In many ways, head coach Jon Scheyer’s inaugural season can be described with one word: young.
From his youthful coaching staff to his seven freshman recruits to the nascent crop of Cameron Crazies that will only ever see Scheyer man the sidelines, this season is all about the new, the inexperienced and the unproven.
Not Monday night. In Duke’s 71-44 thumping of Jacksonville, it was the old, the experienced and the proven that made the difference, indicating that maybe the keys to a fairytale season in Scheyer’s maiden campaign lie in the hands of those who have already crafted stories of their own.
In Ryan Young, Jacob Grandison and Jeremy Roach, the Blue Devils have exactly that.
Young, a graduate transfer from Northwestern starting in place of injured No. 1 recruit Dereck Lively II, executed his task masterfully: dominating the offensive glass, pushing past defenders in the paint and finishing the evening with 12 points on a 6-for-6 rate from the floor. Grandison, a key cog in Illinois’ first- and fourth-seeded teams of the last two NCAA tournaments, provided an outlet on the wing and a steady hand to the passing game. And Roach, the lone captain on the roster and sole returning starter from April’s magical run to the Final Four, proved yet again that “this is [his] team” with a commanding 16 points, six rebounds and four assists.
It would be negligent to discount Mark Mitchell’s team-leading 18 points or Kyle Filipowski’s birthday double-double, but aside from that freshman duo, it was the veterans that pushed the Blue Devils beyond a Jacksonville team that, for stretches, threatened to play spoiler.
“Minutes and roles will define themselves,” Young said. “But as long as we're playing against each other, competing every day in practice and making each other better, it's a problem for the teams that have to guard us.”
From Young’s back-to-back driving layups in the second half to Roach’s four first-half 3-pointers to Grandison’s clever play from the wing, the experienced group checked every box Scheyer would have wanted checked.
Defensively astute? Young had three steals. Fluid, unselfish offense? Grandison had five assists. Dangerous from deep? Roach shot 57% from three.
When Roach found himself in foul trouble deep into the second period, instead of subbing him off Scheyer elected to keep the guard on—a testament to his utility as a playmaker, sure, but more so to his presence as a been-there-done-that leader.
“Forget about the scoring and the passing—I just thought his presence, his poise was really key for us tonight,” Scheyer said.
“Jeremy and I have been through so much together,” he added. “We've been in a lot of game situations.”
We have known that Roach was going to be an integral piece to Scheyer’s puzzle ever since he announced his return for year three, and Grandison, at 24-years-old, provides a level of experience few in the college game, let alone this team, possess. Young is perhaps the surprise package of the group, but his excellent performance at center will give Scheyer the confidence that, even without Lively, there is a more than capable alternative with a game-changing skill set of his own ready to go.
“His leadership has been key for us,” Scheyer said of Young. “Just his toughness, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win.”
Despite not possessing the stature of Lively nor the ability to sail above the rim for a stadium-shattering dunk, Young’s solid fundamentals and never-ending hustle gave the Dolphins plenty to worry about. Roach was gritty and tenacious as usual in his perimeter defense and charges from the top of the arc. Grandison played through a bleeding hit to the eye last week.
“Toughness is an ambiguous word,” Grandison said. “There's mental toughness, physical toughness, but I think I think we all got it, and we're locked in.”
Saying a team can play physically and tough is one thing; seeing it act on that promise is another. For Young, Grandison and Roach, that leadership by example trickles down. Not by age, but by merit.
“It's funny, everybody just keeps talking about how we have old guys, young guys, but it's just a mesh of guys,” Grandison said.
For this team to be successful, it must learn to balance its new with its old, its inexperienced with its experienced, and its unproven with its proven. It’s the same recipe that made Blue Devil teams of yesterday national champions. Those five banners and the plethora of retired jerseys hanging overhead are constant reminders of that.
Duke is a young team with a young head coach in the seedling stage of a new era. Within that context, it seems poetic that the veterans steer the ship.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.