No surprise Friday morning when it was announced that the NCAA had granted Amile Jefferson a medical hardship year after the Duke forward was limited to just nine games this past season because of a broken right foot. A senior, Jefferson is eligible for the 2016-17 season, as if the Blue Devils really need another player.
Duke will be loaded next season. Most of the way-too-early 2016-17 rankings, the ones that pop up at the end of the Final Four, had Mike Krzyzewski’s team ranked No. 1 with Kentucky at No. 2. And that was before guard Grayson Allen announce he would return for his junior season or it was known four sure that Jefferson would be back.
All of this is also with the recruitment of Marques Bolden still up in the air. The 6-foot-10 center from DeSoto, Texas, ranked as the 16th best prospect in the Class of 2016, could announce his decision any day now. Bolden has reportedly narrowed his choices to Kentucky and Duke.
Even if Bolden picks UK, Duke figures to be just fine. After fighting through depth problems last season before being knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Oregon, the Blue Devils shouldn’t have the same worries come October. Thin last season, Duke looks to be loaded next season.
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Just as in 2015, when Coach K won his fifth national title, Duke expects to have a dynamite one-and-done class. Back then it was Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. This time it’s Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson.
Giles, a 6-10 forward from Winston-Salem, is ranked as the No. 2 best prospect by Rivals behind only Josh Jackson, who recently committed to Kansas. Though he missed his final high school season after tearing the ACL in his right knee, Giles is expected to be healthy by the start of the season.
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Then there’s Tatum, a 6-9 forward from St. Louis, who is ranked No. 3 by Rivals. So, yes, Duke has two of the top three Rivals recruits. (Kentucky has two of the top six with No. 5 De’Aaron Fox and No. 6 Malik Monk).
Then there’s Frank Jackson, a 6-4 combo guard from Utah who is ranked No. 10 by Rivals. Jackwon won the JamFest dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago last month. A Mormon, Jackson has decided not to serve a mission and will instead go straight to Duke -- the same path Jabari Parker, also a Mormon, took in 2013-14.
Krzyzewski will also be welcoming Javin DeLaurier, a 6-8 power forward from Charlottesville, Virginia who is ranked No. 41 by Rivals. Then there’s Jack White, a 6-7 forward from Australia who averaged 8.3 points per game in the U19 World Championships last year.
Add that standout class to the pieces Duke has returning, led by Allen, who when not tripping up the opposition is a tremendous player. Allen averaged 21.6 points per game last year as a sophomore. He shot 41.7 percent from three-point range and 83.7 percent from the foul line.
Luke Kennard also returns. He’s the 6-5 sophomore-to-be who seriously considered Kentucky before signing on with the Blue Devils. Kennard averaged 11.8 points per game last season, though he was not as effective as three-point shooter as expected, hitting only 32 percent from beyond the arc. He should benefit from experience.
Matt Jones is expected to return for his senior season. Jones has played in 106 games at Duke and averaged 10.4 points per game last year. He also made 41.5 percent of his threes and is a career 38.4 percent three-point shooter.
Meanwhile, Jefferson is the glue guy. He played in 106 games in his first three seasons. He averaged a double-double last season before getting a hurt, scoring 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game before getting hurt. Before Jefferson’s injury, Duke was 8-1. It ended up 25-11.
There’s also Chase Jeter, a highly-recruited forward who was slow to develop last season. Jeter averaged just 1.9 points in 7.9 minutes per game. He could be ready to make a step forward as a sophomore.
Duke is losing Derryck Thornton, a guard who averaged 7.1 points per game as a freshman last season. He started 20 of 36 games. Yet with Allen, Jones and Kennard returning, plus the addition of Jackson, Duke should be fine at guard.
In fact, Duke should be fine at just about every position. That’s true with or without Bolden.
Duke basketball roster 2016-17