As the 41st ranked recruit in the class of 2021, there was no doubt as to whether Shayeann Day-Wilson would be an excellent addition to the Blue Devil roster. But 20 games into the season, the question is no longer what impact the Toronto native would have on the court, but rather what it would mean for the group to not have her there.
Now ranked the No. 4 freshman in the nation, the 5-foot-6 point guard is playing one of the best seasons a Duke freshman has had in years. Day-Wilson is one of, if not the top player on Kara Lawson’s roster, leading the team in points and assists with averages of 12.8 and 3.3, respectively. Interesting enough is that while Day-Wilson leads the team in these categories, her numbers are dwarfed by those of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark or Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee. The two each average over 25 points. But despite that, Day-Wilson’s efforts on the court have been a deciding factor in how well the Blue Devils hold up against formidable teams.
A five-star recruit and Dawn Staley Award winner, the sophomore Clark leads her team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks as she averages 8.3 rebounds and a nation-leading 7.9 assists. However, when playing against the Blue Devils, Clark played one of her least efficient games. Thanks to Day-Wilson’s 27 minutes on the floor, she helped lead efforts to cool off last season's co-Freshman of the Year. Though Clark finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, she was in the deepest foul trouble of the season with four fouls. The Blue Devils defensive efforts limited her to 33.3% from the field and a poor 1-for-13 mark from beyond the arc.
What makes Day-Wilson such a vital part of the rotation is two things—her playmaking abilities and her impact off the bench. When the guard played against—and defeated—Clark’s tough Iowa team, she dropped 19 of Duke's 29 bench points. Against Syracuse, Day-Wilson contributed 13 of the team's 27 points off the bench, and against No. 1 South Carolina, the first-year logged 17 of the Blue Devils' 22 bench points. Her efforts off the bench did not go unnoticed—since Duke’s Jan. 13 matchup against N.C. State, Day-Wilson has revised her role on the team from a top reserve to a starter. Since she began in that role, Day-Wilson has consistently scored double digits and played her part in the team’s attempts towards victory.
That sentiment of continuing to play hard and execute was evident in the Blue Devils’ most recent contest—a 77-65 loss to No. 3 Louisville. Though Duke did not pull out the win, the team remained competitive and even beat out the Cardinals in scoring after the break, with a 38-32 Blue Devil advantage for the half. That was primarily attributable to Day-Wilson’s efforts, as the first-year guard scored 25 points and ultimately fouled out for the first time in her career.
With as much versatility and tenacity as Day-Wilson brings, the Blue Devils have a consistent X-factor to be competitive in their upcoming conference games. Although head coach Kara Lawson's squad recently fell out of the top 25 after a 2-5 stretch, nine more regular-season games remain, and with that comes a boatload of opportunities to improve the playing dynamic and hang in the tournament picture.
The Blue Devils are still a young team, with nine new players and a new coach since the program's last full season. With contributors such as Day-Wilson featuring for the Blue Devils, the possibility remains that this team can bring a tough fight in the postseason in the near future.
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Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.