On a roster filled with height and out-of-state imports, a 5-foot-9 point guard and the lone North Carolinian on the team might be the piece Duke needs to put the team over the top come March.

Freshman Mikayla Boykin, the centerpiece of a top-10 recruiting class for the Blue Devils, adds another scoring option to a Duke team looking to make the Final Four this season. Last year, the Blue Devils’ offense was heavily reliant on top scorers Lexie Brown, Rebecca Greenwell and Kyra Lambert. But after Lambert tore her ACL in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Duke could not get the lid off the basket, shooting just 38.8 percent from the field in an upset loss against Oregon in the Round of 32.  

One piece the Blue Devils could have used to win was another player who not only could score in bunches, but could get her teammates involved as well. Boykin embodies all Duke needs to fill this role, especially while Lambert is still sidelined indefinitely with her injury.  

“Mikayla has earned her minutes and continues to do so with her work ethic and of course her skillset,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. 

On a Blue Devil squad already loaded with talent, Boykin’s own exceptional stats justify why she already had a starting spot in the team’s lone exhibition game Sunday night. At Clinton High School, Boykin averaged 37.4 points, 6.5 assists, 13.7 rebounds and 5.6 steals per game. The reigning North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, Boykin’s ability to do everything on the court and her natural leadership helped her lead her team to a state championship. ESPN ranked her No. 21 overall and No. 7 for two-way guards in her class. 

Although many high school stars struggle to translate their skills to the college level, Boykin has already shown that she is more comfortable with the adjustment. In Duke’s trip to Italy in August, Boykin led the team in assists with 15 in three games and shot an efficient 63.0 percent from the field. Her play and reputation earned her a spot on the ACC’s preseason Newcomer Watch List.  

“[Winning the nomination] is a great feeling,” Boykin said. “I feel like it’s just going to motivate me to go even harder in practice...and push my teammates to play better as well.” 

But Boykin’s first impression overseas did not carry over to Duke’s Blue-White scrimmage, as she only scored three points in almost two halves of play. McCallie hopes that Boykin can learn from the experience and stay confident on the floor for the rest of the season.

“Mikayla needs to influence other players,” McCallie said. “She needs to be vocal, to be demanding as a point guard, and to be out there and run the show.” 

Boykin did not have much time to show improvement in Sunday’s exhibition against Alaska Anchorage, taking a hard fall in the first half and sitting out the entire second half with an ice pack around her knee. But all indications are that the injury is not serious, and she will be ready to contribute before long.

“My ultimate goal is to win the national championship,” Boykin said. “One thing I want to focus in on is building my leadership role and trying to become a better communicator with my teammates.” 

Boykin will also be molding her role alongside two of the best and most experienced backcourt players in the country in graduate students Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell. Learning how to lead from two preseason All-Americans will only sharpen her own leadership skills when it’s her time to take over in the future. Greenwell and Brown have high praise for the rookie and see a lot of potential in her game. 

“She’s not shy and she’s very aggressive out there on the court,” Greenwell said. “I think that’s something you need as a freshman.” 

In Boykin, Duke now has a versatile point guard willing to play hard and give the Blue Devils even more depth at the position this year and for the rest of this decade, especially with Greenwell and Brown on their way out after this season. If Boykin can live up to her full potential as a scorer and a facilitator, she could be the weapon that finally takes Duke back to the Final Four.

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.