The three big men who played the most minutes for Duke last season took different routes to leave the program.
Amile Jefferson graduated, Harry Giles turned professional after one season and Chase Jeter transferred to Arizona.
Duke’s frontcourt cupboard, though, isn’t bare.
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Marques Bolden is back after a subpar freshman season, and Wendell Carter, the top-rated power forward in the 2017 recruiting class, arrives this month. Antonio Vrankovic, a 7-foot junior, will work on improving his game by playing internationally with a Croatian national team this summer, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski believes 6-10 forward Javin DeLaurier will be more prepared to help as a sophomore than he was as a freshman.
The potential is there for Duke to put two of those big men on the court at the same time when a big lineup is needed. Krzyzewski intends to do just that at times with Carter and Bolden.
“We’ll actually be a pretty big team,” Krzyzewski said. “Those two guys will definitely play together.”
The 6-11 Bolden arrived as a heralded five-star recruit from DeSoto, Texas, 12 months ago. He was the last player to join Duke’s recruiting class and gave the Blue Devils serious post depth along with Jefferson, Giles and Jeter.
Of course all three of those players missed games due to various injuries last season. Bolden played in just 25 games, with one start, after he was slowed by a November left foot injury. He played in 157 total minutes (compared to Jefferson’s 1,039, Giles’ 300 and Jeter’s 238) and averaged 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds.
The bottom line is he never earned the full trust of the coaching staff, which meant his minutes stayed low.
He’s working this offseason to change that situation.
Now healthy, Bolden will attend training camp hoping to make the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup team later this month. Kentucky’s John Calipari is the team’s head coach with Wake Forest’s Danny Manning and Colorado’s Tad Boyle assisting him.
After reviewing Bolden and the other players during on-court training from June 18-20, they’ll select the finalists who will compete for the U.S. at the U19 World Cup July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt.
“I do believe it’s a big year for Marques,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s been training. He’s going to try out for the under-19 team. Hopefully that experience will help him too.”
Though he only played 85 minutes last season, DeLaurier nevertheless has a year’s experience in college basketball that gives him an advantage over the incoming freshman. At 6-10 and 235 pounds, DeLaurier showed athleticism during his first season with the Blue Devils and is in position to see his minutes increase dramatically.
“We think Javin can be very good,” Krzyzewski said.
Carter arrives at Duke with the same one-and-done aspirations as all five-star players who join the Blue Devils. He’s 6-10 and 262 pounds, which means Duke will have plenty of size in the lane if he and Bolden are on the court together.
But they won’t always be together. Duke will have the option of going smaller and quicker, having either Carter or Bolden as the lone big with 6-7 small forward Jordan Tucker at the other forward. Duke has done that successfully in the past with Jayson Tatum and Justise Winslow.
With Bolden hoping to be away from Duke from late June to mid-July and Vrankovic scheduled to be with his Croatian team until early August, getting all the interior players on the court together won’t happen until the middle of August.
Duke will practice together in Durham before embarking for its foreign tour to the Dominican Republic that month.
By then Krzyzewski and his staff will know if the frontcourt, manned by four players, will have the skill to help the Blue Devils compete for ACC and NCAA championships.