NEW YORK – On Wednesday morning, Tyus Jones, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, joined Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor, becoming the third Duke freshman to enter his name into this year’s NBA draft.
In light of the news of Jones’ decision, lone Jordan Brand Classic Duke commit Luke Kennard, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Franklin, Ohio, was repeatedly asked to address the state of the post-champion Blue Devils, whose key components have been stripped down and shipped to the NBA.
Kennard, who made waves earlier this season by passing LeBron James on Ohio’s all-time scoring list, acknowledged that, prior to the season, he assumed Okafor would likely be NBA-bound regardless of the season’s result. He also stated Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski explained that, when it came to Jones and Winslow’s respective futures, the determining factor would be their late-season performances.
Even with the idea of all three breakout freshman catching the early train to the NBA firmly implanted in the back of his mind, Kennard made it clear it was still a pill he had to choke down.
“It kind of stinks that they’re leaving, they’re great players,” Kennard said. “I played with Justise and Tyus on the USA Team, U-18, this past summer. It’s going to be tough but we’re ready to come in and just play good and prove [ourselves].”
The departure of Jones leaves Duke currently without a point guard to their name, just a season after playing with two — Jones and senior Quinn Cook — in their starting lineup. With the tarp officially being torn off that gaping hole, Krzyzewski is currently trying to convince either, or both, of 2016 targets Derryck Thornton and Jamal Murray, to reclassify and join Duke a year early.
However, if those plans end up fizzling, Kennard may be the Blue Devils’ fall back to run the offense next season. Kennard, who played some point in AAU, as well as high school, told SNY.tv that assistant coach Jon Scheyer reached out to him and told him to, “keep working on that ball-handling,” because they may need it sooner rather than later.
If anyone knows about converted point guards, it’s Scheyer. After playing off the ball his first three years at Duke, Scheyer moved to the point in the midst of his senior season and led the Blue Devils to their fourth national title.
Kennard also admitted that, even though his sales pitch may not be as polished as Kryzyewski’s, he’s been doing some recruiting of his own. And while his efforts to lure Caleb Swanigan to Durham proved futile, Kennard said him and fellow Duke commit — as well as future roommate — Chase Jeter have been “going hard” at Brandon Ingram about joining them next season.
Ingram, ranked by Rivals as the No. 19 overall player in the 2015 class, would be a tremendous signing for Duke, but, as a small forward, he would not be the answer to their point guard woes.
While the final recruiting picture remains blurry, one thing is for sure: whether it’s from the two, off the bench, or as the starting point guard, Duke will need some major contributions from Kennard, along with the rest of their incoming class.