DURHAM For the first time this year, Mike Krzyzewski did not sound optimistic about Amile Jefferson’s potential return this season.
Jefferson broke his right foot diving for a loose ball in practice on Dec. 12. He has rehabbed it diligently in hopes of playing again this season. But with just one regular season game and the postseason left, he does not appear to be ready to take the floor.
"He cannot run fluidly," Krzyzewski said of Jefferson. "It’s just something he's got. You can't push off that thing. Laterally, he goes pretty good. And that's just not in a game, so you're worried about that."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
It’s hard to imagine Jefferson goes from unable to run to capable of banging in the post with the likes of North Carolina’s Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.
Anticipation had been building for Jefferson’s return thanks to a few pictures posted on social media by Grayson Allen and the official team account. They appeared to show Jefferson in practice gear, which was not a surprise—he began doing on-court work at the beginning of February, but none of it was in a scrimmage or at game speed. His teammates have also recently expressed hope about his potential return.
"He’s working hard, bringing a lot of energy to the floor," Luke Kennard said Feb. 23. "He’s still feeling some pain, but we’re hoping he can be back really soon for us."
It appears that really soon won’t be soon enough.
Jefferson is eligible for a medical redshirt, which Duke intends to pursue if he does not miraculously return this year. A player is eligible to redshirt as long as his injury prevents him from playing in more than 30 percent of his team’s games. Jefferson is guaranteed to be under that threshold, as Duke is guaranteed to play at least 33 games this year and Jefferson has just played in nine. A redshirt would allow him to play next year alongside Harry Giles, the No. 1 incoming recruit.
"If he doesn’t (return this year), then we would hope to bring him back next year and put in for a redshirt," Krzyzewski said. "We have to make a decision here quick. Well, it hasn't been quick. At all. We have to make a decision."
At first, the Blue Devils struggled to find their identify without Jefferson, losing to Utah in overtime and starting 4-4 in ACC play (including losses at Clemson and to Syracuse at home, both of which will finish behind Duke in the league standings).
Once the calendar hit February, though, the Blue Devils found their stride and have gone 7-2 since then, losing only at Louisville and at Pittsburgh while beating Louisville, Virginia and UNC in Chapel Hill. The six rotation players have found a way to give themselves a chance to win night in and night out, with the off-day at Pitt notwithstanding.
Now it certainly looks like it will be more of the same, personnel wise, the rest of the way.