The old adage “if you think you can, you can” is an easy mantra to say aloud. In practice, though, it’s much easier to hide or quit when the going gets tough.
But for point guard Jordan Goldwire, that mindset, as well as an unwavering belief in himself, has propelled him from being the lowest-ranked member of Duke’s 2017 recruiting class to now leading a championship-caliber team as a senior.
Even during the midst of Duke’s one-and-done recruiting era, head coach Mike Krzyzewski continues to seek out talented players that will stay for more than a year to not only develop their own skills, but also help guide younger players in ACC play and the postseason. However, when Duke offered a scholarship to Goldwire, a three-star prospect with low name recognition, Blue Devil nation might have been confused, to say the least.
“Everyone's like, 'What in the world—where did this kid come from?',” associate head coach Nate James said. “I think he took that as a challenge. He took that as, 'I have to show everyone that I do deserve to be here and I'm good enough to wear the uniform.'”
Goldwire had a quiet freshman year, averaging only one point per game on a lowly 32.1 percent clip from the field. He wasn’t big or athletic enough to make a scoring impact, and didn’t earn enough playing time to lead any offensive or defensive units, despite his willingness to hustle at all times when he was on the floor.
“He was young,” James said. “We had a young group of guys who were inconsistent and [we had] a lot of long talks before and after practice, watching film to help them get better.”
Goldwire clearly took those criticisms to heart entering his sophomore campaign. He showed slow but sure improvements in his jump shot, but where he especially put in the work was in the weight room, going from 172 to 181 pounds in just one season. It might have been easy to get lost in the sea of NBA-ready freshmen eating up key playing time—not to mention the Zion effect—but Goldwire still found a way to make an impact in one of Duke’s best wins of that 2018-19 season.
It didn’t matter that Duke was down by 23 points in the second half against Louisville, and it didn’t matter that Goldwire embarrassingly missed a wide-open layup earlier in the contest. His belief in himself allowed him to stay engaged on the defensive side of the floor, causing havoc with former point guard Tre Jones in the backcourt and helping the Blue Devils make a historic comeback with two crucial steals to end the game.
“[Goldwire] is a believer,” James said. “He does believe in himself, and I think a lightbulb went off.”
The Norcross, Ga., native finally found his stride during his junior season, when he and Jones combined for 3.3 steals per game, making life absolutely miserable for opposing backcourts game in and game out. Goldwire’s much-improved offensive game—he hit a career-high 35.4 percent of his threes after connecting on just 18.2 percent of his treys over his first two seasons—allowed him to earn a spot in what would be Duke’s most popular starting lineup. Once a player that opposing teams dared to shoot, Goldwire quickly became a certified threat from deep.
This year, as the leading returning player in minutes played, Goldwire will be faced with his biggest task thus far: coming into his own as a leader for one of the deepest teams Krzyzewski has put together.
“We got a good group of core guys coming back...and the freshman class is very deep. We can play across the board,” Goldwire said. “We have a lot of confidence. It’s been going well and we’ve been meshing well together.”
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Most likely, Goldwire will have to share point guard duties with another five-star: incoming freshman Jeremy Roach. Roach has the talent to possibly be the focal point of Duke’s offense, but it will be interesting to see whether Goldwire’s experience during crunch time will influence Krzyzewski to put the ball in his hands. Either way, Goldwire’s tenacity on the defensive side of the ball will keep him on the floor, where he will surely become a mentor for his talented freshman counterpart.
“[Goldwire] is a guy who’s got me acclimated here, showing me the ways and showing me how practices go,” Roach said. “He’s been a big part of why I came here and just a big part of my success here.”
Based on preseason workouts and scrimmages, it is highly likely that Goldwire and Roach will start in Krzyzewski’s backcourt to begin the season as well.
"It's fun playing with [Goldwire],” Roach said. “He can bring it up, I can bring it up. He can defend full court, I can defend full court. So it's really just a fast-paced game when we're in the game together. That's my type of game, so I'm ready to play with him."
If Goldwire can continue to exponentially improve his offensive skill set as he’s done in the past, the one-two punch of him and Roach may be difficult to guard this season. What’s certain, however, is that Goldwire’s tendency to suffocate ball-handlers before they even reach half court will rub off on his backcourt mate, which could result in another year of a Duke team thriving off opposing team’s turnovers.
“He is definitely one of the toughest defenders I’ve played against,” Roach said of going against Goldwire in practice throughout the preseason. “I’m just trying to pick up on the little techniques that he does to make him such a great defender.”
Goldwire’s journey in Durham has been anything but perfect. However, the development and hard work he has shown over the past three years is any coach’s dream, and it shows in the way Krzyzewski has increased his trust in the now-senior point guard every year.
His journey isn’t done, however. He still has work to do in his senior campaign, and potentially one more. But if Goldwire has proven anything since he put on a Blue Devil jersey for the first time, it’s that he believes in himself so much that everyone else is forced to believe in him as well. So far, believing in Goldwire has paid off for everyone involved.
“We're going to need [Goldwire] to have a great year this year, pushing Jeremy,” James said. “You've got to get that right away, because as soon as things tip off, it's full steam ahead. I think when we have every player looking out for the name on the front and not the name on the back, that's when you have a true sign of being a team and being together."
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.