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The strength of Duke’s sixth man, Jack White

His numbers are modest: 5.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 blocks in 24.6 minutes per game. His shooting percentages are average for Duke at 38.9% and 30% from the three, but there’s something about Jack White that has become inconspicuously indispensible in Durham. For Mike Krzyzewski’s young team, White is an equally intangible and essential asset. What he brings is not necessarily something that numbers can quantify, wholly, at least, but it’s easy to see when you dive a little deeper than a glance at the box score.

The 6’7”, 222-pound forward from Australia has seamlessly, and subtly, transitioned from reserve to role player over the last three years.

While his role still fluctuates, White has already played more minutes this season than he did in his freshman and sophomore years combined. His minutes per game jumped from 5.7 in 2017–18 to 24.6 this season. He went from tallying DNP after DNP as a freshman to working his way steadily into increased appearances the next year, but still, his impact was limited. In almost half of the games where White was on the court as a sophomore, he did not take a single shot, nonetheless make one.

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Maybe it’s his almost malleable manner—a presence that turns to poise when he needs to lead but also one that is content to remain humbly on the sidelines when that’s what works best—that makes him the perfect final piece for the Duke puzzle.

Headlines about the Blue Devils are dominated by the likes of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, all freshmen. Wildly talented as they are, from time to time their youth shows through. They have spurts of uncontrolled offense and moments when they are overcome with emotion. This is where White comes in.

Duke Jack White

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While the freshman foursome has improved as the season has gone on—in composure, attitude, and especially defensively (to the surprise of both critics and fans alike), cracks in the seemingly unstoppable fortress become evident as the games get bigger and stakes get higher.

After Tre Jones sprained his AC joint early in a loss to Syracuse, adjustments had to be made. And there wasn’t much time to make them. Barrett filled the Jones void at point during Duke’s first game without its floor general, when it hosted Virginia at home, while White made his second of three starts so far this season (the third of which came the next game at Pitt when the Blue Devils were again without Jones). Alongside his dominant freshman teammates, White was a statistical non-factor in Duke's win over the Cavaliers. But despite contributing just four points, four rebounds, no assists and one steal, White played the full 40 minutes of basketball that Saturday evening.

The only other player on either team to do so at Cameron Indoor for round one of Duke-Virginia was Barrett, who leads his team in time played by a whopping 100 minutes. Williamson and Cam Reddish contributed 38 and 37 minutes each, as did Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy, respectively. But it was only White and Barrett who played the entire game through.

Barrett finished with 30 points, five boards and three assists on 11-for-19 shooting. That’s 26 more points than White, yet Coach K kept both off the bench.

Despite being a statistical sixth man, White is still playing starters minutes. Virginia might’ve been an extreme example, but he’s averaging the fifth most minutes on the team. His 24.6 per game puts him just five minutes shy of the average of Duke’s freshman four. Coach K is giving Marques Bolden, who’s started 15 games—12 more than White—and averaged 5.7 points per game, just 20.4 minutes per contest.

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White's 130 rebounds and 28 blocks are both good for third on the team, as are his 22 made three-pointers. His defensive contributions might answer why he played so many minutes in Jones’s absence: the freshman floor general is also arguably the team’s best defensive weapon.

White’s defense also contributes to offensive production: his rebounds turn into buckets for Williamson or Barrett, maybe a Reddish dagger from deep. So while his stat sheet might not be stacked, what White does is still indisputably important, yet often unintentionally overlooked.

In an interview earlier this season with The Athletic, Williamson called White the team’s “glue guy”—an apt assessment of White’s versatility.

“Jack’s our glue guy,” Williamson told the publication. “Jack will come in the game and he’ll demand, ‘All right, I want to guard the best player,’ whether it’s a wing player, whether it’s a block player. He wants to always guard the best player, and he always brings energy.”

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

He’s first off the bench in terms of starts, and his points reflect that position, but White is much more than that in terms of significance. Whether it’s setting screens, helping Duke develop its newfound defensive identity, using his experience to exude a calming effect when chaos overcomes the Blue Devil’s young crew on the court or bringing essential energy to the team, Jack White’s strength is in being exactly the sixth man this team needs.

And as the team travels to Charlottesville this weekend for round two of the clash between the ACC’s most talented teams, White’s role shouldn’t be underestimated. It often can’t be seen in stats or scores and it doesn’t catch you like the impact of Williamson would, but the Jack White effect is omnipotent in its own way. It’s intangible but essential all in one.

But White's rise didn’t come instantly. He didn't show up in Durham as the developed asset he is today. The junior had to travel halfway across the world and bide his time for two seasons before he was given the freedom to flourish and find his fit. Waiting three seasons to make a substantial impact takes patience and teaches a player humility—something White has surely gotten again in doses this season playing alongside Duke’s stars—but the lessons of those two tough years are evident in White’s composure on the court now.

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His presence was perceived and potent enough to earn him co-captain honors alongside teammate Javin DeLaurier. And it was enough to convince Coach K to keep him in the entire game during Duke’s biggest contest of the season against Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers.

When Jones returned to the lineup two games later, White quietly resumed his place back on the team’s bench, seemingly doing so without a fuss. Whatever frustration he may have about still being slated as a sixth man, as opposed to a true starter, cannot be seen courtside. He sits patiently on the bench until he’s beckoned, proving his worth with his contributions. What White does, no matter how overlooked or underappreciated by fans and members of the media, is clearly recognized on the court by both his teammates and his famed coach.

White has somehow simultaneously become a sixth man in every sense of the word and none of it at all. He’s a sixth man on paper, but not in play. If you watch closely enough this weekend, you’ll see it too.

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