As good as Duke was this past season, winning the program’s fourth National Championship with an experienced squad in a year dominated by talented freshmen, Coach K’s roster is surprisingly thin and takes a huge hit with point guard and second team All-American pick Jon Scheyer graduating.
Senior big men Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas are also graduating, leaving the 2010 National Champions with questions about their front court players.
On the brightside, the 2010 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kyle Singler (17.7 points per game) and Nolan Smith (17.2 points per game) both decided to remain at Duke for their senior seasons.
Also returning for the Blue Devils next season are the Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles, who will need to step up and attack the boards more aggresively next year. They each have the size and length to affect shots in the paint, but they must grow in confidence if that want to give Duke any chance of repeating.
Sharp-shooting Andre Dawkins will also be making his return to the team after struggling through his freshman campaign. Andre’s sister passed away mid-way through the season last year after getting in a car wreck, and it really took a toll on Dawkins.
He will look to bounce back from next season and give the team a much-needed lift from three-point territory.
The Blue Devils should also get a backcourt boost from Liberty transfer Seth Curry, the brother of Golden State Warriors star rookie Stephen Curry. Seth led all freshmen in scoring two years ago at 20.2 points per game but had to sit-out last season per transfer rules.
As for incoming recruits, Duke inked three players during the Early Signing Period: Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston and Kyrie Irving. The trio is ranked as the No. 6 signing class in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 8 by Scout.com for the 2010-2011 basketball season.
Tyler Thornton, a 6’2″ point guard, goes to Gonzaga College High School in Washington D.C. Last season, he averaged 14.4 points per game while leading Gonzaga to the WCAC Championship game, a one-point loss to DeMatha.
Thornton was named to the Washington D.C. All-Beltway second team and to the All-WCAC first team as a Junior.
Joshua Hairston, a 6’8″ power forward from Spotsylvania, Va., transferred to Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland, for the 2009-10 season. The year before, Hairston averaged 23.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while leading Courtland to the Group AA, Division 4 state championship.
Hairston was named the state player of the year by the Virginia High School Coaches Association and the Associated Press in 2009, and will look to give the Duke a versatile scorer in the post.
Kyrie Irving, a 6’2″ point guard from Elizabeth, N.J., is among the top rated players in the country. On a St. Patrick team loaded with at least five other future Division I players in 2009, Irving poured in 25.2 points per game and led an efficient offensive attack from the point guard position on a team that averaged 72.1 points per outing.
Irving was named co-MVP of the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic held at Madison Square Garden in April, scoring 22 points, dishing out seven assists and collecting four rebounds for the Black Jerseys.
While many skeptics believe that the Blue Devils will not be as talented in the front court next year, their back court is a completely different story. Sure, the loss of Scheyer will hurt at first; but with Irving stepping in as point guard from day one, the team will be much more athletic than in years past.
Irving will be one of the premier point guards in the entire country for the 2010-2011 season, joining the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall as talented freshman that led teams at the point guard position during the past few years.
Upon being named captains for next year, Singler and Smith will expect to receive most of the media’s attention. However, Irving’s dynamic play and natural athleticism will make him an instant hit for the Cameron Crazies in Durham.
The Blue Devils will go as far as the two Senior captains lead them next year as they hope to repeat as National Champions. However, if Irving lives up to the hype and begins to make highlight-reel plays as anticipated, he could become the new face of the Blue Devils.