The biggest consequence of the one-and-done era—having to reset the starting lineup every season—is nothing new for the Blue Devils.
The need to find leadership amongst players who’ve combined for less than 10 career starts, however, marks uncharted territory.
Since the 2014-15 season—the unofficial start of Duke’s reliance on freshmen talent—the Blue Devils have had a constant stream of experienced, veteran starters ready to take the helm. Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Grayson Allen were already staples of their respective starting lineups and had been crucial role players in seasons prior.
But after losing all five starters to the NBA Draft—including Allen, last year’s sole captain—Duke’s leadership structure has a much different look this time around.
“[They] set a great example for me,” junior Javin DeLaurier said. “Those guys have talked to me a lot about really just trying to be a leader. I think myself and the rest of the upperclassmen are pretty prepared.”
DeLaurier and classmate Jack White were named captains for the 2018-19 Blue Devils last week. DeLaurier had the larger role of the two last season, earning five starts on the season while playing nearly 13 minutes a contest. The Shipman, Va., native has also emerged as one of Duke’s best defenders and become one of the team’s more vocal leaders.
In order for DeLaurier to take the next step as a player, though, he’ll need to continue to improve as an offensive threat. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged just 3.4 points per contest last season and has made just one of his nine career 3-point attempts. Although DeLaurier’s deficiencies have enabled defenses to focus on the other four players in the past, he seems to have made strides in that department during the offseason, showing his range during the Blue Devils’ exhibition slate.
“One of my biggest strengths is my talk and my voice, and being able to talk to these young guys and communicate makes things flow a little better when I’m on the court,” DeLaurier said of his impact on the team at Duke media day last month. “It might not be anything that I’m doing in particular, but if you help guys work as a unit, then everything’s going to look a lot better and everyone looks good.”
White is the more intriguing of the selections, after averaging less than six minutes per game and a mere 0.8 points per contest during the 2017-18 season. The choice of the Australian is especially interesting because Krzyzewski passed over a significant role player in junior Marques Bolden.
Bolden has played the most of the junior class throughout his career and is the Blue Devils’ largest interior presence entering the season. Krzyzewski seemed to take issue with the DeSoto, Texas, native’s performance during the Duke Canada Tour, benching Bolden midway through the series due to poor decision-making on the court.
On the other hand, White has been trending up both on and off the court. On the hardwood, the 6-foot-7 forward has improved all around, using his tough practice assignments to grow as a defender and become more physical. Offensively, White appears to have found more consistency and confidence as a perimeter shooter. He scored 11 points, including two triples Oct. 23 against Virginia Union.
“Playing against great teammates every day, guarding since my freshman year, Jason, Matt, Grayson, to last year, Gary, and all these guys, I’m guarding great talent every day,” White said at ACC media day. “That experience for me has been great. I wanted to come here to challenge myself, and I knew that was going to help me get better as a player.”
Off the court, White and DeLaurier have worked hard to integrate the new freshmen into the brotherhood, needing to grow an entirely new culture with nearly half of last year’s squad no longer on the roster.
The team has benefited from the freshmen coming in already close with their group chat during the recruiting cycle. In addition, the Blue Devils participated in various team-building activities during the weeklong Canada tour this August.
Regardless, Duke still has plenty of time to grow close and find its chemistry. DeLaurier took some extra steps from the start to make sure everyone feels included and welcome.
“As soon as they got here over the summer, we were all in my apartment hanging out, I said, ‘Just so you guys know, you’re always welcome,’” DeLaurier said. “If you need a place to chill, just, ‘Hey Jav, where are you?’.... You don’t even have to ask. Just be like, ‘Where you at?’ That’s just creating such a good environment for our team, not only on the court, but off it just because we are always all together.
“One of the biggest differences on this team from teams from years prior is that there really is no class difference.... Obviously, the guys who have been here have more experience and can give some wisdom to the younger guys, but in terms of how we treat each other, we’re all just teammates and brothers.”
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.