An offseason marked by so many losses has ended with two major additions that have Duke primed to challenge for the ACC championship once again.
The additions of those two freshmen, who are expected to be starters when the new season begins in November, help soothe the loss of eight players from last season’s ACC championship team.
The 6-8, 205-pound Tucker steps into the role filled last season by Jayson Tatum, who after averaging 16.8 points as a freshman is projected to be a top-five pick in next month’s NBA draft. Duke heavily recruited five-star small forward Kevin Knox, only to see the 6-8 superstar pick Kentucky instead. But , the Blue Devils quickly pivoted to Tucker and filled their need for a high-scoring wing.
Duval’s decision to pick Duke over Kansas, Baylor, Seton Hall and Arizona gives the Blue Devils the true playmaking point guard they’ve lacked the last two seasons. With 6-5, 202-pound senior Grayson Allen and incoming 6-5, 200-pound freshman Gary Trent Jr. able to provide scoring punch at shooting guard, along with Tucker at small forward, Duke possesses a dynamic backcourt with all the pieces.
Tucker, Trent and Allen are able to fill the basket with 3-point shots while also having the ability to drive the lane for easy baskets or foul shots.
With the 6-3, 190-pound Duval secured, that allows three-star point guard Jordan Goldwire to fill a smaller role as a reserve. That’s what Duke’s coaches had in mind when they made a late push to get Goldwire, who would have signed with Eastern Kentucky had Duke not started recruiting him in late April.
Prior to Goldwire, 6-2, 175 pounds, emerging in the Duke picture, guard Frank Jackson, who was a freshman last season, was in line to handle the ball-handling duties as a sophomore. But when Jackson entered the NBA draft, and then signed with an agent last week, the Blue Devils needed protection.
Goldwire was the first step but Duval was the prize Duke sorely needed.
Now Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will have options. A backcourt featuring Duval with Allen or Trent, and Tucker at small forward gives Duke size. The Blue Devils could go smaller and quicker with Duval, Allen and Trent on the court at the same time.
Goldwire, incoming freshman shooting guard Alex O’Connell, who’s 6-6, 175 pounds, and 6-7, 215-pound sophomore Jack White provide depth.
Duke will also have a bigger lineup available that includes a combination of 6-11, 245-pound sophomore center Marques Bolden, 6-9, 255-pound incoming freshman Wendell Carter and 6-10, 220-pound sophomore Javin DeLaurier. Junior Antonio Vrankovic, a 261-pound 7-footer, provides depth behind those three.
Duke remains in the running for Mohamed Bamba, a 7-foot, 216-pound five-star center from New York. But adding him would be a luxury now rather than must-have players like Tucker and Duval were.
After winning the ACC tournament but losing in the NCAA tournament’s second round during a 28-9 season, the Blue Devils suffered significant losses.
Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones completed their careers after starting as seniors last season.
Freshman Harry Giles joined classmates Jackson and Tatum in entering the NBA Draft. So too did 6-6 sophomore Luke Kennard after he led the team in scoring (19.5 points) during an all-ACC season.
Reserve big men Chase Jeter and Sean Obi transferred.
Jackson heading to the NBA – even though he’s not projected as a first-round pick – made things worse for Duke and losing out on Knox was a tough blow to absorb.
Things got better, though, over the last three days with Tucker and Duval in the fold.
Duke missed out on the No. 1 small forward in the class of 2017 in Knox. But the Blue Devils added the top-rated recruits at point guard (Duval), shooting guard (Trent) and power forward (Carter). So, once again, Duke be in play to win the ACC and challenge for a Final Four berth.