swirled that Hurt flirted with a transfer for several weeks following the 2019-20 season; however, he ultimately decided to return to the Duke basketball program for his second year. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound rising sophomore started 22 of 31 games last season and averaged 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor.
Johnson, the top-ranked of the six recruits heading to Durham, is a polished 6-foot-8, 215-pound scorer and creator. In 33 games played across his junior and senior years for Nicolet High School, Johnson averaged a double-double at 21.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest. The No. 1 prospect out of the state of Wisconsin also added 5.8 assists per game over the last two seasons.
STARTER: Although Baker’s shooting percentage is promising and Hurt has the most in-game experience, Johnson's ability to create his shot on the perimeter or take a defender off the dribble to the rim give him a clear advantage at the shooting forward position.
The freshman will be joined in the frontcourt by one of two newcomers at power forward...
STARTING POWER FORWARD: Jaemyn Brakefield or Henry Coleman?
Brakefield is a 6-foot-8, 215-pound three-time Gatorade Player of the Year from West Virginia. He averaged 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a senior. Jerry Meyer, the director of basketball scouting at 247Sports, evaluated him as a "smooth athlete...skilled lefty...can stretch a defense...adequate handler and passer...good rebounder and defender...should develop into a first-round draft selection."
Coleman rounds out Duke’s recruiting class, which sits No. 3 on the 247Sports 2020 Team Rankings. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward from Richmond, Va., played for Team Loaded VA on the Adidas circuit and averaged over 16 points and six rebounds per game. He is a big, physical forward with quick feet and above average leaping ability.
STARTER: This will be a competition to watch once Mike Krzyzewski’s 41st Duke basketball squad opens practice this fall. Brakefield should be the starter. But count on Coleman to see solid minutes off the bench.
Three freshmen crack the starting five. And there are two more newcomers to watch at the center position for the Blue Devils...
STARTING CENTER: Mark Williams or Patrick Tape?
Although the traditional center position may be manned by one or more of the aforementioned forwards, one of two newcomers to Durham will likely get their chance at the starting spot.
Patrick Tape, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound transfer from Columbia University, averaged 11.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game two years ago for the Lions. The Charlotte, N.C., native also shot 61.3 percent from the field for his career and has notched over a block per game across three seasons in New York.
He will be competing for minutes inside against McDonald’s High School All-American and 7-footer Mark Williams out of IMG Academy in Florida. Williams, whose sister Elizabeth also suited up for the Blue Devils before heading to the WNBA in Atlanta, is an excellent defender and rim protector. He is very long and extremely athletic for a player of his size. Not opposed to stepping out beyond the arc, he will be a matchup problem for conference opponents.
STARTER: Although it is tough to overlook such athleticism in a 7-footer, Tape gets the edge here based on his experience at the collegiate level. The graduate transfer, along with sophomore Wendell Moore, will provide the steadying presence their three freshmen teammates will rely upon as starters in Duke blue.
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