This is the finale in a three-part series in which we will look at the past, present, and future of Duke’s center position. We have previously looked at Duke's guards, forwards and we will look into Duke's centers last. Jason will look into the past and present of Duke's centers, how they played last season and how they will improve into this year. Thomas will look into the future of the Blue Devil big men, in terms of recruiting and who will go to the NBA.
This six-foot-eight big man for the Blue Devils spent most of his first year on campus as a role player for Duke, averaging just 12 minutes per game. Jefferson, ESPN’s 25th ranked player in the 2012 class, did not contribute significantly last year but might be called on to do so this year as a flex 4/5 player. His best games last year were when he could control the glass, like the January 26th victory over Maryland when he finished one rebound shy of a double-double, 11 points and nine rebounds.
Another undersized power forward and big man would be senior Josh Hairston. Playing behind the Plumlee family, Hairston has struggled to get minutes, averaging less time year-to-year since he stepped on campus back in 2010. His best two games of the 2012-13 campaign came consecutively, when he went for 11 points in the loss to Maryland and blowout win over Virginia Tech.
The youngest center of the Plumlee family did not see many minutes at all last year, playing behind older brother Mason. He was considered to be a sixth-man last year, but the stress fracture in his foot sidelined him for the first quarter of the season. After that, Marshall saw no more than seven minutes in any game, and scored a grand total of two points.
Jefferson is listed as a power forward, but he may have to play a bit of center this year to help fellow sophomore Marshall Plumlee develop. His wingspan and length certainly can help him fight off critics saying he is undersized to play at center. For Jefferson to have a big year, he will have to become a consistent threat in the paint in terms of contesting shots and grabbing rebounds.
For Hairston to help the Blue Devils this year, he will have to develop his mid-range game, and his ability to rebound the basketball. He won’t be called on to be a consistent scorer, but if could find a way to improve upon his 2.1 rebounds per game, Hairston could find his way into the rotation this season as a defensive specialist.
Plumlee, coming off his surgery in April, may be asked to bring more quality minutes to the table come November. Duke will be searching for a presence in the paint, and Plumlee can help provide that, even if it is in spot roles. As mentioned above, Jefferson will have most of the minutes, giving Plumlee another year at Duke to develop and get stronger to match with the big bodies in the ACC.
After likely starting at center this season, Amile Jefferson will likely move back to forward for this year, with Marshall Plumlee as the only guaranteed center for Duke this season. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they have a good chance of bringing in a top center recruit for this season, either Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner. Many consider Jahlil Okafor the top player in the 2014 recruiting class, and combined with that, Okafor's AAU coach recently said, "I think there is a great chance Tyus is going to Duke. So if [Okafor and Tyus] are going to school together ..." to the Chicago Sun Times. Okafor has tried to cool the rumors that he has already decided on Duke. While he is not a Blue Devils commit yet, there is a good chance that he will end up in a Duke uniform. If he decides to attend Duke, he will be their starting center for day one, and has the talent to establish himself as one of Duke's best low post players ever.
If Okafor does decide to go elsewhere, Myles Turner would also be a great option for Duke at center. Ranked tenth by ESPN, Turner’s stockhas been climbing over the past few months,recently cutting his list down to eight schools; Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Texas. With so many top schools, it would be hard to list any team as a favorite for Turner. Like Okafor, he likely would become Duke's starting center in 2014-15. He has great athletic ability, but with a much more refined game in the post than Marshall Plumlee. He would fit perfectly in an the up-tempo system Duke has, although chances of him coming to Durham are not as likely.
Even if Duke fails to get Okafor and Turner, they have a chance at towering big man Goodluck Okonoboh. Okonoboh would likely only consider Duke if neither Okafor or Turner come to Duke. Hedoes not have the skill set like an Okafor or Turner,, but is still ranked 19th by ESPN. He has no official list, making it difficult to determine where he may go. If he ends up at Duke, it would be likely to become a backup to Marshall Plumlee. No question, this would be less desirable for Duke, but Plumlee and Okonoboh could provide Duke two good shot blockers and rebounders.
Just like 2014-15, Marshall Plumlee is the only player we know will be at center for Duke this season. Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner are both likely one-and-done players, so there is a slim chance they will be at Duke that season. There are many top center recruits that Duke could get this season, and bringing in Okafor or Turner the year before could help them bring one in. There are four great centers in this recruiting class with Diamond Stone (ranked 4th by ESPN), Elijah Thomas (5th), Skal Labissiere (6th), and Stephen Zimmerman (7th). Duke has shown interest in all four and they will likely increase their recruiting in the coming months. Any of the four players would likely start for, should they decide to attend Duke. This would give Duke a strong freshman starter with a talented senior coming off the bench.
The other possibility is that Marshall Plumlee takes over the starting role. If Duke sees potential in a great senior year for Plumlee, they may not even deeply consider the four players listed above. If Duke believes Plumlee is their center, they will likely try to bring in a lower rated recruit to back him up. Goodluck Okonoboh would likely be that guy if Duke brought him in before the 2014-15 season. There are also lower-rated names who Duke could go after, with the best case scenario for Duke being Plumlee takes over the starting spot. Then Coach K and his staff can bring in a center with potential, who can play backup for one year, then take over after Plumlee leaves due to graduation. Whichever route Duke takes, it will likely be an improvement at center from where they are this season (2013-14) at center.