On a Duke team that features two preseason All-ACC selections and an incoming freshman who is the reigning North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, it is easy to keep the spotlight on the team’s most well-known stars.
But three players don’t make a team, and one of the most intriguing elements of this year’s group will be the supporting cast. Leaonna Odom returns after an impressive freshman campaign, and is joined by fellow returners Haley Gorecki and Faith Suggs. These three players, as well as well as freshman Jayda Adams, can and will likely see time on the wings this season, particularly while junior guard Kyra Lambert recovers from an ACL tear suffered in last year’s NCAA tournament.
This group, along with several others in the post, will be just as key for the Blue Devils as any of their “stars.”
“On any day, things can change and grow. Everybody on our team has a chance to play more minutes and that type of thing, but it has to start in practice, and it has to carry over to games,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I’m not sure which way we’re going to go relative to those subs. As a coach, we’re generally looking to get the defense and rebounding up and then let the offense kind of go as much as you can, so the important thing is that we don’t lose anything in intensity, immediacy and all those things when we sub.”
One of the most dynamic players of this group is Odom, who started in half of Duke’s games last season and will figure to be a regular starter in her second year with the program. Her much-anticipated freshman campaign did not disappoint, as she scored just more than eight points per game in 23.1 minutes per contest. -
Odom, who McCallie says is “by far” the most athletic player on the team, is particularly impressive because of her versatility. At 6-foot-2, she has the height to hold her ground in the post against bigger opposing forwards, recording 32 blocked shots last year, yet is also quick enough to spread the floor offensively, though she is not much of 3-point shooter.
“She can play one through four. She’s got some natural gifts that she’s got to apply her work ethic to meet that natural gift, because she does some things on the floor that most women can’t do,” McCallie said. “The way she elevates and the way she plays, the shots that she’s blocked and what not. She’s terrific, a sophomore, much more experienced, much more comfortable with both positions now, so we’re really excited for her.”
Defensively, Odom will be especially key for Duke in the absence of Lambert, who started all but one game for the Blue Devils and was was often one of the most energetic defenders on the team last year. Without Lambert on the floor, Boykin will likely see extended time at point guard alongside Brown and Greenwell in the starting lineup, opening up more opportunities for guards to work in off the bench.
Gorecki and Adams are the next two guards in line for McCallie to sub in her backcourt rotation. Gorecki, who took a medical redshirt last season for a lingering hip injury, will provide experience off the bench for Duke, as well as a passable shooting option to fill in for Brown and Greenwell, both of whom are deadly from beyond the arc. As a freshman, Gorecki averaged 4.5 points in 14.1 minutes per game, though to be a truly credible threat she will have to improve her career 22.2 percent 3-point percentage.
Her counterpart off the bench is Adams, a less-heralded recruit than Boykin but nevertheless a potentially valuable reserve. The freshman from Irvine, Calif., will need to learn on the fly if she is to become a regular contributor, but paired with Gorecki, she could help add important depth to a group that is already missing one of its key leaders on the court.
With the addition of Adams, Boykin and fellow freshmen Jade Williams and Madison Treece, there are significant opportunities for young players to be involved from the get-go for Duke. For a team that will need production from its freshmen, particularly off the bench, the team’s trip to Italy in August may prove to be critical as its development accelerates during the season.
“We have a lot of young faces, so they have a lot to look up to. The biggest thing they had was coming in and going to Italy, and being able to get some games under their belt,” Suggs said. “They’re still learning but they’ve had those games under their belt, so they’re picking up really fast.”
Suggs is the final returner, along with Lambert and Odom, who saw time at the wing last season, coming off the bench in 32 games. The daughter of a former NFL safety, Suggs has many of the same athletic abilities as Odom, and like her younger teammate can also be versatile on the floor and spend time at the forward and guard positions.
Besides the wings, the rotation behind starting center Erin Mathias in the post will largely be filled with newcomers as well. Treece and Williams both have the potential to provide big minutes for the Blue Devils, as each has the height and rebounding prowess needed to replace Mathias down low. Redshirt Senior Bego Faz Davalos, a transfer from Fresno State, also could fill in for Mathias or play alongside her in a tall lineup. Davalos is the active NCAA leader in blocks, rebounds and double-doubles.
Still more than a month away from conference play, McCallie was quick to point out that her rotations are far from set in stone. But with a range of options available to her and Lambert still sidelined, the supporting cast for Duke’s more established stars will take center stage early and often.
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.
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