One of the hardest parts about being a high school evaluator is weighing the here-and-now against the future.When you’re asked to do so in something as inflexible as rankings, which doesn’t allow for any variables or context to be explored or detailed, it gets even more difficult.
The class of 2018 in New England was a strong one. Simi Shittu was widely accepted as the top overall prospect, both because of his impact on the high school game as well as his upside for higher levels, but it got complicated after that.
Cole Swider had consistently differentiated himself as the best guy in the high school ranks, both by putting up big numbers in the EYBL as well as a storied career at St. Andrew’s, and yet you knew the critics would come out screaming a year later when he, inevitably, had to pay some dues at Villanova before becoming one of their primary weapons.
The class also featured guys like Nate Laszewski, A.J. Reeves, Derek Culver, Cormac Ryan, and Marcus Zegarowski.
You could make the argument that each of those guys was more consistently productive at the high school level than Duke, but ultimately didn’t have the same long-term upside.
In essence, what we saw out of Duke in high school was an immensely talented guard who was loaded with all the physical tools necessary to achieve success at the very highest levels and one who continued to improve at every step along the way.
There wasn’t anyone else, with the possible exception of Shittu, who could make the same amount of high-level plays (meaning the type of plays that you only see at the very highest levels of the game) or who had as much long-term potential still to discover.
Ultimately, he finished as the third-ranked prospect in New England not because he was necessarily ready to be the most impactful college freshmen, but because if everyone on the list ended up living up to their potential, he could end up being the very best player to come out of the group.
When Duke arrived in Providence this summer, he was getting rave reviews. He was living in the gym, making major strides in the weight room, and already asserting himself against the veterans.
Then, something unfortunate happened, even if it wasn’t initially perceived that way.
Duke, along with Villanova’s Jahvon Quinerly, was named pre-season freshmen of the year in the Big East and with it came immediate expectations of stardom that didn’t fall in correlation to the arc we had seen develop in years before that.
In the three months since, Duke has been up and down, just as we initially expected, but perhaps not what fans were hoping for after that pre-season award. He was scoreless on opening night against Siena and scored a season-high 20 points less than two weeks later against South Carolina.
Conference play makes life tougher for all freshmen, not just David Duke, as both the stakes as well as the detail of opposing scouting reports rise.
This week has been a microcosm of Duke’s season in many ways. He played a season-low 14 minutes and scored just 2 points in a double-overtime loss to Georgetown on Saturday but rebounded to score 18 on Tuesday and play a critical role in the Friars’ win over Seton Hall.
The moral of the story is this…none of this is unexpected, regardless of what pre-season rumors or awards may suggest. Duke is still the uniquely talented guard with an exceptionally bright future who continues to improve with each step along the way.
Those who knew him best were never expecting him to be able to come right in and dominate, but they absolutely believe he’ll be capable of doing that before he leaves.
It’s all about the continued progression. Maybe more so than any prospect in New England’s 2018 recruiting class, Duke has evolved along a linear path.
He was younger and more raw than almost any other high-profile prospect just a few years ago and while his body, skill set, basketball I.Q. and every other measurable factor has continued to improve, he still has more untapped upside than anyone else.
The process of tapping into that ability doesn’t happen overnight. We’ll see glimpses and flashes, presumably with the increasing frequency we did at the high school level, but this prospect’s potential won’t adequately be measured this year or maybe even next, but long-term, there still aren’t many other guys you’d rather have wearing your jersey.