Homecoming for Duke's Carey when he goes against Hurricanes

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Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. dunks against Boston College during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

CORAL GABLES, FL – Vernon Carey Jr.’s friends and family will lead the cheers Saturday night when he’s introduced at a University of Miami game for the first time, just as Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga envisioned when he began recruiting the precocious youngster five years ago.

Alas for Miami, Carey will be playing for Duke.

Larranaga lost the recruiting battle for Carey, whose father played football with the Hurricanes and was a first-round draft choice by the Miami Dolphins in 2004. The 6-foot-10 freshman will lead the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils (12-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) against the Hurricanes (9-3, 1-1), his hometown team.

“We watched him play I don’t know how many games from the time he was in the eighth grade,” Larranaga said Friday. "He’s so big and so strong and so athletic and has great instincts on both ends of the court. He runs the court extremely well. He can dunk the ball in traffic or shoot a nice little jump hook. He’s shooting 57% from 3.

“So he’s the full package," the coach added. "He’s a handful for us.”

Compounding the challenge is that the Hurricanes are thin up front. They're the only team in the nation with three guards averaging 15 points or more, but they get little offense elsewhere and have been badly outrebounded this season.

Carey, meanwhile, leads Duke in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (9.0). He wears Zion Williamson's uniform No. 1 well.

“He’s really young, but he's a strong, skilled guy for his age, especially his left hand around the post,” Miami junior forward Sam Waardenburg said. “We’ve got to do a lot to keep him away from that.”