CORAL GABLES, Fla.—On April 21, 2019, long after most high school prospects had made their decisions on where to attend college for the 2019-20 season, Cassius Stanley still had not made up his mind.
A four-star prospect from across the country, Stanley had only received a formal offer from Duke just a few weeks prior to his commitment date. One day later, and Stanley would commit to the Blue Devils, in what seemed at the time to be a pleasant but surprising pickup for Duke. After all, head coach Mike Krzyzewski had already acquired a top-five recruiting class in the nation, and Stanley’s scouting report—athletically gifted but careless with the ball and poor shooting from deep—did not signal that the Sierra Canyon School product would be the critical piece of Duke’s 2019-20 team puzzle.
Though Stanley’s performance against Miami was not a breakout game for the freshman—that came in Duke’s season opener against Kansas—it provided further evidence that the signing of Stanley was much needed for the Blue Devils, as his tenacity on both ends of the floor ignited Duke in its 95-62 rout of Miami.
A common problem this season, the Blue Devils' shots just didn’t seem to fall in the opening frame, allowing the much less talented Hurricanes to stay competitive throughout the first half. However, Stanley’s hustle and willingness to drive relentlessly to the basket helped him score Duke’s first seven points. His 16 first-half points gave his teammates time to warm up, as Duke finally took its first double-digit lead with a little more than two minutes left in the period.
“My teammates helped me get going early and after that, we all just started feeding off each other,” Stanley said. “I just try to play my role and do what I can. Today, I did pretty well.”
Stanley even hit both of his attempted 3-pointers in that half, giving life to Duke’s attack from deep. The Los Angeles native’s ability to make shots from beyond the arc spaced the floor and opened up room for fellow freshman juggernaut Vernon Carey Jr. to work down low.
“[Stanley is] just a boost to our team, with his scoring ability and athleticism,” Carey said. “He gives us a huge bump.”
While his second half was not as electrifying on the offensive side of the ball, Stanley’s defensive efforts after the break were just as important. Duke built a sizable lead, in part thanks to Stanley winning his matchup against Miami guard Dejan Vasiljevic, who made just one 3-pointer in 33 minutes of play. Vasiljevic, who has shot a blistering 46.2 percent from deep thus far in the season, could not see the light of day, as Stanley played hounding on-ball defense, denying him of any open looks.
While his 20 points stand out, it was Stanley's underrated defensive performance against Miami that highlight a quality of Stanley’s which has led to his early and somewhat unexpected success as a Blue Devil—nonstop hustle. Time and time again, it has not been flashy plays with the ball, à la point guard Tre Jones, or brute force down low from the likes of Carey that has done the job for Duke, but rather an energizer bunny running up and down the court giving his all, no matter what numbers lie next to his name in the box score at the end of the game.
“He's been pretty consistent the whole season with his drives and finishes, and he made a couple second efforts,” Krzyzewski said. “His spurt kind of got us that double-digit lead.”
Consistency for Stanley as an X-factor for Duke will be tested as the physical ACC gauntlet progresses, but for now he may just be the best two-way player the Blue Devils have, and his star will continue to shine brighter and brighter.
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