DURHAM, NC — And now, we have our bow.
With Duke holding its end-of-season banquet last week, and presenting the two banners that Mike Krzyzewski’s final team earned this season — one for the ACC regular-season title, one for the Final Four — it’s officially time to look to the future . Krzyzewski is retired, Jon Scheyer has officially taken over as head coach, and it’s time for the Blue Devils to start building next year’s roster in earnest.
Which means, we have some decisions on the way — many of which are expected this week, according to people inside and close to the program who spoke with The Athletic. Between NBA Draft departures, transfer portal possibilities, and roster returnees, there’s a lot going on around the Cameron Indoor complex these days. And, oh yeah: Scheyer still has one more assistant to hire for his bench, in the role vacated by his ascension to head coach.
Let’s start there. Scheyer has already made his first assistant coaching hire, promoting former director of player development Amile Jefferson to fill the void left by Nolan Smith departing for Louisville. One reason for Jefferson’s promotion, according to a source: In addition to his tutelage of Duke’s bigs, Jefferson has an exceptional voice and conviction for someone under 30. (Jefferson turns 29 in May.) On top of Jefferson’s promotion, Scheyer hired Mike Schrage — Duke’s longtime former director of basketball operations — away from Elon to become special assistant to the head coach. But even with associate head coach Chris Carrawell still in the fold, there’s one more open spot on the bench. Who might it go to? Source tell The Athletic that Duke touched base with Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas about the position, but Lucas appears likely to stay at UK. The larger takeaway there, a source says, is that Scheyer is willing to hire outside the Duke brotherhood. Krzyzewski, by the end of his tenure, placed an emphasis on hiring exclusively former Duke players (and captains, if possible), but Scheyer is casting a wider net. Regardless, inside the program, there isn’t a rush to hire Scheyer’s third assistant because of how far ahead Duke is in regard to its 2023 recruiting class. The Blue Devils already have five verbal commits in the class, all of them top-30 prospects.
More pressing than whomever Scheyer ultimately settles on for the assistant’s role, though, is the work of resolving the state of Duke’s roster. Some of these resolutions are already underway. Sophomore center Mark Williams declared for the NBA Draft on Monday afternoon, and freshman Paolo Banchero, a projected top-3 pick, is expected to follow suit as soon as Tuesday. The same goes for freshman wing AJ Griffin, who is expected to declare later this week. While one NBA source mentioned concerns over Griffin’s lack of physicality, and whether there are any lingering mental or physical effects from his various injuries, people close to the player say the NBA feedback he’s received thus far — don’t forget, his father Adrian is an assistant with the Toronto Raptors — is that there’s a strong probability he’s selected in the top 10. That likely lottery status is enough for Griffin to also leave school after just one season. Additionally, graduate transfers Theo John and bates-jones are out of eligibility and will move on. junior guard Michael SavarinoKrzyzewski’s grandson, officially entered the transfer portal Tuesday morning, The Athletic confirmed, with an intention to graduate over the summer and play more at a smaller school next season.
Here’s where things get less cut-and-dry: Duke’s backcourt. jeremy roach, Trevor Keelsand Wendell Moore Jr. are facing decisions about their respective futures. A Duke source told The Athletic before the NCAA Tournament that the program believed it had a shot to get back one of Moore or Keels next season, and that sentiment hasn’t changed. But as of now, that player would have to be Keels; multiple sources said Moore plans to capitalize on his breakout junior season, in which he won the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award, and go pro. Two NBA sources said they currently hold Moore in higher standing than Keels for multiple reasons, including his athleticism, his improved 3-point shooting — Moore made 41.3 percent of his 3s this season, a career best — and his defensive versatility. There’s “not a whole lot left” for Moore to prove at the college level, one NBA source said, especially considering his relative youth after three years in school. (Moore doesn’t turn 21 until September.)
Keels, on the other hand, is a different story, and his return to Durham remains a real possibility, if not a probability. NBA decision-makers are still torn on exactly what type of player he is. After scoring 25 points in Duke’s season-opening Champions Classic win over Kentucky, Keels had an up-and-down season, which included a three-game hiatus in January recovering from a lower leg/calf injury. He still averaged 11.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the season, but he made just 31.2 percent of his team-high 173 3-point attempts. For that reason, NBA teams are most interested in Keels at this point for his defensive skill set as a bigger-bodied guard. “He knows how to bully you around,” one scout mentioned. But offensively, Keels’ athletic limitations and shooting struggles are seen as two things he could work on with a sophomore season at Duke. Especially considering the frontcourt additions in Duke’s incoming recruiting class, Keels would be in line to start — and star — again should he return. “(Keels) has more reason,” the scout said, “to go back to school.” Keels has not made up his mind yet, according to a person close to the situation, but the deadline to declare for early entry to the draft is 11:59 pm Sunday.
As for Roach, there was significant chatter before the NCAA Tournament about him entering the transfer portal at season’s end. But given his emergence during Duke’s Final Four run — Roach’s 3-pointer against Michigan State was arguably the program’s biggest postseason shot — that plan now seems to have shifted. Had Roach left, sources indicate there was some discussion about 2023 point guard commit Caleb Foster re-classifying and enrolling early this summer. And while no final decision has been made yet, it appears Foster will remain in the 2023 class and Roach will return as the starting point guard for Scheyer’s first team.
If Keels and Roach do ultimately return, what a haul that would be for Scheyer in his first offseason as head coach. Duke is already welcoming the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, but it is top-loaded with frontcourt and wing players. With five-star prospects Dereck Lively II, Kyle Filipowski and Dariq Whitehead, the Blue Devils likely have three starters for next season … but Roach and Keels would solidify the backcourt. Add in freshman forward Mark Mitchell and shooting guard Jaden Schutt, plus the returns of super senior Joey Baker and freshman guard Jaylen Blakesand you can start to make out the shape of Scheyer’s first rotation.
That would still leave Duke with available scholarships should it choose to dip into the transfer portal. (Duke normally does not dole out all 13 of its available scholarships.) And according to multiple sources close to the program, Duke will be going portaling. Last season, Carrawell’s previous time at Marquette led to the Blue Devils landing John, and Jones arrived after his brother’s time starring for Duke’s football team. Who might be Scheyer’s target this time around? Expect a “veteran big,” sources say, to bolster a young frontcourt with leadership and experience. In Lively, Filipowski, and Mitchell, Duke has three ACC-caliber forwards — not to mention developmental three-star center Christian Reeves — but could use a body with some high-major experience. With players still able to enter the portal until May 1 and be eligible next season, sources say Duke doesn’t feel the need to jump at the first available player; instead, the program can be patient and wait until it feels it has identified the right fit. Additionally, should one of Keels or Roach not return, Duke has been keeping tabs on several transfer portal guards, a source says, but the priority remains retaining Roach and Keels.
(Photo of Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)