In the past two seasons, Duke has been able to develop an abundance of riches in the backcourt—and quickly. 

Jayson Tatum and his smooth game, Brandon Ingram’s gangly but potent scoring stroke, Grayson Allen’s toughness in the 2015 NCAA tournament and Luke Kennard’s effortless shooting stroke have all sprouted quickly for the Blue Devils. 

But head coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t been able to get a young big man to stick. 

Chase Jeter struggled and scampered for the desert, Harry Giles’ knees couldn’t cooperate and Marques Bolden looked lost for most of last season. Now, a team thin on backcourt depth will need a bigger and somehow, even younger—but uber-talented—team to develop in a hurry. 

“We’re a much different team than last year in that we’re big. We’re very big and athletic, and we normally have a plethora of perimeter guys, shooters and that. We don’t have that many,” Krzyzewski said at Duke’s media day a month ago. “That doesn’t mean we can’t shoot, but we’re not the outside shooting force that we’ve been in these previous years. Hopefully, we can be an outstanding rebounding team and defensive team and still play up and down the court.”

Now, the combination of No. 5 overall recruit and 6-foot-10 power forward Wendell Carter Jr. and No. 1 overall recruit Marvin Bagley III will try to buck that trend for Duke, while Bolden will try to grow quickly after last year’s dud. Sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier could also work his way into a significant rotation role for the Blue Devils, who have the most post depth they have had in recent memory, especially taking into consideration junior center Antonio Vrankovic. 

But as Duke fans have seen in recent years, talent has been no guarantee of success for big men—Krzyzewski says frontcourt players have it much harder in adjusting to college basketball.

“The learning curve for a big guy is much harder, basically because of the physicality and athleticism of the college game,” Krzyzewski said at ACC media day. “It’s not even close to high school, where a perimeter guy has a much easier transition. In high school, if Wendell did everything we asked him to do now, he’d foul out quickly in every game.”

At a muscular 259 pounds, Carter has almost 20 pounds on Giles at the same listed height. At the Blue-White scrimmage, he was a physical presence inside with 11 points, going shot-for-shot with Bagley—one of the best recruits in a generation. He can also shoot from the perimeter—he scored the first points of the Blue-White scrimmage on a 3-pointer. 

With his size and physicality, he can be a potent post scorer—if he develops quickly like the coaching staff hopes. 

“I need to run. The game is a lot faster than high school,” Carter said at Duke’s media day. “You’ve just got to go out there and play. Don’t overthink the game, just play. The ball is going to find a way.... We’ve just got to learn how to make it work.”

And somehow, a talent like Carter is flying under the radar in his own frontcourt, thanks to Bagley. 

The nation’s No. 1 overall recruit reclassified from the class of 2018 to 2017, giving up much of his summer doing schoolwork in order to graduate high school and become eligible to play college basketball. Bagley, who said he knew Duke was the place for him after receiving an offer in ninth grade, has some analysts saying he would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft if he was eligible. 

A 6-foot-11 forward, Bagley has a combination of athleticism, shooting range and size that makes scouts rave—if it can all come together. Since he committed to the Blue Devils in August and wasn’t officially ruled eligible until September, he missed some practice time with the team—something Krzyzewski isn’t worried about. 

Allen, back as the team’s captain, echoed Krzyzewski’s sentiments about Bagley and Carter. 

“They’re extremely easy to play with,” Allen said. “Marvin and Wendell can do so many things on the court.” 

But it won’t just be Carter and Bagley hogging all the post minutes—Krzyzewski hinted at a potential lineup that could include not twin, but triplet towers—Carter, Bagley and either Bolden or DeLaurier. 

Allen said Bolden, who struggled through injuries last year, has honed his shooting touch. The early results on that aren’t promising—he made just 2-of-6 field goals in the Blue-White scrimmage, including an ugly missed 3-point attempt—but again, it’s early. 

The big lineup could lend itself well to a zone defense, something Krzyzewski hasn’t been able use much in recent years. 

But they aren’t just big—especially when factoring in DeLaurier, who possesses lightning speed, even at 6-foot-10. 

“It’s amazing to play with big guys that run the way we do, up and down,” Bagley said. “We’re going to shock some people. We have a good chance of winning it all. We have to play together and play as one.”

DeLaurier played sparingly last season, but didn’t fail to make an impact when he got a chance, shooting 9-of-11 from the field and pulling down 23 rebounds in 85 minutes on the floor. He was a beast on the boards in the Blue-White Scrimmage, pulling down nine rebounds in just 15 minutes. 

But the sophomore forward figures to earn his first meaningful minutes this year, even amidst a crowded frontcourt. At Duke’s media day Oct. 3, Krzyzewski said DeLaurier was in a small group of players that could start, and would earn significant minutes if a game were played at that time. 

With the help of Vrankovic in the post and a leader like Allen, Duke will certainly have the most talent in the frontcourt that it has in a long time. But whether that talent develops remains to be seen. 

“You have a big team but an athletic team. I think this is going to be a neat process—hopefully it’s a neat process—in figuring out what we can do. I think this is very much going to be a developing team,” Krzyzewski said. “When I say that, it’s not a cop-out. We’re supposed to win right away and so be it. But we’ll be better in November, December. I think we’re a team that can get good if we stay healthy by midseason.”

Mitchell Gladstone, Andrew Donohue and Hank Tucker contributed reporting.