Last week, I wrote an article that analyzed each of the freshmen on Duke's roster and their potential roles on next year's team.
Although the incoming recruiting class is ranked No. 2 by most online recruiting services and is one of the top classes during the past few seasons in Durham, it will take time for the younger players to adjust to the style of play that college offers.
That's why upperclassmen are crucial for any team to have success in college basketball, especially since they have the experiences and games played necessary to help the freshmen adjust.
Plus, with three key players from last year leaving to go the the NBA (Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Singler), proven veterans will be counted on more than ever this upcoming season for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
With the 2011-12 Duke team returning such veterans as Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and the Plumlee brothers, amongst others, the upperclassmen should have little trouble preparing this year's highly-touted freshmen class for the challenges they soon await.
What kind of impact will the returning players, however, have on next season's team? Will one or two players specifically step up and lead the team? Can the frontcourt veterans come together and become a force to be reckoned with in the ACC?
The following slideshow evaluates each of the seven upperclassmen heading back to Durham next season, as well as what sets them apart from the rest of the players throughout the country.
Height/Weight: 6'2", 180 lbs.
2010-11 Stats: nine Points, 1.8 Rebounds, two Assists
Primary Position: SG
Seth Curry, a junior guard, has the potential to be the best player on Duke's roster during the upcoming season. Once a standout freshman at Liberty University, Curry decided to transfer to Duke at the completion of his first year—a decision that also meant he would have to miss the Blue Devils' entire 2009-10 campaign due to NCAA rules.
While other players of his caliber may have wished to continue playing with a non-competitive team, in hopes of boosting their overall statistics and jumping to the NBA the following year, Curry chose a different route.
Although the decision was tough, Curry ultimately took the high road and may shortly be rewarded for his courage and faith in Duke.
After averaging nine points a game last season, the fourth-highest total on the team, Curry will enter the new season as the most-prolific proven scorer on roster—due to the losses of Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Singler to the NBA. That also means that Curry will become a primary option for coach Mike Krzyzewski at the offensive end of the court.
A constant three-point and mid-range threat, Curry will have to work on converting close to the basket and driving to the rim in order to take his game to the next level. He'll also have to become more accustomed to having the ball in his hands, as Curry will be the veteran presence in the backcourt.
If he can continue to improve all aspects of his game, just as he has in the past, look for Seth Curry to become one of the premier shooting guards in the entire country.
Height/Weight: 6'4", 205 lbs.
2010-11 Stats: 8.1 Points, 1.9 Rebounds, 0.6 Assists
Primary Position: SG
Andre Dawkins, much like that of Curry, has never been in the spotlight when it comes to Duke basketball. Sure, he has made a number of significant shots and plays in his two seasons in Durham, but never has he had to carry the offense when teammates are missing shots or will his team to a key victory.
Following a successful sophomore campaign, in which he averaged just over eight points per contest, Dawkins will look to become more of a focal point in the Blue Devils' offense next season. He will also look to gain more playing time, as he and Curry are considered to be the two veteran guards on the 2011-12 roster.
Known for his accurate three-point field goal percentage, Dawkins has worked hard over the summer—trying to transform his style of play.
While he will always be noted for his outside shooting, his mid-range and close-range shot selections have been puzzling to many in the past. If this summer's NC Pro-Am is any indication, however, Dawkins has certainly put in the time and effort to be redeemed by his doubters.
As a junior, a lot will be asked upon Dawkins—especially that he contributes to the scoring column consistently. While that task may seem minimal to most, it can actually be quite difficult. If he can, in fact, score at an even pace, it will make the Blue Devils' that much more of an impressive team.
As the playing time and scoring increases, Dawkins will begin to make a major impact on next year's team and will be noted as one of the best shooters in the ACC.
Height/Weight: 6'1", 185 lbs.
2010-11 Stats: 1.6 Points, 0.6 Rebounds, one Assist
Primary Position: PG
A little-used reserve at the end of last season, Tyler Thornton is looking for a substantial increase in minutes this upcoming year. He will also be one of the top candidates to take over the starting point guard position when the season begins.
While his minutes were low as a freshman, Thornton's love for the game, as well as his natural instincts to be a facilitator, were made evident to Blue Devil fans around the country. Thornton also proved that he could be a trusted defender on the perimeter, often disrupting opposing offenses and stealing careless passes.
Although his speed and size are two negatives at the point guard position, what he lacks physically, Thornton makes up for both athletically and mentally.
As an upperclassman, Thornton will be looked upon to find open teammates and convert points when the opportunities present themselves. While his shooting may not be the best, however, Thornton did prove that he could knock down three-pointers last season if the opponent overlooked him on offense.
When Kyrie Irving sustained an injury just eight games into his highly-anticipated freshman year, it was Thornton who had to rise to the occasion. Just like last year, Thornton will once again have to elevate his game if the Duke offense has any chance of being successful during the 2011-12 season.
While rarely used last season, if he can primarily improve his speed and shooting, Thornton will definitely have an opportunity to earn the starting point guard position for the Blue Devils.
Height/Weight: 6'10", 235-245 lbs.
2010-11 Combined Stats: 12.0 Points, 13.3 Rebounds, two Assists
Primary Position: SF/PF
The two Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles, both deserve to be labeled "disappointments" by fans of the Duke basketball program. While they both have the potential to be great low-post scorers and rebounders, the chances of either brother becoming a force in the paint are about as good as the UNC football program is to getting off scot-free.
Between the two, however, Mason receives the most praise—due to his ability to block shots consistently and finish around the rim.
When comparing the statistics of both brothers, Mason once again holds the advantage (in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks). He also had a bigger role on last year's team, as he became a better defender in the paint than Miles—although he needs to work on fouling less frequently.
Although he may be overlooked when freshman brother Marshall steps foot onto campus this upcoming season, Miles will hope to make a much larger impact during his senior season. He will also look to compete for a starting role in the front court, as well as receive an increase in playing time.
Mason, however, is a guaranteed starter and has the skills to take his game to the next level as a junior. While both brothers have been critiqued in the past for their lack of physicality down low, it is Mason that has the size and athleticism to push opposing players around and gain great position in the post.
Miles and Mason have both underachieved in their respective careers in Durham, but if they can each work on their positioning around the rim and develop more efficient low-post moves, they could help bolster a Blue Devil front court in need of aggressive players.
Height/Weight: 6'11", 235 lbs.
2010-11 Stats: 6.6 Points, 3.7 Rebounds, 0.8 Assists
Primary Position: SF/PF
Ryan Kelly is one of the more intriguing upperclassmen that Duke will have on roster next season. While he never really lived up to the high expectations during his freshman campaign, Kelly gained weight last off-season and became a match-up nightmare for opponents.
Given his size and build, most would believe that Kelly is a consistent low-post threat; however, during his recruitment, he won the three-point contest at the McDonald's All-American game and is a sharp-shooter from the perimeter when left open.
He has also improved his speed over the summer, and after making headlines at the NC Pro-Am for the second consecutive season, Kelly will once again look to improve his statistics from his sophomore year.
While it's unsure if Kelly will start for the Blue Devils during the 2011-12 campaign, there's a great possibility he will earn a spot in the starting lineup if he continues to perform as he did throughout the summer months.
He will also look to improve his defensive game, as he is known for knocking down mid-range shots but not for grabbing rebounds or blocking shots.
If he continues to play at the level he did throughout the NC Pro-Am, as well as works on polishing up his defensive skills before the season begins, Kelly could become a star in Durham and have a true breakthrough season as a junior.
Height/Weight: 6'7", 210 lbs.
2010-11 Stats: 1.4 Points, 1.2 Rebounds, 0.1 Assists
Primary Position: SF/PF
Josh Hairston is the true definition of a player who understands his role at Duke.
While he may strive to receive more playing time and complain when he's not getting it, he instead understands that putting in the time and effort during practice will only make his teammates better and, ultimately, make the unit stronger.
Last season, Hairston was used as a backup to either of the Plumlee brothers when they got into foul trouble and Coach K needed someone to fill their place. While this may not have seemed like an important position to many, Hairston embraced his role and contributed in the few minutes he was on court.
Although it's unlikely that he will see a steady increase in minutes as a sophomore, it's certain that Hairston will, in fact, play a much larger role on the team as a veteran.
Averaging roughly one point and one rebound per contest, Hairston's statistics alone prove that he rarely got the opportunity to showcase his talents. When he was given playing time, however, it was apparent that he needed to work on finishing around the rim and using better shot selection.
Often times, Hairston could be seen taking shots from mid-range—missing badly nearly every time. He would also be given periodic easy looks down low when teams overlooked him, but more times than not he would fail to convert.
While it's a long-shot that he could threaten for a starting spot next season, if Hairston continues to work on both converting shots in the paint and on his rebounding efficiency, he could definitely become a significant role player that receives minutes.