LAS VEGAS — Nets hopeful David Duke Jr. figures defense, hustle and hard work is how he’s going to make a name for himself.
Note we said a name for himself, not the name he shares with that other guy.
A week into the NBA Summer League, Duke has drawn attention with his work ethic. The Nets drafted five players, but despite going unselected himself, Duke earned an Exhibit 10 deal, then got the start in Monday’s opener over all but one of those five draftees.
“He earned it. We’re here in summer league, and he brings it every day,” coach Jordan Ott said. “You saw it in the game. That’s what he’s done every day in practice. His defensive mentality we loved. We thought it fit with that first unit, the style of play we wanted to play here in summer league and for our big club: Toughness, aggressiveness.
“We’re out here trying to find guys that want to get after it defensively, and he displayed it every day in practice. He displayed it again [Monday]. He was unbelievable on the point of attack, the ball pressure. … So, we were really happy with the way he played [Monday] and throughout the week before.”
For the Nets, first-round picks Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe are givens, and Kessler Edwards could join them in the rotation. They picked Marcus Zegarowski and RaiQuon Gray 49th and 59th, but called Duke in the midst of the second round and laid out a path in which the 6-foot-5 combo guard could come to summer league and then fight for a spot in camp.
“It was a situation where I could’ve had my name called,” Duke said. “The Nets, they said you can do that, or go the undrafted route. And you’d basically do this, this and this; be able to go into training camp, fight for a spot. I had a good workout with them, and they were really excited about me.
“Doing this route, being able to determine my own situation, for me it was just about my confidence in myself. It wasn’t so much about getting my name called, I just want the opportunity and a chance. This way, I definitely will [get one], and be able to have things in my hand.”
Controlling what he can control is big to Duke. Though he averaged 16.3 points in his last year at Providence, it’s how he defends that could determine whether he can land a G-League deal, or even a two-way contract. His 6-9 wingspan and 39-inch vertical show he has the tools to guard.
“Definitely, I do feel like it could be something that I can always hang my hat on, just because it’s one of the things that you can control more,” Duke said. “I was blessed with God-given athleticism to be able to defend and I try to use that as my advantage to get into the rotation.
“Coming into practice the last few days, coach was telling me, ‘You can really be one of the better defenders, just try to focus on that.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing. … Control what I can control on the defensive side, rebounding, defending all that.”
He has taken that same approach to the unwanted attention brought on by having the same name as the unrelated David Duke, a convicted felon, neo-Nazi and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke Jr. has been hearing comments about his name since he was in middle school.
“I’ll use this whole thing as motivation to me. One day when you look it up it’s just gonna be me and not the other dude,” Duke said. “If anybody should change his name, it should be him. I should be the one to keep it.
“I feel like it’s a nice name, it kind of flows smoothly. But one day I’m just hoping that when you look it up, it won’t be so much negative around it. We’re progressing as a society and as a country and for me, I just want it to mean something in a positive light.”