We are nearly 80% through college basketball's regular season slate. And if the season ended today, Duke big man Vernon Carey Jr. would have the stats (see below) to validate First Team All-America status.
I'm not convinced Carey would make top billing. On the heels of Tre Jones saving Duke against North Carolina in the Dean Dome Double Buzzer-Beater, the sophomore point guard is solidified as the face of the 2019-20 Blue Devils. Jones and Carey are not Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Neither in talent nor in Batman-and-Robin superstar appeal. So Carey is being a bit taken for granted.
But if you've watched most of Duke's games, this rings true: Carey has been Duke's best player. He's also the best freshman in college basketball. Yet Carey is receiving less hullabaloo than any standout Blue Devils freshman I can recall. Has there ever been a Duke player so good statistically yet less heralded? Brandon Ingram is the closest, but even he was a universally projected top-five draft pick by this point in his 2015-16 freshman season and was taken No. 2 that year.
Carey conversely is not considered lottery pick-worthy.
"I don't know why," Duke assistant coach Nate James told CBS Sports. "Maybe it's his personality, maybe because he's a big and he's a quiet kid and he's not beating his chest every two seconds, saying look at me. He's not the charismatic showman, like Zion and those guys were last year for us. A totally different personality. The times have changed, because big guys aren't in the running a lot of time (for national player of the year), even though they could be or should it be. It's guard-dominated, 3-point-shooting, flash, look-at-me type of game now and he gets hurt by that."
Even Wendell Carter playing alongside Marvin Bagley III brought about no shortage of attention. He wasn't an elite freshman, but he was very good and would go on to become the No. 7 (Bagley going No. 2) in the 2018 NBA Draft. Another Duke big man with big college fame: Jahlil Okafor. He, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow won the 2014-15 national title. Okafor was a consensus First Team All-American -- like Williamson and Bagley -- before going No. 3 in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Carey's 6-foot-10, 270-pound frame, fledgling post ability, decent jump shot and inability to switch and play reliable defense beyond 10 feet from the hoop have him pegged by many scouts between 20th and 30th at this point. Lack of draft buzz seems to be part of why he's not quite as talked about as previous Duke big men.
But his development is overlooked.