Duke’s 2016 Countdown to Craziness celebration is worth watching again for many reasons.
Among the new Blue Devils introduced that October night to their screaming classmates were current NBA players Marques Bolden, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum. Then-sophomore Luke Kennard kicked off what proved to be his final season at Duke before heading to the Motor City as an NBA Lottery pick. And most notably, Chase Jeter stole the show with his biggest moment of the season when he dramatically flipped a water bottle and landed it upright on the Duke logo at midcourt.
Largely lost in the shuffle of those stars and improbable moments, were two less-heralded true freshman dancing their way onto the floor in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Javin DeLaurier and Australian native Jack White, who received extra cheers when he walked out to Men at Work’s 1980 hit “Down Under.”
Now, three years removed from that crazy first night, White and DeLaurier are the lone members of that freshman class remaining in Durham and the only true seniors on the 2019-20 team. And for the second year in a row, both were named captains for this season, along with sophomore Tre Jones, marking the first time since their freshman year that the Blue Devils will be led by three captains.
“The two kids that are right there are very, very important for us, because they’re good players, and they’re seniors," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "This freshman class is talented but it needs them...I want them to know how important they are.”
'Being a good leader'
For Blue Devils fans accustomed to seeing their best talent come and go within the span of a single season lately, White and DeLaurier have been a notable constant in the ever-changing world of modern college basketball. Their roles will likely resemble those of last season, when they were in and out of the starting lineup, but served as key cogs on a team that rolled to its second ACC tournament title in the duo’s three years on campus.
Last season, White averaged 4.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and for a spell was one of the nation’s most effective outside shooters, before hitting an ice-cold shooting skid through the middle portion of the season that lingered into the spring. DeLaurier, who earned his playing time largely because of his presence on the defensive end of the floor, set career highs with 4.4 rebounds per game and 50 total blocks on the year.
Beyond their production on the court, however, White and DeLaurier’s senior leadership will be critical for a team that once again is welcoming four of the top recruits in the country this year. Having senior leaders who see regularly see the floor—not to mention two senior captains returning to their roles for the second year in a row—is an enormous blessing for a school that has embraced one-and-dones like Duke.
White and DeLaurier have seen what works and what doesn’t before, with three years of one-year-wonders that have come and gone during their time in Durham. Their ability to walk the likes of Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley and Wendell Moore through the low points that even the best teams face (see: Duke vs. Miami, 2015) will be a huge determinant of this team’s success.
“It's crazy how fast time flies," DeLaurier said. "Being a senior now, [we’re] really just trying to emulate what the guys who were in my position when I came in as a freshman, what they did for me in terms of reaching out and being a good leader and trying to help me on my path. We try to do that with the freshmen because we know how difficult that transition can be. ACC basketball is no joke, and so [we’re] just trying to prepare them in every way that we possibly can before we get into the thick of things.”
'Learn from them, learn with them and compete with them'
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
The senior leaders and housemates will get some help with captaincy duties from Jones, who decided to skip the NBA draft for at least another year and return to Durham. Jones showed unusual maturity and confidence last year for a freshman running the point, but even he still has much to learn, if White and DeLaurier are any indication. Both have stressed already this year how serving as captains last year has given them much-needed perspective for their final season in Cameron.
“Coming off a leadership role from last year, I think it's helped us feeling comfortable coming into our senior year with that same role, and obviously with a fresh group of guys coming in, [we’re] just really excited to learn from them, learn with them and compete with them,” White said. “I think our experience last year is going to help us with that."
One point to make about that experience, however, is that this year’s team is far different from last. Simply put, no incoming class could match the star power of R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and, most importantly, Zion Williamson. For White and DeLaurier, that will mean more opportunities to work into the rotation once the season gets underway. Up to this point and going forward, it also has meant creating a sense of balance among their teammates that wasn’t necessarily possible or realistic a season ago.
“It seems like we're all on the same page in terms of what we're all trying to do in coming in every day, trying to compete, and we're just making each other better,” White said. “I think because we're so balanced, guys look to one another to challenge them or whatever it may be. Guys are keeping each other accountable. So I think it puts a bit more ownership on us as players to really control our destiny in a sense, and obviously you put Coach into that equation [and] we're on the right track.”
As the Blue Devils look ahead to Countdown to Craziness once again Oct. 18, it’s anyone’s guess how the two senior leaders will choose to introduce themselves one more time to the Blue Devils faithful. After that introduction is over and the lights of their final regular season come on, their ability to handle their roles as senior leaders will determine how those fans remember them.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.