What sets up to be an important summer for Marques Bolden and Duke basketball got off to a disappointing start.
Coming off a tough freshman season, the sophomore center was among 27 players invited to tryout for USA Basketball’s U19 national team.
The 6-11, 245-pound Bolden’s play, according to observers in the gyms in Colorado Springs, Colo., was nothing special. Bolden missed one practice on June 19 with hip soreness. He returned to the court the following morning for practice but, by then, other big men had surpassed him the eyes of the team’s coaching staff — Kentucky’s John Calipari, Wake Forest’s Danny Manning and Colorado’s Tad Boyle.
The hope around Duke was Bolden would get experience playing against international competition Instead he was among the first players cut before the squad even left Colorado to head to Egypt for the FIBA World Cup July 1-9. Instead, Bolden returned to Durham where it’s totally up to Duke’s coaching staff to get him back playing at the level that made him a five-star recruit coming out of his Texas high school.
A rugged center, Bolden has rarely shown the toughness in the paint that made Kentucky and Duke wage a spirited recruiting battle for his services before his commitment to Duke in May 2016.
Last season, Bolden played in just 24 games with one start. A mysterious lower left leg injury, which Duke officials never fully explained, slowed him last November. Once healthy, he played only 6.5 minutes per game on average.
There’s some stuff to inspire a level of confidence
He really only had one weekend of strong play that offered a glimpse of his promise.
On Jan. 21, Duke trailed Miami by 11 points at halftime at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and was staring at a third consecutive loss. Bolden contributed greatly to a second-half comeback that allowed Duke to post a 70-58 win. He played a season-high 23 minutes, and scored eight points by making four of six shots. He also grabbed four rebounds.
Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel, the team’s acting head coach at the time while Mike Krzyzewski recovered from back surgery, was impressed enough that he started Bolden two nights later against N.C. State.
Bolden played 18 minutes that night, but picked up three fouls and wasn’t nearly as effective. He made only 1-of-4 shots to score two points. He had three rebounds and a steal. But Duke squandered a six-point halftime lead and suffered an embarrassing 84-82 loss to a poor N.C State team.
Bolden fell out of favor with the coaching staff and only played double-figure minutes in one more game the rest of the season.
Down the stretch
The game following that N.C. State loss, though, he played three minutes at Wake Forest but picked up two fouls. He committed two fouls in seven minutes against UNC, and two fouls in two minutes against Clemson.
His final appearance of the season came in the ACC Tournament semifinals against North Carolina when he committed two quick fouls in less than a minute of play before hitting the bench for the rest of the game.
So Marques Bolden, looking a step slow most of his freshman season, looked very much the same way at the USA Basketball team tryouts.
Duke needs him to be better than that and the coaching staff will work to get him there this summer.