CLEMSON — Not all walking boots are created equal.
Jahlil Okafor, the shoo-in ACC Freshman of the Year and possible No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, suffered an ankle injury Wednesday against North Carolina and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against Clemson. The health of Duke’s leading scorer immediately became the subject of headlines and speculation.
Clemson’s top scorer, Jaron Blossomgame, suffered a sprained ankle in practice Thursday. Like Okafor, he is questionable to play.
“But I guess it hasn’t made national news that he was in a walking boot for a day,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, tongue-in-cheek. “We’re hopeful he’ll play Saturday.”
It’s crucial Blossomgame play, and play well, if Clemson (15-11, 7-7 ACC) is going to pull off the stunner of all stunners in Durham on Saturday at 4 p.m. with Dick Vitale yelping from courtside during ESPN’s broadcast.
“It’s one of the things you aspire to do as a college basketball player,” said Clemson junior guard Jordan Roper of playing at Duke. “You know about the Cameron Crazies. That’s what makes college basketball fun. You know the atmosphere is going to be great no matter who’s playing because they go out and support their team.”
A heavy underdog for good reason, the Tigers are 30-106 against the Blue Devils. They are 12-52 vs. Mike Krzyzewski, and 4-57 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Tigers have lost 15 straight dating to the 1994-95 season.
“Really no pressure on us. We just go there and play,” Brownell said. “If you’re a competitor, you want to be in this kind of environment, this kind of game and have fun with it.”
No. 4 Duke (23-3, 10-3) is coming off an emotional, seesaw war Wednesday it ultimately won 92-90 in overtime over the rival Tar Heels. Even if Okafor (17.9 points, 66.1 percent field goals, 9.4 rebounds) is out or limited, the Blue Devils still boast freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, plus sturdy veterans Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson.
“It would change things because you don’t have to double the post, but they’re still going to be very good,” Brownell said. “They still have other pros and other good pieces. But he’s a big part of what everybody does. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t play.”
Meanwhile, Blossomgame figures to at least warm up and see how he feels. He’s the only Tiger averaging double figures at 12.9 points per game — Duke’s got four such scorers — and his 8.1 rebounds paces Clemson by a hefty margin.
“We’ll see. He was walking this afternoon, was better than yesterday. But I don’t know if he’ll be 100 percent,” Brownell said Friday. “Is the adrenaline going to be enough to keep him going through some pain? Or is it too painful after five minutes? He’ll want to play because of the adrenaline, but is he able to play effectively? We won’t know.”
Clemson fared nicely against the Blue Devils last year, rallying from 10 down to win 72-59 at Littlejohn Coliseum and losing a 63-62 heartbreaker in the ACC quarterfinals which could have sent the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s a great team, and you’re excited to play because of the name,” Roper said. “But you want to be mentally stable, calm yourself down and play the game.”