Duke basketball’s top 10 role players of the last decade

Duke basketball (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
10 of 11
Amile Jefferson
Amile Jefferson (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The best Duke basketball role players since 2010: Amile Jefferson

2012-17. Amile Jefferson. 434. Forward. 2. player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

Amile Jefferson was the consummate role player and felt like the key to Duke’s team every year he played. Jefferson played during a Duke basketball era where size and inside scoring was extremely limited. Jefferson was more a four coming out of high school but had to play the five almost every single year.

Amile Jefferson made his introduction to the college basketball world during the Round of 32 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Jefferson stifled Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who at the time was one of the best scorers in college basketball. From that point on, Jefferson became a key to Duke’s success over the next five years.

During his sophomore season, Duke was ultra-thin in the frontcourt. Jefferson was forced to play out of position at the center spot the entire year. He did more than just hold his own. He emerged as Duke’s only rim protector and only post defender.

Jefferson then became a captain the next season in 2014-15 when Duke won its fifth national title. He started that year in the starting lineup because Jahlil Okafor’s arrival finally allowed Jefferson to move back to his more natural position. About midway through the year, Jefferson was replaced in the starting lineup by Matt Jones to free up more space for Okafor down low.

Jefferson played well in his role off the bench that year, bringing energy, rebounding, and rim protection. Amile Jefferson was known for his “sneaky” post moves. He had great footwork in the post and utilized ball fakes and head fakes effectively. Jefferson was not the type of guy to back you down under the rim and dunk on your head. However, his high basketball IQ, soft touch, and creativity around the rim allowed him to be a solid offensive contributor throughout his career.

In the 2015-16 season, Jefferson went down with a foot injury just nine games into the season. There was some speculation that Jefferson would return later in the year, but it never happened. Duke sorely missed the contributions of Jefferson that year. Duke struggled all year on the glass, creating second-chance opportunities, and protecting the paint. Duke had absolutely no frontcourt depth after Jefferson got hurt, and it left a huge void in the Blue Devils rotation.

Fortunately for Jefferson, he was awarded a fifth year of eligibility. Once again, Jefferson was forced to play out of position. Harry Giles and Marques Bolden were expected to help bolster the Blue Devils frontcourt, but both suffered injuries in the preseason and never quite found their groove that year.  Jefferson still had an extremely productive senior year. He scored close to 11 points per game and pulled down nearly 8.5 rebounds per game while doing a great job protecting the rim with almost two blocks per game, second-best in the ACC.

Also, during that same season (2016-17), Jefferson was sidelined for a couple of games with an injured foot. Duke subsequently lost the two games that Jefferson missed, as the Blue Devils got eaten up on the inside by both Miami and Louisville. That two-game stretch really highlighted the significance of Jefferson and the role he played. Duke had guys with more talent and ability that year, but Jefferson seemed like the one guy Duke couldn’t afford to lose.

One interesting stat I found about Amile Jefferson is that he played in 150 games, fourth-best in ACC history. He was a staple in the Duke basketball rotation every single year he played. He was rarely the leading scorer or the guy who grabbed the headlines. But Jefferson was consistent, reliable, and understood what he needed to do to help the team win. He also provided great leadership for the Blue Devils throughout his career, as he was a three-time team captain.

Amile Jefferson went undrafted in 2017 but earned a two-way contract with the Orlando Magic. He currently plays for the Lakeland Magic, their G-League affiliate.