Bobby Hurley, Jason Williams, Jon Scheyer, Tyus Jones.
That is the list of point guards who have won national championships at Duke and also doubles as a list of some of the best point guards in school history. Typically for the Blue Devils to compete on a championship level, they need an elite point guard. The man tasked with that responsibility this year is freshman Trevon Duval.
The New Castle, Del., native comes into the program as the top-ranked point guard recruit in the country and brings a combination of athleticism and vision to the court that few players can match.
“He’s an animal,” fellow freshman Gary Trent Jr. said at Duke’s media day. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with a lot of great players. He’s so dynamic in everything he can do. He can bring the ball up, he crashes, he bangs down low very hard, he can finish above the rim and he has a very nice midrange game.”
This sort of talent will be prized by head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had to go much of the last two seasons without a standout point guard following Jones’ jump to the NBA after his freshman season. Derryck Thornton reclassified to join the Blue Devils the following year, but struggled to adjust to the college game and wound up transferring to Southern California after the season.
Last season, much of Duke’s offensive stagnation stemmed from its lack of a true point guard—natural shooting guards Grayson Allen and Matt Jones shared the responsibility along with freshman combo guard Frank Jackson. This led to issues initiating the offense and ultimately resulted in lots of isolations for Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard instead of crisp ball movement.
Duval aims to change that by focusing on distributing and making plays for those around him.
“[I see myself as a] playmaker,” Duval said. “Especially on this team, a playmaker for everyone on this team, get everyone shots, make everyone around me better. Hit the open shot, score when I can.”
But on a team with almost no upperclassmen who have significant game experience, the freshman will be thrust into a significant role from day one. Point guard is a difficult position to master at the college level, especially in Duke’s motion heavy offense, and Duval will not have someone to show him the ropes firsthand like Jones had with Quinn Cook.
This means that there may be some growing pains for the young guard, and the Blue Devil staff is trying to ease Duval into the minutiae of the offense so he is not overwhelmed and can let his physical gifts take over.
“Trevon will help us a lot,” Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. “He’s talented and really gifted. At the same time, he has a lot to learn and I think he knows that. I think it’s one of the reasons he wanted to come here, is that he knows he has a lot to learn, but he’s been a great listener, he’s been a really good worker.”
The hope for the Blue Devils is that Duval’s superior athletic ability and knowledge will allow him to hold his own on the defensive end, where Duke had trouble stopping opposing point guards last season. Most notably, Dennis Smith Jr. shredded the Blue Devil defense to the tune of 32 points and six assists.
But the reason Duval came to Durham was because he wanted to lead one of the most potent offenses in college basketball with weapons like Allen as well as freshmen Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.
“Marvin has impressed me the most,” Duval said. “He’s very athletic, he runs hard, plays hard all the time. Grayson has been shooting the cover off the ball these last few days [as well].”
All of the pieces are there for a devastating fast-break offense, with Duval being one of the best players in the country in the open floor as evidenced by his spectacular self alley-oop during Countdown to Craziness. Coupled with the athleticism of Bagley, Carter, Allen and Trent, Duval’s awareness could spell trouble for Duke’s opponents in the open court.
Ultimately, Duke’s lack of a point guard was part of the preseason No. 1 team’s undoing last year. That problem has been addressed during the offseason, with the staff bringing the top floor general in the nation to Duke. The ceiling of this Blue Devil team, also ranked No. 1 overall entering the season, will hinge on Duval and how quickly he can adapt to the college game.
“As time goes on, I’m going to get better,” Duval said. “I’m learning a lot from Grayson, Coach and a lot of the older guys, so a couple of weeks from now, I’m going to be a lot better and smarter with the ball.”
Ben Leonard contributed reporting.
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