Large players often take longer to acclimatise to college football, and early injury setbacks don’t help matters. But now that Dereck Lively II of Duke basketball has found his stride, he’s breaking programme records. Yet as a result of his dedication, positivism, and brilliance, the No. 5 seed Blue Devils have emerged as legitimate March challengers.
“It’s totally changed our team,” first-year Duke basketball head coach Jon Scheyer said of the long-limbed 7-footer’s presence and emergence after Thursday night’s 74-51 win over No. 12 seed Oral Roberts in Orlando, giving Scheyer the 1-0 overall March Madness record that his predecessor, Mike Krzyzewski, never held.
“Dereck has been on an incredible tear in the second half of the season. He’s been scoring in double figures while rebounding and blocking shots, and he’s the perfect team player.”
Lively, who came in Durham as the No. 1 overall prospect on the 247Sports 2022 Composite, had a calf injury in early October, depriving him of crucial preseason practise time and the opening. For the first half of the season, he failed to average more than a few rebounds, blocks, and points per game.
At the present, the Dereck Lively II story at Duke seems to be brightening, with the chance of a fairytale conclusion.
On Thursday night, the 19-year-old Philadelphia native swatted away six Golden Eagles attempts and no doubt deterred their guards from penetrating the paint on several times.
On that topic, Oral Roberts standout guard Max Abmas ended with 12 points, ten points less than his season average, shooting 4-for-15 from the floor and committing a game-high five turnovers.
“I think it’s a shellshock for [opponents],” first-year Duke backcourt starter Tyrese Proctor said afterward of Lively and Duke’s other 7-foot powerhouse, ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP Kyle Filipowski’s height and skills. “They’re obviously big and athletic… “How they move off the ball on defence and things like that is a significant element for our defence and why we’re so successful at it.”
“He’s been defending up there with Abmas the whole game,” he said of Lively “Showing up in pick-and-roll and then returning to guard our basket. I’m not sure whether anybody else in the nation can do it like that.”
In 29 minutes on the field, the full-time starting centre tallied 12 rebounds, four points, and one dime while committing just two fouls and one turnover. Lively’s block party established a freshman record for Duke basketball in an NCAA Tournament game and was the third most by any Blue Devil.
In the process, he increased his season total to 80 blocks, passing Wendell Carter Jr. (76) and moved into second place in programme history for the most by a rookie, following only Mike Gminski (90). At this moment, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Lively is the most naturally gifted shot-blocker Duke has ever had.
Gminski’s rookie record seems to be in peril if the Blue Devils make it through another round or two, starting with a battle against No. 4 seed Tennessee at 2:40 p.m. ET Saturday in Orlando’s Amway Center.
Consider this: Throughout Duke’s 10-game winning run, Lively has never had less than two blocks or more than one turnover, and she has never missed more than one shot attempt. Absolutely, that combination of defensive deterrent and offensive efficiency is the ideal prescription for his success and the progress of this freshman-laden group.
“This season, I simply embraced it as my responsibility to guard the home,” Dereck Lively II said after his performance against Oral Roberts. “Backing up my teammates is just something I’ve embraced and strived to improve at.” Being able to let them know they can count on me to have their back at any time is something I’ve simply embraced at this point.”
A selfless, modest, ever-improving weapon with a wingspan that seems to have been placed on Earth for rim-protecting intimidation. That’s what Duke basketball has in Dereck Lively II for as long as it lasts.