It is almost a program-given right for Duke to have at least one player on the All-ACC team, but with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood heading to the NBA, it is unclear who that guy will be in the 2014-15 season.
Returning players Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson will be important for the Blue Devils’ chances for an ACC crown and deep NCAA tournament run, but there isn’t all-conference talent there.
If we are to find an All-ACC player on Duke’s roster next season, it will be in the form of one of its freshmen. Mike Krzyzewski currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, per 247Sports, with Tyus Jones running the show at point guard, Justise Winslow filling in as the athletic wing who will pour in the points and provide solid defense with his wingspan, and Grayson Allen serving as a spark off the bench.
However, the best chance for an All-ACC player among the group of freshmen is big man Jahlil Okafor.
He is the best low-post scorer in the entire 2014 class thanks to his array of moves and overall size and strength. He is a vacuum cleaner on the glass. He can block and alter shots on the defensive end and is gradually developing a mid-range jumper.
High school teammate Paul White provided some answers for anyone who questions Okafor’s competitive fire and ability to lead a team, via Terrance Noland of Chicago Magazine: "He wants to be first in just about everything. First in running laps. First one out onto the court. First one done eating. And he’s one of the best trash-talkers I’ve ever been around. He gets in your head, down to your core. Even during practice. It’s like, 'Oh, damn, man, I'm your teammate.'"
Okafor will also be first in scoring and rebounding in the ACC if he lives up to his potential. With a point guard like Jones, Okafor will constantly be put in a position to score on the blocks. There are also a number of formidable three-point shooters on the Blue Devils roster, so if Okafor faces double-teams, he will rack up assists simply by kicking the ball to the outside.
That would certainly lead to an appearance on the all-conference squad.
Still, if we are to project all-conference chances for an incoming recruit, we have to look at the competition. C.J. Fair graduated from Syracuse, James Michael McAdoo declared for the draft from North Carolina, T.J. Warren declared for the draft from North Carolina State, and K.J. McDaniels declared for the draft from Clemson.
In fact, only Marcus Paige will return from last year’s All-ACC first team (Parker, Warren, Fair and McDaniels), and Paige is a guard, so he is not even in direct competition with Okafor.
Thanks to Okafor’s incredible talent level and ceiling and the wide-open nature of the race for All-ACC status, the incoming freshman has a tremendous chance to be on the all-conference squad. If Duke is as dominant as many expect it to be and if the freshman class excels, it will improve Okafor’s chances even more.
The only downside from Duke's perspective is that we will be having another conversation about a new face earning All-ACC status at this time next year, as Okafor will be an early NBA draft pick.
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