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Duke men's basketball 2019-20 player review: Vernon Carey Jr.

Carey was named the USBWA National Freshman of the Year this past season.
Carey was named the USBWA National Freshman of the Year this past season.

Vernon Carey Jr.

Season breakdown: Two words: freshman phenom. Vernon Carey Jr. was among the most dominant diaper dandies in America this season, providing a consistent interior presence on both ends of the floor. He displayed a refined offensive skill set throughout the year, and often gave the Blue Devils a reliable option to turn to in crucial moments. In the low post, the South Florida native utilized a bevy of moves to his favor, particularly quick spins and drop steps. 

Carey also proved to be a viable threat from 3-point range, as his 38.1 percent mark created matchup issues in the pick and roll for opposing defenses, despite its small sample size. Defensively, while he sometimes picked up quick fouls in the post when not given sufficient help, Carey proved to be an adept shot blocker from the weak side. Ultimately, his developed defensive consistency complemented his stellar offensive skill set.

From the opening tip against Kansas, Carey proved to be a force in the paint. However, the freshman truly began to display the full extent of his capabilities during the Blue Devils’ final two victories in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden. 51 points and 22 rebounds in 50 minutes across the California and Georgetown matchups were a sign of things to come. As the season wore on, the talented center racked up double-doubles at a torrid pace, even as he often saw decreased minutes due to foul trouble. Highlights include a 26-point, 11-rebound outing on the road against Michigan State, 26 and 17 versus Syracuse and a 25-point showing against North Carolina in the final game of the regular season. Carey’s performance in Duke’s 89-76 victory against the Tar Heels was especially impressive, as the freshman took over during a five-minute stretch late in the contest after North Carolina cut the Blue Devil lead to just two. 

Results relative to expectations: Carey improved significantly in two key areas throughout the season: free throw shooting and playmaking. Due to his frequent struggles from the charity stripe through the end of January, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was often handicapped late in tight games and had to put Carey on the bench. Despite these early yips, the Second Team All-American made tremendous strides from the line once the calendar shifted to February, as he shot 80 percent or better on foul shots in nine of Duke’s final eleven games. In terms of his playmaking, Carey’s comfort with kicking the ball out when double teamed in the low post clearly increased, and the Blue Devils found open shooters as a result. 

Stay tuned to the Blue Zone for our continuing player reviews. Previous players previewed include Alex O’Connell, Joey Baker, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Justin Robinson, Wendell Moore Jr., Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley.

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