Obvious leader and star emerge as Duke basketball survives late scare

Duke basketball (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports) /

A clear leader and star have emerged for the Duke basketball program following its season-opening victory.

The Duke basketball team was finally back out on the court after one of the longest offseasons in program history, and it didn’t take long to see who the next star will be for the Blue Devils.

Fans have been treated to watching the likes of Marvin Bagley, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Vernon Carey Jr., among others, as freshman standouts for the Blue Devils. Now, the next star has arrived in Jalen Johnson.

Johnson was sensational in his collegiate debut with 19 points and 19 rebounds on perfect 8-for-8 shooting, making his lone 3-point attempt and both of his free throws.

The freshman wing also added five assists and four blocks, but the one negative was his seven turnovers on the afternoon as Duke needed to withstand a late second-half surge from Coppin State to win, 81-71.

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Perhaps Johnson also needs to be more assertive when on offense, only taking the fourth-most shots on the team, behind DJ Steward, Matthew Hurt, and Wendell Moore.

Jalen Johnson is the best player for the Blue Devils, by far, after their season-opening victory. The team must continue to feed him the basketball.

Steward was also outstanding coming off the bench, finishing his first college game with a team-high 24 points plus nine rebounds, two assists, a steal, and block on 10-of-18 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 from 3-point range.

Leaders also emerge for the Duke basketball team

Prior to the season, many expected the returning players, Moore, Hurt, Jordan Goldwire, and Joey Baker, who all started on Saturday, to step up into a leadership role for the Blue Devils. But head coach Mike Krzyzewski recognized other players in his postgame press conference.

Following Duke’s victory, the Hall of Famer praised freshman point guard Jeremy Roach and Steward for their leadership.

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Clearly, it’s good that young players are stepping up into a leadership role, but it’s not a great sign that the head coach wants to talk about two first-year players for being leaders rather than the four returnees.

Hopefully, after knocking off any potential rust in their first game of the season, the Blue Devils will be thrown into the deep end of the pool when hosting No. 13 Michigan State on Tuesday, December 1 at 7:30 pm EST (ESPN) in the Champions Classic.

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