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'Different guys each day': Filipowski, Mitchell shoulder the burden for Duke men's basketball against USC Upstate

Kyle Filipowski registered his second-straight double-double to start his freshman season against the Spartans.
Kyle Filipowski registered his second-straight double-double to start his freshman season against the Spartans.

Fourteen Blue Devils saw the court against the Spartans. Eleven grabbed a board. Eleven scored. Five scored in double digits. 

Duke attacked USC Upstate from every angle and with every player. No one guy stole the show—and they didn’t have to. The Blue Devils’ balanced and diverse game plan allowed them to spread the ball and dominate the Spartans in every aspect of their 84-38 win at home Friday. And while this is, by all means, an incredibly talented Duke team with a high ceiling, it lacks the clear superstar, projected No. 1 NBA Draft pick powerhouse of some past rosters.

No matter for the Blue Devils. They don’t need one player—they have a whole squad of them. 

The top-ranked freshman class in the nation has been proving itself day in and day out. Even with forward Dariq Whitehead still sidelined with a right foot fracture and center Dereck Lively II making his debut with 15 minutes off the bench Friday, the rest of the group has been making up for it.

Kyle Filipowski has quietly been having a start for the record books. In just 21 minutes Friday, the power forward recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in both categories. What has set him apart in the first two regular-season games is his prowess on both ends of the court. Besides his scoring and rebounding numbers, the 19-year-old tallied two steals and a block, proving his utility in all facets of the game.

His dominance in the paint cannot be understated—Filipowski drew five fouls and was on the line eight times, sinking seven of those free throws. He is more than just his 7-foot frame; his quickness and ability to draw fouls, and then make his foul shots, add another dimension to his game and prove why he is the fourth-ranked recruit in his class.

Classmate Mark Mitchell was not far behind Filipowski with 13 points and seven rebounds of his own. As the fourth-ranked rookie on Duke’s roster, Mitchell has been exceeding expectations every time he steps on the court. After leading the Blue Devils in scoring with 18 points in the season opener against Jacksonville, the forward stepped up in other ways Friday, adding three assists. That shift not only highlights Mitchell’s skill set, but his ability, and that of each player on the team, to adapt and fill whatever role is required of him.

Rotating responsibilities looks to be a trend this season. Though some stats will remain consistent, like the big men grabbing rebounds and junior captain Jeremy Roach racking up assists, that guy is likely to be a single-game title. 

“If you saw us practice, it's different guys each day,” said head coach Jon Scheyer. It was Mitchell against Jacksonville and Filipowski against USC Upstate. The return of Lively seems to hint that his moment in the spotlight is imminent. Even in limited minutes, his impact was felt.

“You can’t look at his numbers when you're judging Dereck Lively,” said Scheyer. And he is right. In just under 15 minutes on the court, Lively scored just four points but added two rebounds, two blocks and a steal. 

“He’s going to be a lob threat, paint protector, a guy who can run the floor and he can space it out too,” said Roach of Lively. The second-ranked overall recruit’s many talents will allow him to fill in gaps for the Blue Devils whenever it is needed. Graduate transfer Ryan Young has been starting at center in Lively’s absence, and though the two are vastly different players, they complement each other and torment opponents.

“They're a heck of a one-two punch, you know, with both of those guys in the game,” said Scheyer of the duo in the frontcourt. Not only do their skills differ, but their age and experience do as well—yet another facet of the game in which the two balance each other out.

Duke’s season is bound to be a push-and-pull. Between starters dominating from the get-go, like Mitchell against Jacksonville, and rotation players becoming difference makers off the bench, like graduate transfer wing Jacob Grandison against USC Upstate, this team will be continually growing and changing. 

“We're gonna have a group where we can go a little bit deeper, but our key guys can still play a lot. So that's something you have to continue to figure out and evolve as a team,” said Scheyer. 

The head coach has built himself a diverse inaugural cast. The show is bound to look a little different every night as the members work to conceal each other's flaws and accentuate their strengths. There will be leading scorers and breakout performances, but that responsibility will not repeatedly fall on the same shoulders—multiple Blue Devils can, and will, share that burden. 

And who will it be Tuesday against Kansas in the Champions Classic? Only time will tell.

Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.


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