Sean Obi’s biggest contribution Monday night came when he sprinted down the Duke bench, black-velvet blazer shimmering, to help retrieve Quinn Cook after the Duke senior slid off the elevated court chasing a loose ball.
Obi, who sat out this season after transferring from Rice, is still part of a national-championship team, like Seth Curry in 2010. That’s a big deal. What may be a bigger deal to him is the way Grayson Allen played Monday.
“I’m so excited,” Obi said. “Grayson’s just a special kid. I can’t wait.”
Obi will be a key component of what figures to be a depleted Duke frontcourt next season. Allen, who exploded for 16 unexpected points in Monday’s 68-63 win over Wisconsin, looks like he may be the focal point of the backcourt.
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With Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones all expected to depart for the NBA – and after successfully completing their goal of winning a national championship as freshmen at Duke, why wouldn’t they? – expectations will be substantially lower for the Blue Devils next season.
But after Allen went from 10th guy on the bench to national star, unknown to known in the space of a weekend, expectations will be a little higher than they would have been otherwise.
There’s no question Duke still has issues to address, especially with the midseason departures of Rasheed Sulaimon and Semi Ojeleye during the season. No. 1 on that list: Who plays point guard, whether it’s Matt Jones or Allen or a recruit or transfer yet to be added. But Allen’s play over the weekend certainly puts a new spin on the future.
The Blue Devils still have a chance to land Kinston’s Brandon Ingram, perhaps the nation’s top uncommitted recruit, but he plays a position already occupied by Allen and Jones and incoming freshman Luke Kennard. The bigger questions are at point guard and in the post, where Duke at the moment has Obi, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee to go with incoming freshman Chase Jeter.
There’s not an Okafor or a Winslow or a Tyus Jones in that bunch, which Duke knew a long time ago. There is a Grayson Allen, which everyone knows now.
That was the plan all along. Like an NBA team with impending salary-cap issues, Duke had a very small window for success. Down nine points to the Badgers midway through the second half, that window looked to have closed completely.
“We came this far,” Matt Jones said. “We didn’t want to squander it like that.”
That’s when Allen and Tyus Jones took over, and the way the latter played after that made it perfectly clear that there was no chance he might have any incentive to return. Another year in college might help Jones physically, but his draft stock is never going to be any higher.
Jones is the kind of player who goes late in the first round to a good team and ensures the 76ers and Knicks remain out of playoff contention despite all their high picks, while their fans wonder why they can’t land a player like that.
Okafor may have fallen to No. 2 in some eyes behind Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns after struggling against Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, but Towns was only slightly better against the perimeter-roaming Badgers center. Okafor’s arsenal of offensive post moves are rare in today’s NBA, let alone the college game. The team that passes on him will probably regret it.
Then there’s Winslow, whose tournament performance kept him solidly in the lottery, a physically imposing impact wing whose skill set is more common in the NBA than Okafor’s but did nothing to disabuse any notions that he’s a solid pro.
There’s no reason now for those three to stick around. Their mission at Duke is complete. Their future lies elsewhere.
As for Duke’s future, it’s a little brighter than it was a week ago, thanks to Allen’s Final Four performance. Just ask Obi, who’s as excited about next season as he was to be a small part of this one.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947