Friedlander: Roster continuity further proof that Duke's basketball transfer of power has been a success
DURHAM, NC — Considering the current landscape of college basketball, it’s no longer a matter of if your favorite team is going to lose players to the transfer portal. It’s how many.
That is, unless your team happens to be Duke.
The Blue Devils did lose 2 underclassmen to the NBA Draft. But other than 1-and-done freshmen Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, everyone else who was eligible to return will be back for 2023-24.
When UCLA’s Mac Etienne and Abramo Canka entered the portal just before it officially closed on Thursday, Duke became the only high major team in the country to survive the free agent frenzy without having a single scholarship player transfer.
No big deal, you say?
Maybe it’s not in the context of gaining a competitive advantage, although the return of potential 1st-round NBA picks Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor – along with fellow sophomore Mark Mitchell and, potentially, senior captain Jeremy Roach – does set the Blue Devils up to be one of the nation’s top teams next season.
It’s more about the culture of their program and the ease with which it has made the transition from the winningest coach in college basketball history to an untested youngster in his first leadership role.
The book is still out on how successful Jon Scheyer will be over the long haul. There’s no guarantee that a large contingent of returning stars will produce a result that lives up to its high expectations in Year 2, as Hubert Davis learned so painfully at rival North Carolina last season.
That nothwithstanding, Mike Krzyzewski’s hand-picked successor is off to a strong start.
Scheyer distinguished himself in his rookie season by working around a rash of injuries, growing along with his team and becoming the 1st man in ACC history to win a conference tournament championship as a player and coach.
More important, he cultivated the kind of relationships that made people want to stick around and play for him.
Roll your eyes all you like about the whole “Brotherhood” narrative that makes Duke so irritating to others around the country, especially those located in close proximity to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But there really is something to it.
Scheyer is well-versed on the subject, having been part of the Duke family for nearly 2 decades since arriving on campus as a freshman point guard in 2006. He won a national championship as a senior and played a couple of seasons overseas before returning to his alma mater to begin learning at his mentor’s side.
The grooming process for him to take over the program was a multi-year process that included a season as coach-in-waiting. That proved to be a blessing for a number of reasons, among which was Scheyer’s ability to recruit his own players and build his team in his own image.
His 1st signee was Filipowski, a 7-foot stretch 4 who won the ACC’s Rookie of the Year award, then professed his loyalty to his coach in announcing his decision to run it back as a sophomore.
“When I committed here, I said I wanted to help continue the Duke legacy,” Filipowski said. “I said I wanted to help Coach Scheyer build the foundation. I said I wanted to leave a legacy of my own and I meant what I said. Same dynasty, new legacy.”
The down side to Filipowski’s return is that 1 of Scheyer’s newest group of 5-star recruits, power forward Mackenzie Mgbako, opted out of his commitment to play at another school with more available minutes.
Such is the price of continuity in the era of the transfer portal.
But it’s a price others would gladly pay to have a veteran core with an already established chemistry and a conference championship to its credit around which to build.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to construct a winning roster through the use of free-agent acquisitions. Jim Larrañaga did it and got Miami to the Final Four.
It’s just that it’s incredibly hit-or-miss proposition.
Who could possibly have predicted that lesser-known pickups such as Jarkel Joiner and DJ Burns at NC State would have a greater impact on their new team than the much higher rated Pete Nance at UNC and Jacob Grandison at Duke?
The Blue Devils’ known quantities will give Scheyer a head start on the competition by allowing him to bring the 4 remaining members of his 5-star recruiting class along at their own pace without the burden of having to carry the team.
In the process, it will also help take even more of the pressure off a young coach well on his way toward adding his own new legacy to the same Duke dynasty.