Crowded post a new problem for Duke

Blue Devils have four high-quality big men

Duke center Marques Bolden battles for a loose ball against Maine last season at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Bolden is part of a formidable frontcourt for the Blue Devils. (The North State Journal/Eamon Queeney)

DURHAM — Wendell Carter isn’t used to having so much company.

“We’ve just got to learn to play together,” he said after Duke’s Blue-White scrimmage. “Both of us …”

Carter caught himself and corrected his statement.

“All three of us … all FOUR of us want the ball.”

The paint could be a crowded place for Duke this season. In addition to the five-star Carter, the Blue Devils have Marvin Bagley, another five-star freshman. The pair of newcomers join Marques Bolden, a five-star center from last season who returns for his sophomore year, and sophomore Javin DeLaurier.

“We have good bigs,” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We’re big and athletic. It’s a different team for us.”

Indeed, it’s a new look for Duke. Krzyzewski’s teams have generally depended heavily on outside shooting and perimeter play. Before Jahlil Okafor led the Blue Devils to the 2015 national title, the last dominant Duke big man was Shelden Williams in 2006. Before that, it was Carlos Boozer and Elton Brand.

Having four high-quality post players is going to take a bit of adjustment for everyone.

“The court is smaller with all those big guys,” Krzyzewski said. “If you had a car, you’d rather have a van with them. That’s what we hope our opponents feel — it’s a smaller court when we have all that length out there.”

Bolden returned to Duke after a disappointing freshman season that was derailed by a series of injuries. He considered leaving for the NBA and transferring to another school before choosing to return to the Blue Devils. DeLaurier played sparingly last season. By all accounts, both players have improved significantly in the offseason. Bolden has taken on a leadership role, and Carter refers to him as “my mentor.”

They’ll still likely begin games on the bench, with the two dominant freshmen getting the starts.

“They’re going to play together,” Krzyzewski said. “But if we started a team tonight, Marvin and Wendell would start at the two bigs. But I would want Javin and Marques to play like starters when they can. You might start five, but you want eight or nine thinking like it, believing that’s who they are, playing with the consistency that a starter would play with.”

Carter is used to a twin-towers attack. He said this year’s Duke team is the biggest one he’s been a part of since the 2015 Georgia Stars team that won the Peach Jam. He was teamed with Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike. “But we weren’t this talented,” Carter said.

“We’ve just got to learn how to play together,” he added. “All of us want the ball. We want to go to the ball-side post. We’ve got to learn how to cover without going to the same side, how to play out of the high-post short corner. We’ve got to learn how to play different positions when we’re all on the court together.”

With only one ball and five positions on the floor, there’s always the risk of frustration cropping up. As the season opens, however, everyone is ready to work together.

“I don’t see anything wrong at all,” Carter said. “We’ve got two very phenomenal big men who can stretch the floor. Then Marques is very dominant on the inside. I don’t see how that can steer in the wrong direction.”