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DURHAM — Vernon Carey’s strong inside play has progressed earlier than expected, especially for a freshman prone to using his perimeter skills in high school. To understand a key to his rapid development, consider who takes the court late in Duke’s one-sided victories.
That’s when Coach Mike Krzyzewski empties his bench. That’s when Justin Robinson often promptly contributes upon entering the game.
In Tuesday’s 39-point ACC win over Boston College, Robinson grabbed a rebound within 43 seconds and hit a three-point field within 1:02. In the two previous non-conference romps, he had three blocked shots in five minutes against Wofford and two blocks in two minutes against Brown.
Now picture Carey facing Robinson’s effort in practice.
“J.R. has helped me a lot,” said Carey after the Boston College game. “I’ve been learning how to play physical. When I first came here, I had to learn how to play in the post. I’ve learned how to talk on defense. Since the start of summer, we’ve been going at it. I think we’ve made each other better, and it’s showing on the court.”
Carey, a 6-foot-10, 270-pounder, is averaging 17.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. With his play influencing one-sided scores, Robinson has played in seven of 13 contests.
But in front of Coach K, don’t label the 6-9, 202-pound graduate student from San Antonio (Tex.) Christian Academy as a mop-up player.
“You bring up a very valuable guy for us,” Krzyzewski said. “Justin is actually our smartest overall player. He’s like a coach. He’s always helping everybody. He’s in our Fuqua School of Business. He’s a good player, but (ahead of him) there are Javin (DeLaurier) and Jack (White). He helps all of those guys.
“Whatever his future is, if he wants to get into sports you’d want him. He gets it. He’s comes from a good father in that regard, too.”
That’s David Robinson, The Admiral, the Naval Academy graduate and Basketball Hall-of-Famer who won two NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs.
So if Justin Robinson has the ability to push Carey from preseason late first-round NBA 2020 draft projections to more recently as a top-10 pick, he undoubtedly could have played more at other schools.
But Robinson never thinks that way about his time at Duke.
“I came here to play for Coach and obviously there is the academic side,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade any of it. I’ve enjoyed every moment here. I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the academic side and learning from a guy like Coach. We learn things from him on and off the court you can’t get other places.”
BACK ON THE ROAD
Duke faces only ACC schools the remainder of the season with this year’s shift to 20 conference games, up from 18. The next two are on the road before returning home Jan. 11 to face Wake Forest.
The No. 2-ranked Blue Devils (12-1, 2-0 ACC) play at 8 p.m. Saturday at Miami (9-3, 1-1 ACC) and 9 p.m. Thursday at Georgia Tech (6-7, 1-2 ACC).
--- Duke’s win over Boston College on New Year’s Eve was its 300th of the decade. The 300-71 (.811) record is the nation’s third-highest winning percentage and fourth-most wins (since Jan. 1, 2010).
--- With Brown scoring only 50 points on Dec. 28 and Boston College 49 on Dec. 31, it marked the first time the Blue Devils held back-to-back opponents to 50 or less since the 2010-11 season.
Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.