Being a freshman isn’t easy.
Even when you’re among the best the Big East has to offer.
David Duke was voted the conference’s pre-season co-freshmen of the year by the league’s coaches. A.J. Reeves etched his name in the record books in his very first game when he went for 29 points on 7-9 shooting from behind the arc.
Long story short…these two guys are the envy of almost every freshman in the country…and yet both acknowledged earlier this week that it’s hard-work, physically and mentally.
“Yeah, yeah, [it’s hard],” Duke said. “The biggest thing is just mentally. I think that’s the one piece I overlooked a little bit. Everybody says ‘make sure you have your body ready, have the skills, get your game right’ but there’s stuff off the court that takes a toll on you too and you have to stay balanced.”
First, there’s the daily grind – class, practice, study hall, film, weight room – and almost never in the same order.
Then there’s adjusting to a game that is literally totally different from the one they’ve played up until this point.
What used to be total freedom offensively is now about not just memorizing numerous plays, but learning to make individual reads within them, and then understanding the timing of when to attack within those actions.
“The court is much smaller [at this level],” Reeves said. “Everybody plays much harder and everybody is just good. So you just have to do all the little things. Rebound, 50/50 balls, and then you have to get in and watch film, get treatment, and get your body right.”
Defensively, the days of keeping your man in front, contesting shots, and boxing out are comparable to a calculus student looking back on intro to algebra. Now there are countless screens, to not just get around, but get around in the designated way depending on who you’re guarding and where on the floor you are.
Being off the ball is no longer a chance to catch your breath but a call to heighten your awareness to make sure you’re in the right spots to help on drives and/or screens while simultaneously being ready to rotate.
“When you’re not expecting your guy to get it, that’s when he’s about to get it,” Reeves said.
At Providence, a program that annually utilizes multiple defenses, it means you also have to learn the rules for switching and the slides of various types of zone defenses.
Last, and certainly not least, there’s the burden of expectations.
When you’re the hometown star labeled the best freshman in the Big East and constantly compared to one of the program’s all-time greats in Kris Dunn, everybody from back home wants to know when you’re leaving for the NBA. Even if you’re a long way from being ready for that.
A 29-point debut performance from a shot-maker with NBA caliber size warrants the same type of “noise.”
You know what else it does?
It moves you much higher on the opposition’s scouting report right away. Reaves got 9 looks at the rim from downtown on opening night and 5 more three nights later against Wichita State. He went for 29 and 19 in those games.
Reaves’ first three of the night against Siena happened when, in his words, “he [his defender] didn’t close-out so I was like ‘I’m shooting this’ and when I saw it go in I was like ‘oh it’s over now.”
His last three games have been more difficult – 4, 3, and 2 attempts from downtown – as defenses are chasing him off pin-downs, running him off the arc, and both daring him to beat them in other ways and his fellow guards to be able to get him the ball in his sweet spots.
“It changes every night,” Reeves said. “Every opponent has a different playing style and it’s definitely hard.”
— YurView New England (@YurViewNE) November 23, 2018
Conversely, when Duke went scoreless in that opening game, the noise and burden of expectations undoubtedly got louder for a few days. When he bounced back with three consecutive games in double figures, including a 20-point game against South Carolina, the bandwagon was presumably filling up quickly.
“I definitely [think] I’m getting better each game,” Duke said. “It’s also kind of like how my high school and AAU career went. Every game I feel like I’m getting better. Honestly the goal is just to treat every day as an opportunity to get better.”
Those are the ups and downs of being a high profile freshman, and that’s a best case scenario as there are handfuls of other former blue chip recruits across the country just fighting for minutes and a role in the rotation.
The Friars face off against Iona, Saturday, November 24th at 4pm on YurView New England, channels 4 & 1004.