Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski announced on Friday that Cam Reddish and Tre Jones will not play in the Blue Devils’ three games in Canada next week, sparking memories of what could have been if it weren’t for freshmen injuries at the start of the 2016-17 season.
Having the last name of Giles and being a fan of Duke basketball makes me all too familiar with the disappointment that stems from watching a much-anticipated recruit spend the majority of his time as a Blue Devil nursing an injury rather than actually playing.
Having a surefire one-and-done player sit on the bench most of the season serves as a distraction by messing with the minds of the other players and the hopes of the fans.
So I’m crossing my fingers that Cam Reddish and Tre Jones don’t end up testing the skills of the medical staff at Duke and the patience of Dukies everywhere as much as Harry Giles did.
When the Blue Devils debut against Ryerson in Canada on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, they will be without two longtime buddies who were also the first recruits to commit to this year’s top-ranked freshman class.
These extra three games granted by Duke’s eligibility to play in a foreign tour during the summer — the NCAA allows every program to do this once every four years — were supposed to be the gift that this team needed to get a headstart to the gelling process.
With so many players on this year’s squad likely to soon join the list of one-and-done Dukies and so many one-and-dones departed from last season, this group needs all the chances it can get to learn how to play as a cohesive unit.
Now that Jones and Reddish are being held out of competition, though, the excitement surrounding the upcoming games has been drastically reduced. Before Coach K’s announcement, I couldn’t wait to sign up for my free trial of ESPN+ just to watch the most talented collection of diaper dandies in the history of NCAA basketball show their skills on a court all at the same time.
I don’t know about other Duke fans, but I’m now as bummed as a kid whose Happy Meal came without a toy by the fact that I will now have to wait a few more months (hopefully not longer) to watch these guys figure out their identity as a team together.
While it’s nice to see if a guy like Jordan Goldwire has improved his game since his freshman campaign last season, that wasn’t what I initially thought this trip was supposed to be all about. Besides, I already have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden, and the rest of the returning Blue Devils.
Sure, we will now probably have the chance to see if freshman R.J. Barrett has what it takes to play point guard. But we will not yet get to know what he would look like if he had Reddish to pass to on the wing.
Sure, we will now probably have the chance to see freshman Zion Williamson get a ton of minutes and touches. But we will not yet get to know what it would look like to have him dunk an alley-oop pass from Jones.
It’s possible that I’m just being sour and impatient. It’s possible that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to the health status of the two freshmen — according to Coach K, Jones is “coming back from a hip injury” and Reddish is “nursing a strained groin.”
But after suffering through the injury-riddled start to a season just two years ago and watching a team with a similar amount of freshmen talent as this year’s squad exit the NCAA Tournament before the end of the first weekend, it is easy to quickly become worried that the results won’t live up to the hype this time around.
Sure, it’s nice to see former Blue Devils get a chance in the NBA even when we barely got to know them in college. Sure, it’s nice to see those same guys being Duke supporters for life and helping to advertise the program to the nation’s next batches of top recruits.
But I officially became a Duke basketball fan in 1987 as a result of watching dudes like Danny Ferry dive on the floor for a loose ball solely for the betterment of the four-letter word on the front of the jersey.
I’ve grown tired of watching the world’s next generation of phenoms rent a Duke basketball jersey for a season and not get it dirty just because they don’t want to jeopardize their professional careers. I want to watch them own the Duke jersey.
And to do that, they have to play.