NCAA Numbers Game:

Duke On Tricky Road To 13-Scholarship Limit

By Ben McCormick
North Carolina Sports Network

Complete offseason revamps aren’t new to Duke.

In the one-and-done era, perhaps only Kentucky has rivaled Duke’s success on the recruiting trail. According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, the Blue Devils have failed to bring in a top-three recruiting class in the country only once since 2014 (#6 in 2021). This year’s incoming class, rated #1 nationally, will continue that long-standing theme.

While rebuilding from year to year is familiar territory for Duke coach Jon Scheyer, who had to recruit 11 scholarship players for his first season as the head coach in 2022-23, this offseason will bring the largest amount of uncertainty the young head coach has seen yet.

This spring, Scheyer is facing the realization that virtually any player from last year’s roster could leave. Indeed, because of the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit for men’s basketball, at least six Duke players must leave to free up enough space for the incoming freshmen.

The transfer portal, graduation and the NBA Draft are knocking at the door in Durham. So what will Scheyer do?

Scheyer Can’t Minimize Portal Anymore

In June 2021, legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced he would coach one more season before passing the reins to Scheyer. That gave Scheyer time to recruit and plan for an unexpectedly high number of departures. He did utilize the transfer portal prior to his first season, but he did so sparingly.

Scheyer landed Northwestern center Ryan Young and Illinois guard Jacob Grandison as graduate transfers in the portal in the spring of 2022. Despite another three additions from the portal during his tenure — Kale Catchings from Harvard, Max Johns from Princeton and Neal Begovich from Stanford — only Young and Grandison played legitimate rotation minutes for Duke during the Scheyer Era, and even they were role players.

A big reason for Scheyer’s minimization of the portal during an era in which it seemingly runs college basketball (NC State just made the Final Four with five transfers starting) was a lack of necessity. Last offseason, Scheyer retained the team’s four leading scorers: Kyle Filipowski, Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell. With those key returnees, plus a strong four-man freshman class that included standout Jared McCain, Duke didn’t need the portal.

In fact, Duke was barely involved with the portal at all. The Blue Devils’ only addition was Begovich, a walk-on, and they were the only power conference team that didn’t have a player enter the transfer portal during the season or during the offseason last year. In today’s college basketball reality, that’s a remarkable feat.

It didn’t take long after Duke’s Elite Eight loss to NC State for Scheyer’s streak without a transfer to end, though.

Sophomore center Christian Reeves was the first domino to fall. After undergoing surgery on his right ankle, Reeves medically redshirted the remainder of the 2023-24 season, playing in just three games. His decision to transfer did not come as a surprise, given his minimal role during his first two years.

However, Tuesday brought a much more significant transfer decision.

Two-year starter and former McDonald’s All-American Mark Mitchell announced that he, too, was entering his name in the transfer portal. Mitchell is not only the most high-profile Duke player to enter the portal during the Scheyer Era, he is one of the best players to ever transfer from Duke, period.

(Billy McCaffrey, who started 21 games and averaged almost 12 points per game for Duke’s 1991 national championship team, may top that list. He went on to average more than 20 points per game in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt, then played professionally overseas.)

While certainly detrimental to Duke’s frontcourt, Mitchell’s departure did not come as a complete shock. Despite averaging a solid 11.6 points per game, the 6-foot-9 sophomore saw a stark reduction in his role — and his production — toward the end of the 2023-24 season. It was clear that the slasher style of athletic play that Mitchell offers wasn’t fitting in perfectly with Duke’s three-point oriented offense.

It’s likely that Reeves and Mitchell won’t be the only Blue Devils to enter the portal. Sophomore guard Jaden Schutt is another name that is popping up in transfer discussions. Schutt also took a medical redshirt this season, after having surgery on his left knee.

Devils Pursuing Multiple Transfers

The only players in the portal that Duke is known to have made contact with are Belmont guard Cade Tyson (brother of former Clemson star Hunter Tyson) and Drexel forward Amari Williams.

A two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Coastal Athletic Association, Williams averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots per game this past season and has just one year of eligibility remaining.

Tyson, on the other hand, has two years of eligibility left. The 6-foot-7 wing player, who is originally from Monroe, N.C., averaged 16 points per game and shot 46.5 percent from 3-point range last season, earning second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.

Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee are among the other schools that have reached out to Tyson since he entered the transfer portal.

Scheyer recently explained his recruiting philosophy, including his approach to major college transfers, to David Glenn of the North Carolina Sports Network.

“I think the thing that’s important to understand is, year to year, it can change,” Scheyer said. “You may lose a little bit more than you think, and you need a transfer to come in and play a bigger role, which could happen for next year. You may have a core group returning that’s more than you expected, so you don’t need that as much, like was an example for our group this year.

“So, for me, we’re always going to take the right person and player, regardless of age. The right talents. Then, finding the combination in the mix of experience, being a little bit older, and also the guys that can help complement winning.”

Flagg Leads Star-Studded Freshmen

Duke’s 2024 class is highlighted by Cooper Flagg, the top-ranked high school player in the country.

A 6-foot-9 Maine native, Flagg is considered one of the most heralded prospects of the last decade, which is why many experts project him as the top pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. He recently led Montverde (Fla.) Academy to the Chipotle Nationals high school championship and a 33-0 record for the season.

Joining Flagg are five other highly anticipated signees/commitments. Among them is Khaman Maluach, a 7-foot-1, 250-pound shot-blocking dynamo from South Sudan. Maluach, who competes at the NBA Academy in Africa, is a projected top-10 pick in the 2025 NBA Draft as well.

Then there is Isaiah Evans, a McDonald’s All-American from Huntersville, N.C., who won a state title at North Mecklenburg High School this year. Evans is an explosive and cocky scorer. His slim frame and impressive offensive prowess have earned him the nickname “Baby Ingram,” referencing current New Orleans Pelicans star and former Duke standout Brandon Ingram.

Top-25 signee Kon Knueppel is a high-level shooter from Wisconsin. He and fellow top-25 standout Patrick Ngongba II, a post player, likely will look to find time off the bench for Duke next season. Ngongba has battled injuries throughout his high school career, but he looked impressive for Paul VI High School in the Chipotle Nationals title game loss to Flagg and Montverde.

Another impressive Duke signee from Paul VI is top-75 prospect Darren Harris. One more deadly shooter from long range, Harris can fill the boxscore in a hurry. He posted 36 points in Paul VI’s semifinal game at the Chipotle Nationals.

“I’m excited about the group we have coming in,” Scheyer told David Glenn of the North Carolina Sports Network. “They’re special players. They’re really good people. They have great families. And I think that’s really what we look for with guys coming to Duke.”

Managing The Scholarship Crunch

With Reeves and Mitchell in the transfer portal, and Young exhausting his eligibility, Duke freed three scholarships of the necessary six to incorporate the incoming freshman class. In addition, Spencer Hubbard (a former walk-on who was on scholarship in 2023-24) is not expected to return, so that’s four scholarships opened already.

Nevertheless, at least temporarily, Duke still has too many players.

1. Jeremy Roach, G, Gr. (April 16 update: transfer portal/NBA draft)
Jaylen Blakes, G, Sr. (April 13 update: entering transfer portal)
3. Kyle Filipowski, F, Jr. (April 12 update: entering NBA draft)
Tyrese Proctor, G, Jr. (April 11 update: staying at Duke)
5. Jaden Schutt, G, Jr. (April 15 update: entering transfer portal)
6. Caleb Foster, G, So.
7. Jared McCain, G, So. (April 12 update: entering NBA draft)
8. TJ Power, F, So. (April 18 update: entering transfer portal)
9. Sean Stewart, F, So. (April 19 update: entering transfer portal)
10. Isaiah Evans, G/F, Fr.
11. Cooper Flagg, F, Fr.
12. Darren Harris, G, Fr.
13. Kon Knueppel, G/F, Fr.
14. Khaman Maluach, C, Fr.
15. Patrick Ngongba II, F, Fr.
16. (possible incoming transfer)
17. (possible incoming transfer)
18. (possible incoming transfer)

Obviously, Duke still needs at least two more departures — and perhaps as many as four more, if the Blue Devils sign two incoming transfers.

So, who’s leaving?

NBA Likes Filipowski, McCain

There are four guys who could reasonably enter the NBA Draft from Duke: Filipowski, McCain, Proctor and Roach. It’s important to note that, even if one or multiple Blue Devils enter the draft, they can pull their name(s) out of consideration by May 29, which is the NCAA’s early entry withdrawal deadline.

The prevailing theory is that Filipowski will enter the draft and stay in the draft. A consensus second-team All-American, two-time first-team All-ACC selection  and 2023 ACC Rookie of the Year, he has scored more than 1,000 points in his collegiate career. If he does go pro, he will be one of only two Duke players all-time to play two or fewer seasons in Durham and cross that threshold. The other was guard Luke Kennard (2015-2017).

Filipowski is considered a potential NBA lottery pick this June, and while he passed up guaranteed first-round money last year, after undergoing offseason hip surgeries, it seems doubtful that history will repeat itself in that regard.

Another likely first-round NBA pick is McCain, a member of the ACC’s 2024 All-Freshman team. The sharp-shooting rookie averaged 21 points during Duke’s four-game NCAA Tournament run, including a 30-point game against James Madison and a 32-point effort in the loss to NC State. McCain’s stellar performance in the Big Dance has earned him lottery consideration as well.

While it seems more likely that McCain would stay than Filipowski, his return is far from a safe bet. On the contrary, most believe he will enter the draft.

The other two Blue Devils who could enter the draft are more interesting cases. If Filipowski and McCain both leave, then Duke will have freed the necessary six scholarships, but that doesn’t mean the departures will stop there.

Roach and/or Proctor also could decide to go pro, even though they don’t necessarily have the draft stock to be selected.

Many think Roach, a four-year starter for the Blue Devils, has done his time in Durham, and it’s time for him to move on. That may be true; after all, there are so many more factors that go into decisions like these than just basketball. Family, money and education also can be massive parts of these decisions for many players. On paper, though, it might make sense for Roach to make use of that final year of college eligibility.

With members of the 2020 recruiting class entering their fifth years, Roach is the last career Blue Devil to have the opportunity to utilize the extra COVID season. But will he? For now, that remains a big question.

Likewise, Proctor would seemingly benefit from another year at Duke. After falling short of expectations during his sophomore season, the Australian point guard saw his draft stock plummet. However, much of his reserved play may be attributed to a crowded and talented backcourt. If he returns, Proctor could be Duke’s primary offensive option in the backcourt.

Still, an NBA Draft declaration, or even a trip to the transfer portal, is certainly not out of the question for Proctor.

They’ll Get To 13 Somehow

So, what’s the verdict?

So far, Reeves, Mitchell, Young and Hubbard are heading out of Durham. That means at least two more players — and, again, perhaps as many as four — also have to depart in the coming weeks. It seems likely that Filipowski and McCain will be the first two such players. However, Duke will likely have more departures than that.

There are the high-impact decisions of Roach and Proctor, first and foremost. Then there are the other potential returnees, many of whom could be on portal watch, e.g., Schutt, Power and/or Blakes.

If Duke eventually does see more than six total departures, that means Scheyer will have to look to the portal to fill some gaps for his 2024-25 team. Any such additions would be asked to provide a much-needed veteran presence on a squad that could have as many as nine or 10 underclassmen.