By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
Dariq Whitehead, Jon Scheyer and the Duke fanbase can probably breathe a sigh of relief.
Yes, Tuesday night’s news that Whitehead, the Blue Devils’ incoming five-star freshman wing, underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his right foot wasn’t good. But it could have been a lot worse.
The projected one-and-done prospect out of Montverde Academy is still expected to play this fall, according to the team, and new head coach Scheyer shared that the Blue Devils are “confident he’ll be back on the court soon.”
Whitehead is the No. 2 recruit in the 2022 freshman class according to the 247 Sports composite rankings system, behind only new Duke teammate Derek Lively.
The Blue Devils will be relying on both, who spearhead the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, to step up after losing six of the seven players — not to mention a coach named Mike Krzyzewski — who appeared in the Final Four loss to North Carolina last April.
Whitehead’s injury could impact that plan. There’s no reason to panic, as everything points to him returning fairly quickly. Still, it’s a storyline worth monitoring, because the 6-foot-6 wing is expected to be a centerpiece on this team, starting in the backcourt alongside veteran point guard Jeremy Roach and Illinois transfer Jacob Grandison.
What is it that makes Whitehead such a potentially important weapon for Duke in the upcoming season?
For starters, he comes off an incredible high school career that included four national titles in five years at Montverde, and the national Naismith High School Player of the Year award.
“Dariq has won as much as any player in high school basketball history,” Scheyer told FOX Sports. “He just cares about winning. He can really score, but he can also be an incredible defender. He can be really explosive in transition, and the fact is, he’s only scratching the surface of who he can be.
“He’s got versatility at 6-foot-6. He’s a big-time athlete who fits the mold of what NBA wings look like.”
Scheyer’s glowing review displays why Whitehead is projected to be the starting three for the Blue Devils, and just how much he means to the program in the first year of a new era.
Yes, Duke has other highly-touted freshmen, like reclassified guard Tyrese Proctor and sharpshooter Jaden Schutt. The Blue Devils also added a perimeter role man in Kale Catchings from Harvard, and Max Johns from Princeton. All could be key pieces in the Blue Devils’ puzzle.
But with his big-time build, maturity, defensive skills and multidimensional offensive game, Whitehead has the tools to help lead Duke on another deep March run. The focus of his summer and preseason has been evolving his outside shooting game. This foot injury certainly does not help, and it’s worth paying close attention to Whitehead if there are any lingering effects from this setback.
This is far from a nightmare scenario. But because White means so much to Duke in Scheyer’s first year at the helm, it’s absolutely a situation worth monitoring closely.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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