Once the hullabaloo of the NCAA tournament has subsided, all eyes stay on Duke to see which of its usual group of freshman studs will depart for greener NBA pastures. One of the most pressing names on that list has been Dereck Lively II.
The 7-foot-1 center never put up eye-popping scoring numbers, nor did he start the year particularly strong, but by the end of the season, Lively had turned into one of the country’s premier rim protectors and all-situations defenders. Because of his slow start, some theorized that Lively could stick around for a second year, but his NBA-ready frame, complete with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, and first-rounder projection said otherwise.
On Tuesday afternoon, he made that decision official, announcing via social media his intention to forgo his remaining NCAA eligibility and declare for the 2023 NBA Draft.
“I'm so grateful for the opportunity to play at Duke,” said Lively in a team release. “Being a member of the Brotherhood is something I’ll always cherish. I learned and grew so much this season as both a player and person and I’m thankful for my coaches, my teammates – and especially my mom, who has meant so much to me -- for everything. This season was all I could have imagined, and it was an honor to be part of an ACC title in Coach Scheyer’s first season. It was always a dream of mine to play for Duke, and now I’ll set my sights on my dream of playing in the league and declare for the NBA Draft. A special thank you to the Cameron Crazies, the best fans in the game, for the incredible support. These memories I have will last forever.”
The announcement comes two weeks after the Blue Devils’ second-round NCAA tournament exit at the hands of No. 4-seed Tennessee. Throughout Duke’s postseason, Lively averaged 5.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game to help Duke win the ACC tournament and make it to the NCAA tournament Round of 32. Prior, the Philadelphia native finished the regular season second in the ACC in blocks, helping him to secure a spot on the All-ACC Defensive Team and Rookie Team.
The Preseason Rookie of the Year ended his high school career as the No. 1-overall recruit in the Class of 2022, earning McDonald’s All-American and Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year status along the way. As a Blue Devil, he earned ACC Rookie of the Week once after blocking eight shots in a Feb. 4 win against North Carolina, the most by any Duke player in a Tobacco Road rivalry game, and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds.
Once in the NBA, Lively’s largest upside will be his defensive abilities, as he has unique mobility for a player of his size that he can use to guard players in the paint, at the perimeter and elsewhere. Other major pluses include his blocking and rebounding, which are likely to continue at the next level. Though he lacks an aggressive scoring instinct of his own, he figures to be a considerable lob threat and he has a playmaking touch evidenced by his 9.8% assist rate. The primary concern appears to be his shot-making, but with time, he could develop better handles and learn to capitalize on a wider array of looks.
Lively becomes the second Blue Devil from the 2022-23 team to declare, joining freshman forward Dariq Whitehead. Both players are projected as first-round selections.
“It’s been an honor to coach Dereck Lively," said head coach Jon Scheyer. “Dereck has had a special freshman season. He’s grown as much as any player that we’ve had from the beginning of the season to the end and it’s a reflection on the work he’s put into his craft. He’s the ultimate team guy. Any NBA franchise will be lucky to have a guy like Dereck because of what he brings to the table, of course from a basketball standpoint, but just as much as who he is as a teammate. I’m so proud of what he’s done and wish him, Kathy and his family the best as he takes the next step. He’s going to be great at the next level.”
With Lively’s departure, Duke will likely look to graduate backup center Ryan Young, who has already confirmed his 2023-24 return, or incoming 6-foot-8 recruit Sean Stewart in the frontcourt. The door is also still open for Kyle FIlipowski, who is capable of playing the five, to return or for the Blue Devils to pick up a center in the transfer portal. However, Duke is unlikely to truly replace the size and athleticism Lively brought to the position, meaning the next iteration of the Blue Devils could have a much different look than in years past.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.