After exceeding expectations a season ago, Duke women's basketball is bringing in an elite group of talent from the recruiting trail and the transfer portal. The Blue Zone will analyze film on each of the newcomers for the 2023-24 season. We've already seen Camilla Emsbo and Jadyn Donovan. Next up is Delaney Thomas.
In Delaney Thomas, head coach Kara Lawson may have found the powerful forward that’s been missing from her roster since last year's senior Elizabeth Balogun signed off from the Blue Devil program. This incoming freshman comes to Durham armed with versatility: Steady hands and fast-break prowess along with defensive power and a trusty shooting arm make for a promising bag of tricks headed to this Duke squad.
A native of Washington, Thomas hails from one of the most athletic high school conferences in the country —the Washington Athletic Conference, The St. John’s College product faced Sidwell Friends School in the playoffs of her senior year — the school which produced Thomas’ now-teammate Jadyn Donovan, ranked third in the incoming freshman class.
Thomas earns her own 29th-place rank in this recruiting class largely thanks to her reliable shot. She certainly can work from the arc; in her farewell season with St John’s, she landed half of her 3-pointers. Here, though, see her go-to move from beneath the arc, where the power forward frequently manages to cross up defensive efforts and put up a mid-range jumper — thus earning a 51% field-goal mark for her senior campaign.
The Washington native can work around defenses without trouble, sure, but she does not allow that same ease for her opponents. At 6-foot-2, Thomas carries a hefty height advantage — a tool that’s sure to take some weight off of returning Blue Devil center Kennedy Brown who, at 6-foot-6, holds court as the tallest member on the roster. Athletic and tenacious, Thomas puts herself in front of the net and runs interference, averaging 1.1 blocks and 4.7 defensive rebounds collectively in her junior and senior seasons. Here’s some of that action.
What sets Thomas apart from the average forward — and what puts her in a great spot to take over for Balogun — is her propensity with the fast break. She makes and takes opportunities all over the court, averaging two steals per game in her time on the St. John’s varsity squad. Thomas smoothly converts those steals into layups and jumpers, handling the ball with a coolness that reflects her overall playing style as a steady presence on the hardwood. Watch the versatile forward finish in her signature take-and-make break.
Thomas looks to bring a sense of control to the Duke squad this season, stepping into the big shoes left by departed players — like ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor — with a level head on her tall shoulders that reflects the game of a veteran player. Her role on the court may well help the team decrease last season’s turnover rate, a move that could set the Blue Devil women up for serious success. In the bigger picture, the class of Thomas, Donovan and fellow incoming freshman Oluchi Okananwa gives Lawson the opportunity to develop cohesion and community — and thus a smooth-moving game style — in what is shaping up to be a new and promising chapter of Duke basketball.
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Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.