Over the past few years, many of the top college basketball programs have been focusing more on bringing in top talent instead of developing who they have. Most notably, Kentucky won the National Championship in 2012 with a starting lineup of freshman and sophomores, who all left for the NBA Draft after the season. Duke has been one of the few programs who have tried to stay away from that mold but they have not avoided it completely. Over the past few years, Duke has brought in Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers, who helped lead Duke for a season before heading to the NBA Draft. Senior leadership is needed but it is becoming apparent freshman talent can prevail.
Even though college basketball is becoming freshman dominant, Duke has been extremely successful developing talent. Most recently, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry helped lead Duke to an Elite Eight appearance during their senior years. Duke is going in a slightly different direction this season, with likely no starting seniors. Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are all talented underclassmen who Duke will be relying on this season. Seniors Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and Josh Hairston are talented but have not developed into starting caliber players. The other five major players on Duke's roster; Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye, all have bright futures, but are not starting caliber yet. Coach K is great at developing players, but who of those five will develop into starting players.
I know Amile Jefferson will likely be a starter this season, but it is mostly out of necessity. He will likely move back to forward after this season, with Duke a top contender for top center recruits Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner. Once he moves back to his more natural forward position, I think Amile will excel. He will benefit greatly from playing with another talented big man, as he did with Mason Plumlee last season. If Rodney Hood or Jabari Parker leave for the NBA Draft after this season, look for Amile to slide over to the power forward spot and start during his junior and senior years. When Amile first arrived on campus, I did not see a potential starter. I have completely changed my mind on Amile, starting from his success replacing Ryan Kelly (injury) last season. Amile will emerge as a starter and a great slasher, defender, and complementary big.
Alex Murphy was expected to start last season, during his redshirt freshman season. That season did not go as planned, and Alex will not have the opportunity to start until at least his junior year. Murphy has immense potential but has not shown the confidence to capitalize on his skill. I think Murphy will improve from his freshman year but he may not have another opportunity to start. Last season, Duke was desperate for a starting small forward but Murphy could not take the role. Murphy may have a chance to start for Duke in the future, but not likely until his senior season when Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are in the NBA. His play as a backup during his sophomore and junior years will dictate whether Duke goes after a top small forward in 2015 or a lower ranked backup for Murphy.
Like Alex Murphy last season, this year would be the perfect year for Plumlee to emerge as a starter. I am more hopeful that Plumlee will emerge then most people, but I still am unsure of the possibility. After this season, Duke will likely (hopefully) have either Jahlil Okafor or Myles Turner to take over their center position. Both would definitely start, leaving Plumlee stuck as a backup for his junior year as well. Like Alex Murphy, I do see the possibility of Plumlee as a starter his senior year, with Okafor and Turner likely one-and-done players. Plumlee's play as a role player will determine his ability to jump into a starting role his senior year. There are many great centers in the 2015 recruiting class; Diamond Stone, Elijah Thomas, Skal Labissiere, and Stephen Zimmerman, who Duke will likely pursue. If Duke is successful in recruiting centers in 2014 and 2015, Marshall Plumlee may be stuck coming off the bench his whole Duke career.
I see a lot of potential in Matt Jones and think he will be a starter for Duke down the road. With Duke's logjam at guard, Matt Jones will not see many minutes as a freshman. With Andre Dawkins and Tyler Thornton graduating, Matt Jones will likely see a role boost during his sophomore year. Depending on recruiting, Tyus Jones, and NBA decisions, Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood, Matt Jones could even be a starter his sophomore year. For his junior and senior years, Matt Jones will be a Duke starter on the wing. He is already a prolific shooter and has shown his potential as a ball handler. With improvements in ball handling and defense, Matt Jones will be a very quality starter for Duke. Matt Jones fits Duke's style well and will emerge as a starter during his tenure at Duke.
I personally do not see the fit with Semi Ojeleye and Duke. He reminds me a lot of recent athletic wings Duke has recruited that have not worked out. Michael Gbinije, Olek Czyz, and Taylor King all came to Duke with high hopes but did not pan out. Semi will not see many, if any, minutes as a freshman which will be tough for someone who averaged over 30 points per game in high school. He will have to adjust to college level competition as well, after playing very low quality opponents in high school. I wish Semi Ojeleye the best, but I do not see a fit with him on Duke. Hopefully I am wrong, but Semi will not start a game in a Duke uniform.