After Duke’s 89-68 victory over Boston College, much of the talk wasn’t necessarily about how strong a performance the Blue Devils had.
It wasn’t about how freshman Rasheed Sulaimon strengthened his case for being the ACC freshman of the year or how Mason Plumlee recorded another double double. That was all ho hum compared to the talk that senior captain Ryan Kelly who has been sidelined with a foot injury since early January may in fact be returning soon.
How soon wasn’t discussed but most of the talk made it seem like Kelly’s re-emergence might happen prior to the ACC Tournament, perhaps on senior night. Well, that at least is what Kelly is hoping for.
While talking to reporters after the game Kelly made reference to the desire to make it back before the ACC Tournament and perhaps sooner, though he said it is probably unlikely that he will make it back for the Miami game on March 2. Still if he is able to come back by senior night just three days later it would be a big boost for Duke mentally but how about on the court?
Kelly is walking without crutches and without a limp, though still wearing a walking boot for protection. He has been able to do some basketball work in the way of drills but has not participated in any full scale basketball activities. Kelly said he is working on getting in shape but he feels he is getting close to a return
Duke who was 15-0 with Kelly has at times looked completely lost without him. The big question is can Kelly re-integrate into the lineup smoothly and how will his teammates adjust.
Mason Plumlee said that he didn’t foresee a problem once Kelly comes back and the coaching staff agreed. Plumlee was even asked about the problems of re-integrating Kyree Irving into the lineup back in 2011 after a toe injury sidelined him, but he dismissed that connection saying that Kelly’s experience would prevent a similar sour ending.
That may be true, Kelly is more experienced than Irving was as a freshman, but his supporting cast isn’t quite as talented and or experienced. I still have my doubts how smooth the transition would be and until these most updates I wasn’t entirely sure that Kelly would make it back at all, but if he is able to make it back for two or three regular season games, it might make the transition easier.
Duke was certainly a better team with Kelly and the prospect of him making it back for the final run of the season certainly is one that is appealing for all fans of the Blue Devils. But a Kelly return guarantees nothing other than Duke gets back a very good player. How well he plays and how much he can contribute will only be determined once he gets some real game action.
In his absence, a few players have stepped up and grown. Amile Jefferson has split starting time with Josh Hairston and both have played very well in stretches. While neither is the player Kelly is, both have held their won for the most part in the post.
Rasheed Sulaimon has probably stepped up the most even though he was already one of Duk’es most reliable players. At times he has struggled and at times he has been phenomenal, but he has for the most part been consistently strong. If Kelly does return he still has to be the same aggressive player he has been and he can’t get conservative and defer to the senior.
So while now it seems like it is just a matter of when and no longer if, Kelly’s return will be a welcome one, but there are still reasons to be cautious and expecting Duke to become what they were before he left is just unrealistic and unwise.
The Blue Devils have really been two different teams this season, one with Kelly and one after, and once he returns a third incarnation of this year’s Duke team will come into being but how good they will be and how far they will go all remain questions that as of right now have no answers.
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