Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski usually deploys a notoriously short rotation, one that almost never includes more than eight players.
This year, there will be more competition than ever for those spots.
For the first time, according to Krzyzewski, Duke will have the maximum number of scholarship players allowed by NCAA rules. There are 13 scholarship Blue Devils: one redshirt senior (Amile Jefferson), one senior (Matt Jones), one redshirt junior (Sean Obi, will be sidelined indefinitely after summer knee surgery), one junior (Grayson Allen), three sophomores (Luke Kennard, Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic) and six freshmen (Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Jack White).
Maxing out on scholarships wasn’t a goal or plan. It was just a product of the increasingly difficult task of roster management in the one-and-done era.
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“We didn’t know that Amile and Grayson would be back,” Krzyzewski said. “We just went out, and, with the turnover rate, not just with one-year guys, but two- or three-year guys, you have to recruit a pretty big-sized class every year. It worked out now that we have our full complement of scholarships, which we’ve never had.”
Duke’s incoming recruiting class of six players is its largest of this millennium. Last year’s class had five scholarship players. Those numbers are a necessity to guard against unplanned early departures, such as Tyus Jones after the 2015 season. In years where players make surprise choices to stay, inevitably there will be more scholarship players than rotation spots.
“I’d rather have a lot of good players than a limited number of good players,” Krzyzewski said. “On any team, there will be one, two or three who are better.
“Even with the Olympic team, there are a few that are just better. And you have to figure out a system that will engage those guys and build around them. It’s not an equal amount of minutes or anything like that. It’s what you need to do to win. You would hope that everybody buys into that. We anticipate everyone buying into it.”
Inevitably, some four- and five-star players that aren’t getting many minutes will choose to transfer. That’s generally for the benefit of both parties: the player has another opportunity to choose a school where he might play more, and Duke gets another spot to potentially add a higher impact player.
Building a team around players likely to stay on campus roughly 10 months means the Blue Devils have no time to waste in terms of player development and getting a workable offensive system in place. So this year, for the first time, some of the freshmen are enrolled in the first summer session, getting them on campus in May instead of July.
Giles, Tatum, Jackson and DeLaurier are enrolled in the first session, and Bolden arrived in early June as well.
“It gives us a chance to get to know them better, train them better,” Krzyzewski said. “You are allowed to do certain things with them now. And then they get accustomed to one another. So by the time the school year comes, they’re friends, they’re acclimated, they’re better and they can hit the ground running a little bit more.”
The Blue Devils are already knee-deep in recruiting the 2017 class, and those efforts will intensify this summer when staffs are allowed to travel to tournaments for the evaluation periods. There could be six more new Blue Devils on campus next year. That’s just the typical turnover for teams chasing the top talent.