Will Duke’s Amile Jefferson return or redshirt?

Duke announced Saturday afternoon that Amile Jefferson will not return this season.
Duke announced Saturday afternoon that Amile Jefferson will not return this season. ehyman@newsobserver.com

As the calendar has changed from December to January to mid-February, one question has remained around the Blue Devils: When will Amile Jefferson be back?

Jefferson broke his right foot diving for a loose ball in practice on Dec. 12. He has progressed from a hard cast to a walking boot and has started to attempt basketball work on the floor. But he is still not ready to play.

Without the senior, the Blue Devils this week have beaten No. 13 Louisville and No. 7 Virginia — two of their best wins of the season – and are all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament.

But now that Duke has found a way to play at a high level without Jefferson, it’s time for a new question: Will Amile Jefferson redshirt?

Jefferson will be eligible for a medical redshirt. If he does not return, he will have only played in nine games this year, fewer than 30 percent of Duke’s total games. At this point, counting the ACC tournament opener, the Blue Devils are guaranteed at least 32 games—nine represents 28.1 percent of the total.

It probably wasn’t a question Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was anticipating in the aftermath of the 63-62 buzzer-beating win over Virginia on Saturday, but it was presented to him all the same.

So, for the record: is Duke considering redshirting Amile Jefferson?

“Not right now,” Krzyzewski said. “If he was not able to play, then we would ask for that, and he would qualify for it. But I don’t want to go there right now. It’s been two months, though. That’s why what our guys have done is remarkable. Very proud of them. It’s remarkable what we’re doing.”

Krzyzewski said after Monday’s win over Louisville that Jefferson was healing well, but that there was still a considerable amount of pain in his foot that was preventing him from making further progress. His rehabilitation work this week brought more of the same.

“Here’s the thing: It’s healing great, but then we try limited basketball stuff at a slower speed—So, he has never done anything game-speed—and there’s pain,” Krzyzewski said. “For you older people, there used to be a Western called ‘Gunsmoke,’ and you remember Chester? He looks a little bit like Chester (who walked with a stiff-legged limp). For you younger people, sorry, he can’t be Chester, he has to be Amile. If he tries to play at full speed with that, he can’t do that. He’s frustrated like crazy, and we’re frustrated for him. I’m being completely honest with you about it. He’s trying, but it is not coming around.”

So Duke will remain in a wait-and-see game with Jefferson’s health. If Jefferson were to redshirt, he would fill perhaps the one hole on next year’s roster.

The Blue Devils will either be the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team, thanks to incoming power forward Harry Giles and wing Jayson Tatum, the Nos. 1 and 2 recruits in next year’s freshmen class. A frontcourt of Giles, Javin DeLaurier (a top-40 recruit who projects as more of a multi-year player) and players who have struggled to earn minutes this year — Chase Jeter, Sean Obi and Antonio Vrankovic — could certainly use a veteran big man like Jefferson.

And perhaps Jefferson would prefer to come back next year and play more of what could be his last season of big-time basketball. Or, maybe all parties involved would prefer to see what he could add back to this year’s group, if his health allows.

There are many factors to weigh when considering Jefferson’s future playing status. But all of them fall away if he can’t get healthy enough to play at full-speed.

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley