Duke Basketball: How Trevor Keels is learning the ropes as an ACC star

Duke basketball freshman Trevor Keels made a statement on opening night, and now he’s settling into life as an ACC starter.

Duke freshman Trevor Keels walked into his postgame media availability wearing black sweatpants and a black hoodie that read “concrete” in all capital letters. Following a 40-point home win over Gardner-Webb, Keels slowly stepped off the elevator — connecting the locker room to the media room — to turn the corner, and walked through the door. Unsurprisingly, a hoard of cameras and microphones greeted Keels once in the room.

Keels finished 4-of-6 from three and with a game-high 18 points, his career-best performance to date. While the post-victory conversations should have been about Duke’s 4-0 start, it instead centered around the day’s earlier headlines when reports surfaced that Duke junior Michael Savarino and freshman Paolo Banchero were involved in a DWI incident early Sunday morning.

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Keels answered the questions methodically, shedding light on what he was able to share and explaining his mindset leading up to the game.

“Paolo and I are roommates, so I talked with him a lot,” Keels said after the game, “He was in the right headspace and wasn’t really focused on that stuff. Paolo saw a little bit about it on social media, but he knows how to block out the other stuff. That is one thing about Paolo; he’s always going to be ready to play. As I said, Coach talked to us a little bit. He talked to Paolo, which is a lesson. We learn from it and have to keep handling our business moving forward.”

Once the cameras received their quote from Keels and moved left to Duke co-captain Wendell Moore, I was able to settle in with Keels to discuss the night and his college experience to this point.

A statement on college basketball’s opening night

In New York City — the world’s media capital — Duke freshman Trevor Keels announced himself to the nation. While the introductory hype centered around a top-10 matchup in Duke vs. Kentucky and the possible 2022 No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero, the following day’s headlines featured Trevor Keels.

Keels finished the opener with 25 points, shooting 56 percent from the field and adding two assists and three steals. Jonathan Givony of ESPN’s Draft Express shined light on the impressive performance:

Duke proceeded to take down Army (86-52) and Campbell (67-56) after the showcase at Madison Square Garden, a two-game span in which Keels averaged eight points and shot 26 percent from the field and 27 percent from deep. While the Blue Devils were 3-0 coming into the Gardner-Webb matchup, Keels’ numbers had evidently dipped since opening night. Typical of freshmen entering major college basketball, ups and downs are synonymous with new environments.

“High school and college are two completely different things,” Keels said after the game. “I remember being in high school, and so many people would tell me college is different. I was like, ‘there is no way.’ It is a totally different game; you have to talk more, stuff is moving so much faster — there is a different level of physicality.”

Keels came into the Gardner-Webb game with a different focus, working through film and honing in on his mechanics.

“In college, you have to execute better; it is more fast-paced,” Keels said, “Staying sharp while everything else is going on is definitely key. You have to have a different mindset playing college basketball.”

Not only did things slow down a bit for Keels, but the entire team was moving in unison on this night. When the whole team works together and understands where the others are positioned, the basketball moves better. The Blue Devils discovered this against Gardner-Webb, finishing with 24 assists on their 36 made field goals.

“Just our ball movement,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said about what stood out during the game. “With this offense, we just want to come down and move the ball. We don’t want to stand. We want to make a lot of passes and get the defense moving so it can open up drives.”

Ball movement opening up shots for Keels

“I was shooting the ball pretty badly coming into this game,” Keels said. “I had to prepare and work on the basics. One thing: I never lost in confidence; I just kept shooting it, and it was falling today. When you have a team full of good players who can get in the lane and find you, it helps. I think we had 24 assists as a team tonight. The ball was really moving. My teammates found me, and I made the shots.”

The shots also fell for Keels because of his confidence. No longer having to share the gym with the other high school teams or after-school activities, Keels has the luxury of an open gym with coaches and a support staff at his fingertips. After playing Army and Campbell on consecutive days, Keels had time to go back to the basics.

“The confidence in my shot starts with the preparation,” Keels said. “Coming in last night and just working on my shot, fixing little stuff with my mechanics — I felt really good today.”

Trevor Keels’ defense starts the offense

Duke allowed 52 points and held Gardner-Webb to 36.8-percent shooting from the field and 2-16 from three. In creating 17 turnovers, Duke was able to get their offense flowing.

“In the first half, I thought our defense did a better job of creating offense than our offense did,” Krzyzewski said.

Keels felt the same way. With 1:28 to go in the first half, Keels caught the ball on the right wing. He received a screen toward the middle of the floor from center Mark Williams and got his man on his hip, navigating the paint and then knocking down the 15-foot pull-up.

“When I’m playing defense, my offense tends to flow really well,” Keels said. “We come out hard on the defensive end. The offense just comes easy, like tonight when we went on that run. I think this is a defensive team. Our guards get after it, then you got big Mark (Williams) in the paint — 7-1 with a 7-7 wingspan — just daring people to go into the paint so he can swat it. I think everything starts on defense for us, and we did well there.”

Keels showcased the entire realm of what he is capable of against Gardner-Webb, adding seven rebounds and four steals while holding Gardner-Webb’s top four perimeter players to 9-of-35 shooting and four assists. Duke also scored 15 points off fast breaks and 16 points off turnovers.

With any freshman, a learning curve is to be expected. But at Duke, in Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last season, the bottom of the curve will be magnified. Keels is adjusting and growing, and with more games like this one, expect his stock to continue to rise.



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