Duke got back on the winning track with a 92-58 blowout of Delaware at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday. Just as importantly, the Blue Devils’ roster began to take shape after a sporadic start to the season.
The Blue Devils opened the season without their top two freshmen, and arguably their top two players, in centers Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead, both of whom were nursing injuries that caused them to miss time in the preseason.
Lively was cleared to play after Duke’s opener and came off the bench in the two games since. Whitehead missed Duke’s first three games, including Tuesday’s loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic.
While the 69-64 setback, Jon Scheyer’s first head coaching loss, was an early-season blow to absorb, the news since returning to Durham has been all good for the Blue Devils.
For starters, Whitehead was cleared to play. He made his collegiate debut against Delaware, coming off the bench for 15 minutes and scoring six points with two rebounds and two steals.
“I’ve just been looking forward to it,” Whitehead said. “Amped up, just seeing them in practice every day getting it, to finally be able to join them, I was looking forward to it.”
“He hasn’t even had a week of practice under his belt,” Scheyer said. “I spoke to him when we got back from Kansas, and he felt like he was ready to go and try it in the game. We knew there will be some rust, but I think you can see his athleticism, his body, and he’s really a smart player. … I really liked his effort. We were hoping to get him 15 minutes tonight. And we did get him 15 minutes and so happy with that result.”
Lively also entered the starting lineup for the first time, dishing out four assists and scoring five points in the game.
“I though Dereck took a really good step tonight,” Scheyer said.
A third freshman, Tyrese Proctor, has started every game, but the highly rated guard has struggled with his shot, hitting just 1 of his first 14 attempts through the first two and a half games. He showed signs of coming out of his slump in the second half against Kansas, shooting 3-of-7, and exploded on Friday, going 5-of-10, 1-of-2 from three for 13 points and leading the team with 10 rebounds and four assists.
“My big men were boxing out, I’m just getting their scraps,” Proctor said of his big night on the boards.
So, it appears that Scheyer now has a fully intact roster, and the newer players are beginning to click.
“It’s gonna take time,” he said. “We’ve had guys in this situation before. Jayson Tatum (who missed the start of his one season at Duke due to injury), it took time and A.J. (Griffin, who missed the start of last season), took time. We’re going to be patient with them, but at the same time, we’re not going to coach them patiently.”
The Blue Devils have one more home game on Monday, against Bellarmine, before heading to the Pacific Northwest for the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament. So the schedule begins to ramp up, making this the perfect time for Scheyer and Duke to be able to turn the dial up to full power.
“Yesterday, we were coming out to practice, and I told the team, ‘This is our first day together!’” Scheyer said. “ I was so excited.”