One of the great joys of watching college sports is following a player’s progression from year to year. The most refreshing type of improvement is when a player who barely saw the court the previous season becomes an important player. This often happens for a player entering his sophomore season.
Duke has seen two players make this quantum leap recently in Quinn Cook (who went from 11.7 minutes per game his freshman year to 33.6 as a sophomore) and Amile Jefferson (12.7 mpg as a freshman to 22.7 last season).
Duke has three candidates to make such a leap next season in Semi Ojeleye, Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones.
Out of those three, Ojeleye saw the least playing time, appearing in only 17 contests and averaging just 4.7 minutes in those games. Ojeleye is an exceptional athlete with good size and strength for his position. His size and ability to move make him a potential lockdown defender, and he may become Duke’s best dunker since Gerald Henderson.
If Ojeleye can find a niche in the offense he could see a lot more of the court next season. He did knock down four of the seven three-pointers he attempted, a tiny sample size but promising nonetheless when you consider what else he brings to the table.
Plumlee has already played two seasons and been at Duke three years, but he still has a chance to make a jump in importance. Duke is bringing in a heralded recruit at his position in No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor. Having Okafor on campus may actually result in more court time for Marshall.
Last season Duke emphasized a run-and-gun offense and a pressure defense that did not require a traditional center. With Coach Mike Krzyzewski designing next year’s schemes around Okafor, many of the sets will call for a center to be in the game. No matter how good he is, Okafor will not play 40 minutes every game next season, and every big man gets into foul trouble at some point.
Plumlee could play a very valuable role for the team next year spelling Okafor. He is not much of an offensive threat at this point (fun fact: Plumlee is 6-25 on free throws for his career), but he has shown good rebounding instincts and was third on the team in blocked shots despite his lack of playing time.
Matt Jones is the most likely of this group of players to step into a major role. Jones played in 32 games as a freshman, including four starts while Coach K experimented with a 10-man rotation. Jones’ defensive instincts were very satisfying on a team that had so much trouble in that area, but he was unable to stick in the rotation due to his offensive struggles.
Jones shot just 29 percent from the field, 14 percent from deep, and 56 percent from the charity stripe. This combination of advanced defensive ability and lack of scoring was surprising considering his high school scouting report. He was often compared to Andre Dawkins before last year, and if he can find his touch from deep he could be a force on both sides of the court.