Let’s give Chase Jeter credit for facing a challenge. The Duke sophomore didn’t become one of 700-plus transfers this year among Division I college basketball teams.
The Blue Devils’ star-studded freshmen recruiting class that includes four highly touted big men could easily push Jeter into Cameron Indoor Stadium’s shadows. If it’s possible for a 6-foot-10, 230-pounder to disappear, Jeter could be the Duke’s forgotten big man.
Jeter was a 4-star recruit a long way from home – he starred at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman – but he stayed in Durham. He went to work on his deficiencies.
“The driving force for me is I want the team to succeed, and I want to be a big part of it,” said Jeter in an interview on goduke.com. “Last year we had a great season, and I feel my level of play wasn’t where it could have been and where it should have been.
“Knowing I’m a guy that could have contributed so much more than what I did last year, that is the main driving force. I want to be a big part of special team and take that momentum to a national championship.”
Last year, Jeter averaged only 7.9 minutes, 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds, even though the Blue Devils were desperate for a big man to replace injured Amile Jefferson. He suffered a fractured right foot and played only nine games.
Without Jefferson (6-9, 224), Duke was forced to resort to an offense with four perimeter players. That’s how little Duke could rely on Jeter inside.
Where was Jeter going to find playing time this year with Jefferson returning as a graduate student joined by four talented incoming freshmen: Harry Giles (6-10, 240), the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation; Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205), the No. 3 recruit; Marques Bolden (6-11, 245), the No. 8 recruit; and Javin DeLaurier (6-10, 220), the No. 39 recruit.
Yes, Giles suffered a preseason knee injury that could keep him sidelined for the opening week or two or more, but the frontcourt is still crowded. Remember that Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski prefers rotations of seven or eight players.
Praise Jeter for sticking it out, but also credit the culture of the Duke locker room that Krzyzewski fosters. Jeter showed awareness.
He said he learned over the summer not only from returning veterans Jefferson and guard Grayson Allen, he cited the incoming freshmen that many kids in his position would have bitterly viewed as moving into his territory.
“Being around the freshman guys and being around Amile and Grayson, they set the tone at all times,” Jeter said. “Seeing those guys and how hard they work and the things they’ve done past and what makes them successful, you try to emulate that.”
Plenty of college athletes are in for a rude awakening when they realize they can no longer dominate with the physical advantages they enjoyed in high school. Jeter recognized he needed to get stronger to utilize his height and skills.
He spent much of his time working with assistant coach Nate James, who played for Duke on its 2001 national championship team. James tapped into Jeter’s work ethic.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” Jeter said. “Being able to run the floor, I’ve gotten in tremendous shape. My skill set down low in the post has definitely improved in terms of speed of the game. Being able to slow down and get my moves down and also my mid-range game has improved; being able to attack guys off the dribble and facing up whether in the mid-post or top of the key. I got a chance to work on my body and skill set.”
It remains possible Jeter’s work won’t be rewarded this year, but Giles and Tatum are projected as one-and-done Top 10 NBA Draft picks. Maybe Bolden becomes a one-and-done, too.
Either way, it will be tougher to keep Jeter in the shadows as a stronger and more mature junior in 2017-18 – if not as a sophomore.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055.