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Summer league breakthrough for Harry Giles begs a what-if for 2017 Duke

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Back in the fall of 2016, Duke received 58 of 65 votes for the top spot in the preseason Associated Press Top 25. The Blue Devils, you’ll remember, were loaded. They brought back Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, which would be enough of a core to compete in the ACC and the NCAA tournament itself.

But that’s not why Mike Krzyzewski’s team was the overwhelming national title favorite to start that season. It was the addition of two top-five phenoms that really had expectations for Duke championship-or-bust. Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles (and we shouldn’t forget 11th-ranked Marques Bolden) were going to be the one-two punch to make Duke not only the best team in the country, but maybe a dominant one, one that we would be comparing teams to for a decade.

It didn’t exactly work out that way.

Duke went 11-7 and finished tied for fifth in the ACC. They were upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by South Carolina. Though Tatum did deliver on his star power, eventually being drafted third in the NBA draft by the Celtics and looking like a potential future MVP candidate during Boston’s playoff run, Giles’ fortunes were more in line with the Blue Devils’.

Once regarded as a potential top pick in the 2017 draft, Giles struggled at Duke to return to the form that made him a top prospect before two ACL tears during his prep years set him back significantly. After undergoing a procedure on the knee in the preseason, he played a total of just 300 minutes for Duke, averaging 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He was drafted 20th overall by the Kings last June simply on the strength of what he used to be before the knee injuries seemingly sapped him of his undeniable upside.

When Giles didn’t play a minute last year as the Kings sidelined him to get his knees right, it only furthered the belief that his best basketball, even at just age 20, could be behind him.

Giles is offering an alternative theory this summer, though.

The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two Las Vegas summer league games after a strong showing in the Sacramento league previously, but even more importantly is showing an explosiveness that belies his injury history.

That Giles, the version who could make plays like the one above with regularity, was what had everyone so excited about that Duke team just two years ago. If the Blue Devils would have had something approximating this Giles, who looks bouncy and aggressive and fluid, alongside Tatum – plus that veteran core – watch out. That was the thinking then, and it’s hard not to think about it again now with what looks to be a Giles renaissance upon us.

Super teams are all the rage in the NBA, but Duke had the look of a potential one in November 2016.

“I’m starting to put more stuff together,” Giles told the Kings’ website last week. “I’m starting to show more parts of my game. More and more each game that you might not’ve seen in my the few games that I played.

“I’m getting my groove back.”

What could be for Giles suddenly looks to be a high ceiling once again. It’s hard not to look back at what could have been.

Unless you’re partial to Carolina blue, I suppose.

Zion Williamson breaks Duke vertical leap record

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson is going to be one of the bigger stories in college basketball this season after the hype surrounding his high school career.

An extraordinary leaper and big-time athlete, Williamson set a new record at Duke for vertical leap during the team’s summer combine testing this week.

Williamson cleared the rack during testing. Plenty of guys have been able to clear the rack during vertical testing. But not many are built like NFL defensive lineman.

The rack had to be elevated for Williamson to properly finish out his vertical testing. He’s also listed at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds on the Duke website.

Williamson cleared the rack so easily that teammate R.J. Barrett — one of the best players in the country — was laughing while marveling at his leaping ability. It’s going to be fun to watch Williamson play above the rim for the Blue Devils this season.

 

Duke’s R.J. Barrett could have big role on Canadian senior national team

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Duke incoming freshman R.J. Barrett has made a big impact on the Canadian senior national team during his first two exhibition games.

Considered by some to be the No. 1 incoming freshman in college basketball this season, the 6-foot-7 Barrett averaged 18.5 points per game during Canada’s two exhibition friendlies against the Chinese national team. Canada basketball is preparing for an important stretch as they play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifier next.

In the second win, Barrett had 21 points to go along with five assists and three rebounds as he was the team’s leading scorer. Considering that the Canadian senior national team features NBA players and other professionals, this is quite an accomplishment and something to keep an eye on over these next few weeks. Barrett has previously been a star for the Canadian national team, but it has come at the younger levels of FIBA play and not with the senior national team.

It’s one thing to dominant at the U19 level against a John Calipari-coached team of American high school and college stars. It’s another level when established pros are deferring to a player who is fresh out of high school.

Barrett’s development into a potential go-to player is not only intriguing for the future of Canadian men’s basketball, but it’s also important for Duke. Barrett has a chance to be a special talent next season.

With the Blue Devils having a very young team once again next season, they’ll ideally need someone like Barrett to take the burden of being the primary scorer. There isn’t a senior fallback option like Grayson Allen to rely on now that he’s moved on to the NBA. Duke is going to be one of the most talented teams in the country — on paper. But we still need to see how this extremely talented freshman class handles the expectations and the rigors of the ACC.

If Barrett shows an ability to take over games like he’s done with the Canadian senior national team, then it will be a good sign that he can be a dominant offensive player for the Blue Devils this season. It’s also interesting to note that Barrett will be the only member of Duke’s expected rotation who is not on campus with the team during the upcoming July 2nd summer session. Barrett is expected to join the team later this summer as the Blue Devils get an important overseas trip (and 10 extra practice days) to try to get the freshmen playing on the same page.

While Barrett has been the showstopper for the Canadians so far, Florida incoming freshman guard Andrew Nembhard will also be a player to watch with regards to the college ranks in this event. After going scoreless during the first Canadian exhibition win, Nembhard exploded for 18 points and three assists in the second win, as he went an impressive 6-for-7 behind the FIBA three-point line.

Wendell Carter Jr.’s parents felt son’s role didn’t match recruiting pitch

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Heading into the 2017-18 season Duke was set to have a very talented recruiting class, with Wendell Carter Jr. expected to serve as the focal point in the front court. Things changed in mid-August however, as Marvin Bagley III announced that he would be moving back into the Class of 2017 and joining the Duke program. While adding another talented piece, especially one of Bagley’s caliber, was seen as a huge addition for the Blue Devils not everyone was thrilled with what the move would mean for how Mike Krzyzewski’s team played.

Parents Wendell Sr. and Kylia Carter saw a shift in how their son would be used at Duke, and in a story written by NBC Sports Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill, it’s clear that there are still some lingering bad feelings about the situation.

“I tell people. People make promises they can’t keep. It didn’t bother me,” Wendell Sr. told Goodwill. “I was concerned because I felt like we were lied to. ‘Oh, Wendell’s gonna be the man’ and then the rug was pulled from under us.”

As for Mrs. Carter, she says that there’s still the need for a conversation between herself and Krzyzewski when it comes to Wendell Jr.’s role not exactly matching up with what he was told during the recruiting process.

“We have not had our conversation but we will. We almost went there with him when we did our exit interview,” she told Goodwill. “But he’ll come around to a Bulls game and I’ll get the chance.”

It’s important to note here that there was no animosity between Carter Jr. and Bagley, with the former saying in the piece that their practice battles were more about making each other better, an “iron sharpens iron” approach. Carter did have to adjust his game in the aftermath of Bagley’s arrival. And after some early struggles, the 6-foot-10 big man averaged 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game and finished the season with the highest individual defensive rating (92.8) of any of Duke’s regulars. Bagley (97.4) also completed the season with a defensive rating below 100.0.

Despite having to augment his style of play, Carter still landed in the lottery, with the Chicago Bulls selecting him with the seventh overall pick in last week’s NBA draft.

Whether or not promises were kept or broken is something that the Carter family and Krzyzewski will discuss at some point; Kylia Carter made that much clear in Goodwill’s story. And the on-court scenario not exactly matching up with what a recruit and his family are told during the recruiting process happens quite often.

That being said, the Carters still saw their son land in the lottery after his lone season at Duke. The situation could have been far worse, as some one-and-done players have learned the hard way since the NBA put its age limit rules in place.

Coach K: ‘I have no plans to retire’

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the greatest college basketball coach this side of John Wooden, said on Monday that he has given on thought to the idea of when he will call it quits.

“I have no plans to retire,” Krzyzewski said on the College Hoops Today Podcast. “I feel better than I have in a long time. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. There’s no end in sight.”

The question of whether or not Coach K will be around all that much longer has been something that has lingered over the sport given the numerous health issues that he has dealt with in recent years. He’s undergone surgery six times in the last two years and, at 71 years old, is at an age where most everyone is hoping to retire while working one of the most strenuous and time-consuming jobs imaginable.

Put another way, no one would blame Krzyzewski if he wanted to hang it up.

But instead, he is arguably at the top of his game. He’s churned out elite recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons, he’s won two National Titles in the last eight seasons and he has three of the nation’s top five prospects enrolling for the 2018-19 season.

He’s not slowing down.

So why would he thinking about leaving the game?

Who will follow Donte DiVincenzo’s breakout path to the NBA next?

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It was little surprise Thursday night Donte DiVincenzo get drafted 17th overall at the NBA draft by the MIlwaukee Bucks.

The 6-foot-5 guard has been a staple of mock drafts since he declared for the draft after earning Most Outstanding Player honors as Villanova won its second national championship in three years.

A few months ago, though, something like that would have seemed an extreme long shot after an unremarkable freshman season by the Delaware product who redshirted after a foot injury in 2015-16. A lot can change in a single season.

So who is the next player to go from fringe prospect to first-round selection? Here’s the DiVincenzo Watch List:

JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: You might remember the Michigan freshman for his game-winner against Houston to help the Wolverines on their way to the national title game, but the former top-100 recruit averaged just 12.2 minutes per game for John Beilein last year. This season, he’s in line for a lot more PT and a chance to shine for more than one moment.

NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: The 6-foot-5 guard can really fill it up, but battled mightily with inconsistency last season. There were nights he’d go for 15-plus and follow it up with a succession of single-digit performances. His offensive game – his ability to make plays and quarterback pick-and-roll – will make him an intriguing NBA prospect. Being able to do it night-in and night-out could make him a first-rounder.

JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech: Zhaire Smith got all the NBA attention last year while Keenan Evans got the attention of Big 12 defenses, but Culver is a bona fide prospect in his own right. The Red Raiders will be his team next season, and if he shoots it a little better (converted at 38.2 percent from 3 as a freshman), it’s not inconceivable it’s his last in Lubbock.

O’SHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse: The 6-foot-8 forward quietly had a very productive freshman season, averaging  14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Orange. He needs to be more efficient, but if he can start making shots with more regularity (he’s plenty comfortable shooting from the outside), he’ll rocket up draft boards.

AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: Coffey looked like a blue chip recruit before an ACL tear in high school set him back, and shoulder surgery cut a promising sophomore season short. If he can get past the injuries, Coffey is an intriguing wing prospect at 6-foot-8 with plus-athleticism. His shooting has improved since getting on campus with the Gophers and if that trend continues, NBA teams will take serious notice.

ALEX O’CONNELL, Duke: A top-75 recruit in 2017, O’Connell got limited run last year for the Blue Devils, but shot 48.9 percent on 45 attempts from 3-point range. He should move up the pecking order this season for Duke and could be an impact player off the bench.

LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ leading scorer flirted with going pro after a freshman season in which he averaged 16.7 points and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range before ultimately returning to Ames. The 6-foot-3 guard is one of the most explosive leapers in college basketball, but needs to improve his decision-making and ballhandling. If he makes even moderate gains in those areas, his physical tools and ability to score the ball could have Adam Silver announcing his name next June.

JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 forward averaged  10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman and waited until the final hours before the deadline before announcing his decision to return to the Aztecs. He’s got a ton of upside but some concerns are a meager block rate (2.5 percent) and non-existent game at the arc (4 of 18 from 3 last year). Both of those are issues for big men in the modern NBA. He needs to improve one or both of those areas while continuing to be an above-average rebounder to explode onto the draft scene next summer.