How Duke basketball is plotting its near future without injured forward Dariq Whitehead
Duke expects to get Dariq Whitehead back onto the floor at some point this season — something that looked doubtful when he was helped from the court with a lower leg injury Monday night — but the Blue Devils will be without the 6-7 forward this weekend at Georgia Tech.
Whitehead scored 10 points in Duke’s 78-75 loss at Virginia Tech before tweaking his left leg in a leaping attempt to snare a loose ball away from Hokies forward Justyn Mutts during the second half.
Subsequent medical exams, including an MRI, showed no structural damage, Duke coach Jon Scheyer said on Thursday. The Blue Devils avoided a worst-case scenario.
“I think it was scary just because it’s a different kind of injury,” Scheyer said. “For him, though, I think he got a lot of relief once we’d done the testing, got the MRI. No structural damage, which is important. He’s relieved. I know that. We just need to make sure we make smart decisions and take our time with him.”
The first of those decisions is to hold Whitehead out of practice and declare him unavailable to play on Saturday when the Blue Devils play an ACC game at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
So Duke (14-6, 5-4 ACC) will be without a backcourt player who has scored in double figures in five of the eight ACC games in which he’s participated. He topped out at 18 points in Duke’s 65-64 win at Boston College on Jan. 7, and had 16 points in an 86-67 win over Florida State on Dec. 31.
But the projected first-round pick in this June’s NBA Draft has also had less productive games, like scoring six points on 2 of 11 shooting in Duke’s 77-69 win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, and two points on 1 for 6 shooting when Duke lost 72-64 at Clemson on Jan. 14.
Scheyer said he thought Whitehead appeared to be finding his groove on offense against Virginia Tech before he missed the game’s final 17 minutes.
“He’s bummed, no question,” Scheyer said. “He wants to be out there playing. In that game against Virginia Tech, thought he showed some big time flashes and really, offensively, carried us early. I thought he had a great swagger about him and he not only had some some baskets, but his feel for the game, his passing, I thought he was showing a lot that game.”
Having lost four of their five ACC games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils will turn to a host of players to make up for the 27 minutes or so that Whitehead has played while starting the past five games.
While junior Jeremy Roach, freshman Tyrese Proctor and sophomore Jaylen Blakes will have to absorb more minutes as ball-handlers, Scheyer said this could create a chance for freshman guard Jaden Schutt to get meaningful minutes. The 6-5 Schutt has only played 13 combined minutes over three ACC games while not playing in Duke’s other six league games.
“We’ve told Jaden to be ready,” Scheyer said. “Jaden has been a guy that’s practiced really well and provides a different weapon for us.”
Schutt’s shooting ability, particularly behind the 3-point line, is what drew college recruiters his way as an Illinois high school player. He’s hit 5 of 10 3-pointers in his limited play at Duke.
Veteran wing Jacob Grandison will also help make up for Whitehead’s absence. The 6-5 graduate student was a 41% 3-point shooter at Illinois over the past two seasons. But he’s only made 33% (19 of 57) with the Blue Devils this season.
Scheyer and the Blue Devils won’t count on one player being a bridge to Whitehead’s return, saying all those players should help.
“He provided a scoring, rebounding, just a big presence on the wing.” Roach said of Whitehead. “I mean, we’re definitely, definitely gonna miss him. Speedy recovery to him. I know he’s gonna be back working his tail off but it’s next man up now.”
After playing at Georgia Tech (8-12, 1-9) on Saturday, Duke has difficult home games with Wake Forest (14-7, 6-4) on Jan. 31 and North Carolina (15-6, 7-3) on Feb. 4, followed by a road game at Miami (16-4, 7-3) on Feb. 6.
There’s no guarantee Whitehead will be available to play in any of those four games.
But Scheyer, despite an ACC record just above the break-even mark, believes his team can still produce its best basketball going forward.
“Our guys, we’ve been through a lot together,” Scheyer said. “I think it’s gonna make us really tough down the stretch. And we’re all getting better.”