CORAL GABLES, FL – Vernon Carey Jr.’s friends and family will lead the cheers Saturday night when he’s introduced at a University of Miami game for the first time, just as Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga envisioned when he began recruiting the precocious youngster five years ago.
Alas for Miami, Carey will be playing for Duke.
Larranaga lost the recruiting battle for Carey, whose father played football with the Hurricanes and was a first-round draft choice by the Miami Dolphins in 2004. The 6-foot-10 freshman will lead the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils (12-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) against the Hurricanes (9-3, 1-1), his hometown team.
“We watched him play I don’t know how many games from the time he was in the eighth grade,” Larranaga said Friday. "He’s so big and so strong and so athletic and has great instincts on both ends of the court. He runs the court extremely well. He can dunk the ball in traffic or shoot a nice little jump hook. He’s shooting 57% from 3.
“So he’s the full package," the coach added. "He’s a handful for us.”
Compounding the challenge is that the Hurricanes are thin up front. They're the only team in the nation with three guards averaging 15 points or more, but they get little offense elsewhere and have been badly outrebounded this season.
Carey, meanwhile, leads Duke in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (9.0). He wears Zion Williamson's uniform No. 1 well.
“He’s really young, but he's a strong, skilled guy for his age, especially his left hand around the post,” Miami junior forward Sam Waardenburg said. “We’ve got to do a lot to keep him away from that.”
And then there are the other Blue Devils to worry about.
Freshman Matthew Hurt, for example, scored a season-high 25 points in Duke's rout of Boston College on Tuesday. He shot 5 for 10 from 3-point range, magnifying the dilemma opponents face.
“It’s huge for us,” teammate Tre Jones said. “They have to help on Vernon in the post, or else he’s going to be dominating all night. When they’re helping like that, we’ve got to have just everybody ready to knock shots down.”
Larranaga knows too well the challenges, and said his familiarity with Carey will be of only limited value.
“It would help me if I were guarding him,” Larranaga said with a smile. “But you can only share a certain amount of information with players so you don’t overload them and get them thinking too much.”
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