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Filipowski carries the torch for Duke men's basketball against Bellarmine as Lively, Whitehead find their footing

Kyle Filipowski led Duke in scoring Monday night against Bellarmine with 18 points.
Kyle Filipowski led Duke in scoring Monday night against Bellarmine with 18 points.

Duke has had seven of the last nine ACC Rookie of the Year winners, with its last four being big men who can dominate the interior. Off of back-to-back ACC Rookie of the Week honors and potentially on his way to a third, the stars are aligning for 7-foot freshman Kyle Filipowski to carry that torch this season.

What may separate Filipowski from those stars before him is his offensive versatility. Not only can he bully opponents down low with his post game and size, but he can stretch the floor. Five games in, junior guard Jeremy Roach is the only Duke player who has attempted and made more 3-pointers than Filipowski. No. 8 Duke’s 74-57 win Monday night against Bellarmine was a masterful display of that unique inside-out presence. In just 20 minutes of playing time, Filipowski had 18 points on 3-for-5 shooting from deep and a 50% clip from the field. 

“Coach Scheyer said to all of us, shoot that ball with confidence,” Filipowski said after the game. “Going into the game I wasn’t really hesitating or second-guessing myself. They were falling, and it just felt good, so I kept it going.”

That was the outside of his game, but the inside can be summed up with his eight free throw attempts. Once he got aggressive and applied pressure to the Knights’ interior, they could not contain him and had no choice but to foul. Filipowski went 7-for-8 from the line and has now converted 20-for-23 on the season. He is proving to be an exceptional free throw shooter, and if he continues to draw fouls this effectively, he will continue to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.

As talented as Filipowski is with the ball in his hands, he also brings the intangible and complementary skills you would want in a big. He is an exceptional glass cleaner, averaging 10.4 rebounds, four more than the next-highest on the team. Against Bellarmine, four of his eight rebounds were offensive boards, helping to create opportunities that led to 15-second chance points for Duke and demoralized the Knights’ defense. 

Filipowski’s energy on the glass extends to the defensive end. He leads the team in blocks with seven in this early season and maintains an imposing interior presence with his 7-foot frame. He is able to switch onto smaller players on the perimeter, managing to stay in front and using his body to his advantage. 

As scorching as Filipowski has been to start the season, this young Blue Devil team is still far from its full potential. One reason for that is the contrastingly slow start that fellow five-star freshman teammates Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead have had. This was to be expected, as both are coming off of injuries and missed the opportunity of a full preseason.

“That comes with time,” said head coach Jon Scheyer in regard to Lively’s aggressiveness. “I always feel for a freshman that preseason time is so valuable. They missed that, and so they’re learning a lot right now.”

Filipowski alone has 125 minutes to Lively and Whitehead’s combined 99, with both still finding their roles and learning to gel within the offense on a Duke team that is different from past years, when the Blue Devils relied heavily on individual talents to put them over the top. Just last season, only six players averaged more than 12 minutes per game. 

This season, that number is up to nine, with Roach as the only player with more than 26 minutes per night. That is amazing for the balance and depth of the team, but it also means that it may take more time for Lively and Whitehead’s abilities to shine through. Right now, simply the threat of that light is enough to make an impact on the game whenever the duo is on the court. 

“I feel like I’m finally setting in well,” said Lively. “I got my energy back, I got my adrenaline back, and I’m just ready to show the world what I can do.”

Lively’s positive attitude says it all—he understands that it is a process. Filipowski’s health has allowed him to get through that learning curve much earlier than the other two. This makes his outstanding play all the more valuable; it allows Lively and Whitehead the time to develop without the pressure of having to carry a huge offensive load. They will likely eventually look like the players that became two of the top three recruits in the country. In the meantime, Filipowski looks as if he will shoulder the burden and give the Blue Devils a chance to beat anyone.

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