After a roller-coaster first year, freshman forward Dariq Whitehead announced Wednesday morning via social media that he will forgo his remaining eligibility and declare for the NBA draft.
“I’m really looking forward to this next step in my basketball career and I’m truly blessed to have this opportunity,” said Whitehead in a team release. “I’ve dreamed of these moments for so long. I can’t wait to get after it and continue preparing for the NBA Draft. I want to thank Duke University from my professors to my coaches and my teammates -- I appreciate your help with everything this year. I will forever be grateful for the Brotherhood!”
Whitehead, the No. 3 recruit a year ago, finished the season averaging 8.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. He was the only player on Duke’s roster to shoot above 40% from three this season, connecting from deep with a 42.9% clip. However, the story to his season was adversity and he only began to emerge as a key piece for the Blue Devils as the season wore on. After missing Duke’s first three games due to an offseason foot injury, the Newark. N.J., native struggled to find his in-game footing, failing to eclipse double-digit scoring in his first eight contests.
Nevertheless, his NBA potential was evident, particularly his smooth 3-point stroke and his ability to create shots off the dribble. As a result, Whitehead went on a tear in his next four games, including scoring a career-high 18 points against Boston College in January. Unfortunately for the freshman, injury struck again, as he suffered a calf strain in the second half of Duke’s loss at Virginia Tech Jan. 23.
Whitehead returned to action late in the ACC slate and helped contribute to the Blue Devils’ 10-game winning streak. He had a breakout performance in the ACC tournament semifinal against Miami, scoring 16 points and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. In Duke’s opening-round NCAA tournament victory against No. 12-seed Oral Roberts, Whitehead continued his late-season success, scoring 13 points, including shooting 3-for-3 from behind the arc.
The 6-foot-7 forward has perfect size for the NBA, and he is oozing with natural talent and untapped potential. Whitehead’s scoring ability was well-showcased throughout the season, and his defensive lateral quickness improved as he recovered from injury.
“It’s been a privilege to coach Dariq this year,” said head coach Jon Scheyer. “He is a guy who, you ask anybody in our program, any time you see Dariq, he’s got a big smile – just a joy to be around. And for him, he’s battled an incredible amount of adversity with the injuries that have come his way. I’m so proud of how he stuck with it and been a true team guy. Dariq is just scratching the surface on who he’s going to be. I’m right in his corner as he takes this next step and goes to the next chapter and declares for the NBA Draft, and I couldn’t be more excited for him and his family.”
Whitehead is the first Duke player to declare for June's draft and is projected as a late first-round selection.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.