Commentary

DeCock: Jefferson decision big for Duke, but unfair expectations await

ldecock@newsobserver.com May 16, 2012 

The anticipation surrounding Amile Jefferson’s announcement of where he would go to college was near-breathless Tuesday, in the moments before his long-awaited decision was revealed. There was loud cheering at the suburban Philadelphia gym when he announced Duke was his choice, and no doubt plenty in Durham as well.

After missing out on Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker, Duke desperately needed one last win in the recruiting game. Jefferson delivered, one day after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced he would not coach the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.

As good as the news is for Duke, the enormous visibility and attention surrounding Jefferson’s decision might make for unrealistic expectations. That’s a problem the Blue Devils will be happy to handle, given the lack of depth on their roster.

Fans of Duke and N.C. State were practically salivating at the thought of landing Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 forward who was the last of the top-50 prospects considering an ACC school, and just happened to be choosing between the two schools, both in urgent need of a forward. (Ohio State, Kentucky and Villanova also were on his list.)

Anyone wandering into the conversation unaware of the circumstances might think Jefferson was the next LeBron James – or at the least, the next John Wall, the kind of freshman good enough to wedge his name into national player-of-the-year consideration – based on the demand for his services.

Make no mistake, Jefferson is a good player, and by all accounts, a better kid. But he isn’t a great player – not yet, anyway.

Jefferson hasn’t dribbled a basketball in the ACC, and he faces pressure and expectations that far exceed his considerable abilities. That has very little to do with him, and everything to do with the schools that wanted him, and how badly they did.

Despite being 6-7, he’s probably not big enough yet to play power forward at 190 pounds, and probably not a good enough shooter yet to play small forward. But he’s a fantastic athlete, a good rebounder and shot-blocker, and a good enough kid that teams were willing to figure it out.

Under normal circumstances, that would make him a prized recruit. Under these circumstances, with both Duke and N.C. State scrambling to add a forward for next season, with no one else even approaching Jefferson’s caliber available, Jefferson was nothing short of coveted.

Duke, with what had been a one-man recruiting class of Rasheed Sulaimon (along with redshirt freshmen Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee), badly needed an injection of athleticism and inside scoring ability, even with Mason Plumlee back for his senior season. Jefferson should bring that.

The Blue Devils’ inability to handle big, athletic small forwards was a major issue this season with their three-guard lineup, and Jefferson should help in that role as well.

And don’t think that Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils didn’t enjoy winning a big recruiting battle against a resurgent N.C. State program that advanced far beyond Duke in the NCAA tournament this year. It’s a win that helps Duke as much as it hurts N.C. State, which is just as thin at forward with DeShawn Painter and Tyler Harris transferring.

As the last uncommitted McDonald’s All-American still considering an ACC school, Jefferson would have been a particular subject of local interest anyway, but now he’s perceived as casting what might turn out to be a swing vote in the ACC race. It’ll be up to Krzyzewski to temper the expectations he’ll surely face because of that.

DeCock: luke.decock@newsobserver.com (919) 829-8947 or Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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