Entering the 2013-14 season with a roster stocked with athletic guards and wings, Duke’s lone question mark will be a gaping hole in the post left by the departure of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.
But Amile Jefferson thinks he might be big enough now to fill the void.
Jefferson arrived in Durham at the beginning of his freshman season with just 195 pounds to support his 6-foot-8 frame, but he has put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle since—an addition that Jefferson hopes could land him a spot as the Blue Devils’ starting center next season.
“I think Amile can play any number of positions. He’s a guy that can play both frontcourt positions, he can play on the wing, he’s a basketball player,” associate head coach Steve Wojciechowki said. “He’s gotten better from a physical standpoint, he’s gotten better from a skill standpoint and I have no doubt that he’s going to be an outstanding player here at Duke.”
The Philadelphia native started seven games for Duke last season while Ryan Kelly nursed an injured foot. Averaging 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in less than 13 minutes per game on the season, Jefferson was often relied on by Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski for his defensive and rebounding abilities.
These are skills Jefferson said he thinks could help him crack the starting lineup in his second year as a Blue Devil.
“I think I’m definitely capable of doing it,” Jefferson said. “Anything the team needs is what I want to do.... We’re going to need someone that can rebound offensively and defensively, defend the post and just be a real tough player for us.”
Jefferson said that he weighed 214 pounds when he arrived Wednesday for his sophomore season at Duke. His goal is to enter the season at 220 pounds, giving him the size to compete with larger defenders down low.
It was a change that his teammates noticed instantly.
“Amile got big,” redshirt sophomore forward Rodney Hood said. “I didn’t recognize him when I first saw him.”
Although Jefferson is slightly undersized to play the center position, his 7-foot-1 wingspan helps alleviate a height disadvantage on both ends of the floor.
Luckily for Duke, this may be the perfect year to be undersized in the post in the ACC. Thanks to the departure of Maryland’s Alex Len, Miami’s Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson and N.C. State’s Richard Howell and CJ Leslie for the NBA, North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo is one of the only returning post threats in the conference—he measures at just 6-foot-9.
On a Blue Devil squad that is likely to feature guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon and forwards Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker in what could be a dangerously athletic starting lineup next season, Jefferson is likely to compete with 6-foot-11 center Marshall Plumlee and senior Josh Hairston for Duke’s final starting spot.
Jefferson said that he especially looks forward to competing with Plumlee in practice once the center recovers from his offseason foot surgery.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jefferson said. “Marshall is a great player He’s coming along well since his surgery. It’s going to be great for us to bang down there and make each other better.”
In addition to bringing an additional 20 pounds of muscle back to school with him this year, Jefferson also said he has a renewed sense of confidence heading into his sophomore season, something that he thinks could help him become more of a threat on the offensive end of the floor as well.
“I’ve been feeling really comfortable shooting that 15-foot jump shot,” Jefferson said.
Although Krzyzewski has said that he will feature a number of lineups this season that basketball’s traditionalists would likely deem to be “unconventional,” he understands the importance of having a bigger sophomore big man.
“He’s just going to keep getting bigger and stronger,” Krzyzewski said. “I think he can be a very important piece for us because he’s a good basketball player.”