CHARLOTTE—Wednesday's ACC Tipoff brought together the conference's head coaches and top players to preview the season to come. Representing the Blue Devils were head coach Jon Scheyer, graduate transfer Jacob Grandison and returning starter at point guard—doubling as team captain—Jeremy Roach.
Duke's season debut Nov. 7 against Jacksonville may be weeks away, but there was plenty to be learned from the trio's time on stage Wednesday. Here are three takeaways from the event.
Blue Devils are focused on defense, building on offense
Just more than two weeks prior to Wednesday afternoon’s availabilities in Charlotte, Scheyer—along with Duke’s coaching staff and players—offered a glimpse into the upcoming season at the program’s own preseason media day. While much of that day centered around the Blue Devils’ general coming together as a new group under new leadership, Scheyer’s comments Wednesday gave a clearer view into what to expect from this new-look Duke team.
As part of that, Scheyer hammered home one point in particular: Duke will rely on its defense this season, with the first-year head coach saying that the Blue Devils “can be an elite defensive team.”
“We’ll be able to score the ball,” Scheyer said. “But I don’t know if we have a guy who’s going to be our leading scorer every night … You can watch Paolo [Banchero] play at times, and we don’t have that with this year’s team. So, elite defensively is the goal for us, and then sharing the ball and playing together on offense.”
The Blue Devils might not have one player positioned to control the ball on offense as Banchero—the eventual top choice in June’s NBA Draft who averaged 17.2 points per game—did in 2021-22. Roach was crucial as the team's sixth-highest scorer with 8.6 points per night as a sophomore, and in his third season, the veteran point guard will once again be asked to do far more than score.
Among Duke’s top-ranked freshman class, five-star freshman Dariq Whitehead seems as safe a bet as any to take up the mantle as the team’s go-to option. While his status moving forward is relatively unclear after he underwent foot surgery Aug. 29, Scheyer provided an update Wednesday, saying that Whitehead is “entering the next phase of his treatment.” A timetable for his return is yet to be determined.
Beyond Whitehead, the Blue Devils boast plenty of other talented newcomers, including 7-foot-1 freshman Dereck Lively II. If Wednesday’s comments are any indication, he also figures to play heavily into Duke’s defensive potential.
“You have Dereck Lively, who really to us is as unique of a big as there is in the country. He's not really a big,” Scheyer said. “We've talked about how to maximize what he can do on the defensive end especially, but that versatility for us is something that we can really use throughout the course of the season.”
The Blue Devils will have a chance to put that highly anticipated defensive potential on display in just less than two weeks at Countdown to Craziness Oct. 21. Until then, Scheyer’s view will be our own. -Jonathan Levitan
Grandison looks to use experience to mentor, motivate
Grandison brings some additional perspectives as one of the 11 new members of this year’s team. After stops at Holy Cross and Illinois, the 24-year-old is in his sixth year of college basketball and has built a reputation as a strong outside shooter and on-court presence. With Grandison accompanying Roach on the trip to Charlotte, Scheyer is already showing his trust in the leadership from a transfer who has only been around for a few months.
With Durham as his last college stop, there is a lot he wants to accomplish and leave behind with the younger players. Despite nearly a six-year age difference between him and the Blue Devils’ youngest players, he feels he is building a strong relationship with the freshmen.
“The beautiful thing is that our five-star freshmen are totally coachable and open to hearing from somebody like me and there's no ego barrier,” he said.
Duke enters this year with a star-studded freshman class paired with the veteran presence from graduate transfers and the Blue Devil leadership from Roach. One of the biggest questions asked of freshman-heavy teams is how they will be able to succeed as younger players, regardless of the number of stars next to their names. Grandison believes that Scheyer and the Blue Devils have already established a team culture that will make life challenging for Duke’s opponents starting in November.
“Duke wins, not just because they get good players, but because of the culture and the relationships that they build,” he said.
He reiterated that culture and transparency between coaches and players were the main reasons he chose Duke as a transfer destination following the 2021-22 season.
Grandison was not the only one to put on a Duke jersey after playing for another school—transfers Kale Catchings, Max Johns and Ryan Young each add their own experience and perspectives to the Blue Devils on and off the court.
“We're similar people, we're classy young men,” Grandison said. Although he and the three other transfers are officially Blue Devils, “I humbly don't feel like I'm in the Brotherhood yet,” he said. “Respectfully, I haven't earned my stripes.”
He will look to earn his stripes by continuing to “lead by example” and “do everything the right way” as the Blue Devils begin another quest for a title. The Oakland, Calif., native also emphasized that his tournament experience—which included a loss to No. 8-seed Loyola-Chicago while playing for No. 1-seed Illinois in 2021—will be used to motivate those on the team who, like Grandison, “hate losing.”
On his—and the Blue Devils’—new head coach, he feels Scheyer has managed the spotlight and kept the focus on the players.
“He's the ‘el jefe’ now, and he's still calm and collected. And that kind of passes down to all of us … we just need to go out here and play,” Grandison said. -Micah Hurewitz
Roach relishes team captaincy, prepares for his most important year yet
Roach is the captain now. Through all the talk about change within the program, the one constant was Roach. As the lone returning starter and, as of last Thursday, the lone captain, Roach is the thread that ties a bygone era at Duke to a dawning one. In his breakout availability, he acknowledged that.
“Even like my freshman year when I came in, you still had Michael Savarino, you had Keenan Worthington, these guys who have just been around the program to tell you what to do. Now, I'm the only guy who's actually been around the program. So, it's been a little tough for me,...it's definitely been a little process,” Roach said.
Despite the challenges of being the team’s unquestioned leader, he emphasized that he has worked on being more vocal and knows that he needs to be “that guy.” He said he has received ample support from former and current Blue Devils and, between the coaching staff and veteran transfers, he’s not “doing it alone.” Still, ultimately the expectations of being captain are his responsibility, and he “love[s] that responsibility.”
However, what was perhaps lost in an endless slew of questions about his new role is the fact that Roach, beyond being captain, is gearing up for a big season on the court. Roach said that he worked on every aspect of his game this summer, specifically shouting out his relationship with new assistant coach Jai Lucas, who has drawn on his own experience as a point guard at Texas and Florida to help Roach with his game. Roach also mentioned that he has “learned a lot” about Xs and Os from special assistant to the head coach Mike Schrage, and that he tries to incorporate in his game the moves of NBA guards like Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holliday—with his own twist, of course.
When the Blue Devils take the court for the first time, some new faces—likely freshman Dariq Whitehead and Grandison—will bracket Roach in the backcourt, along with fellow returner Jaylen Blakes and freshmen Tyrese Proctor and Jaden Schutt helping out off the bench. It will then be up to Roach to direct traffic and help the unit gel on the court, a task he’s up to.
“That's our job: to get [the new additions] up to speed before the season comes, before they reach any hardships, if they do,” Roach said.
To do that, he can impart what he said he learned about himself during Duke’s deep run last season:
“We're Duke, so everybody's coming after us every game, but last year it was magnified. So I guess it's keeping that hunger, because you don't know who's going to come in at any day, any game and light it up. So you've got to be, had to be locked in for all 40 minutes.” -Sasha Richie
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.