Duke basketball: Why Coach K must redshirt one player this season

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Unless Duke basketball has plans to play 11 guys, a redshirt would be wise.

Would it be entertaining to see Mike Krzyzewski employ an 11-man rotation each and every game? Absolutely, for full-throttle Duke basketball is breathtaking just as a thought alone.

Well, there are exactly 11 on the 2020-21 roster worthy of regular action: Jordan Goldwire, Patrick Tape, Joey Baker, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, Jalen Johnson, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, and Mark Williams.

And it’s possible that each is indeed expecting no less than 10 minutes per game. So will such a fresh-legs approach actually happen?

Fat chance.

Krzyzewski’s 40 seasons at the helm in Durham have taught us that the number of Duke basketball players who are on the court for an average of 10 minutes per game across an entire season is never more than 10 — and sometimes as few as six.

ALSO READ: Ranking all 40 Duke teams under Coach K

To better understand what the “11th man” typically looks like under Coach K’s watch, consider Blue Devils this century who have finished a season 11th on the team in average minutes. The list of names includes the likes of Andy Means, Andy Borman, Patrick Davidson, Jordan Davidson, Todd Zafirovski, Alex Murphy, Nick Pagliuca, and Brennan Besser.

Who? Exactly. More times than not, such a player is a walk-on.

Yet as for those who wear the “11th man” tag while on scholarship, let’s just say it should never be a surprise if they transfer either during or after the season (see: Alex Murphy). And that, of course, has the potential to serve as one of the main ingredients to a recipe for disunity.

Granted, all the positive vibes emanating from the Duke basketball practice facilities are certainly encouraging at the moment. None of the returnees or newcomers have at all presented themselves as prima-donna threats.

Again, though, we’re all just judging from the snippets of scrimmages and whatnot that we’ve seen thus far. Remember, even Blue Devils are human. Egos. Hurt feelings. Flare-ups. Losses. Disappointments. Resentment. All are potential catalysts for an ugly outcome. Just like they are for the rest of us.

Plus, as all sports fans know, demeanors can quickly sour soon after a season’s curtain opens, once the reality kicks in that there can only be but so many stars in the show.

Furthermore, seeing that it’s highly improbable a full flock of Cameron Crazies will ever be in the stands to help the Blue Devils through the tough times, there’s really no telling what may happen the first time they get punched in the mouth inside Cameron Indoor Stadium — not to mention on the road or in a bubble somewhere.

However, all it would take is one Duke basketball saint to symbolize from the get-go, even if permanently from the bench, all that is unselfish, unified, and great about the 2020-21 Blue Devils. How so? By embracing a redshirt campaign when given these four reasons why:

  1. It would slightly increase the playing time for the top few weapons; after all, even just a 10-man rotation requires the 200 player minutes to be spread ultra-thin, often to the disservice of both the most elite individuals and the team as a whole.
  2. It could aid in the redshirt’s longterm personal development as both a baller and a student — maybe with the goal of a master’s degree.
  3. It would enhance one’s chances to reach Duke basketball fan-favorite status in the future (see: Justin Robinson), which could pay all sorts of dividends down the road.
  4. It should be, due to all that is 2020, as an ideal a year as any to redshirt. Look, the decision-makers have already made plans to cut the regular season down to 27 games; unlike fall sports, though, the cutbacks aren’t likely to warrant an extra year of eligibility for everyone.

But which of Duke basketball’s top 11 talents might be willing to redshirt?

OK, now for the difficult part, so much so that the mere act of choosing one of the 11 feels like a sin. Therefore, we must first give proper respect by laying out the evidence that all 11 at least show some potential for breakout individual campaigns:

  • Goldwire could be the nation’s most feared perimeter defender.
  • Tape, who already sat out a year at Columbia before transferring as a graduate, could turn out to be a seasoned force down low.
  • Baker could be a certified rainmaker from downtown.
  • Moore could provide a sweet mix of versatility and experience.
  • Hurt could have improved enough to be all that we thought he would be — and perhaps even more — when he arrived last year as a heralded five-star.
  • Any number in the rookie class, consisting of four five-stars and two four-stars, could be more than ready for the big stage in their own unique ways. Keep in mind, no member of the group ranks below No. 52 — a ranking that would represent an all-time prize for many programs — on the 247Sports 2020 Composite.

First, let’s eliminate from the list of potential redshirts all former five-star preps — Hurt, Moore, Roach, Steward, Johnson, Williams — because that won’t happen. Let’s also strike seniors from consideration; after all, Goldwire is too important as a defensive tone-setter and secondary ballhandler, while Tape is surely too important as one of only two players 6-foot-10 or taller.

Now, moving on to Brakefield, who finished high school with a four-star rating but was a five-star to start (and even as high as No. 2 on the composite the summer before his junior year). He’ll turn 20 in December. Adding in the possibility of his five-star version being on display, plus the fact the frontcourt may not be able to afford a redshirt, it’s hard to imagine the power forward sitting out.

One could say the same for Coleman, a physical forward tailor-made for dirty work. So it stands to reason he’ll be a key piece via a playing role. That said, his speeches and interviews alike make it clear he’s a unique soul with big-time goals, beyond just basketball, meaning he might want five years of a Duke education. Still, though, a redshirt isn’t likely considering the needs at his position.

That leaves us with Baker, who has struggled on the defensive end in his first two seasons despite his obvious floor-slapping energy. That energy has proven contagious in the past. During his freshman year, in which he sat most of the season thinking a redshirt season was in progress, his energy primarily came from the bench.

As a sophomore, Baker upped his game, at least on offense, by splashing 39.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. Now, factoring in that his lights-out shooting and offseason improvements could be a vital component to Duke this year — oops, almost forgot to mention the importance of his experience and leadership on such a youthful squad — there’s no way he’s redshirting, right?

Uggh, this is impossible. Ergo, the only solution is for Coach K to just break from tradition by playing all 11 a significant number of minutes in each and every game. That way, everyone should stay fresh, lively, and happy — Duke basketball fans included, one would think — thereby rendering this article irrelevant.

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