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Duke Deen: Small stature, big impact

Duke Deen gets fired up against Drake. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

Seven percent of high school athletes go on to play at the collegiate level. Many don’t even get an offer, despite playing multiple sports. 

Despite the odds, Bradley senior guard Duke Deen received multiple offers, and it seems he chose the right path. 

After an early exit at Arch Madness to Loyola-Chicago at the end of the 2021-22 season, a big question for the Bradley men’s basketball team was whether they would be able to find a replacement for their productive guards Terry Roberts and Jayson Kent. 

Of three guards transferring to the Hilltop, Deen quickly outshined the rest. 

“We played scrimmages and I just saw how he can shoot and how he’s super fast and how good of a player he is,” graduate senior Malevy Leons said.  

After his first year in the Missouri Valley Conference, Deen averaged 9.6 points and led the team in 3-pointers, adding 70 to his stat sheet. With his fiery play style illuminating Carver Arena, it could have been very different for the Louisiana native. 

Early decisions 

Deen played any sport that required a ball while in high school and received offers from multiple junior college programs to play basketball and baseball.

“I played baseball, football, basketball, golf, bowling, ping pong, pool, if it’s a sport and you can name it, I probably did it or tried at some point,” Deen said. 

Basketball, however, was not the sport the 5-foot-8 guard thought he would be waking up to practice for. The gridiron and the ballpark seemed to be more likely destinations than the hardwood.

“I honestly thought that I was going to play football or baseball growing up,” Deen said. “You know basketball is like year round and you can play basketball anytime so that’s what we did. That’s why I gravitated towards it more just because I played it all the time.”

While football and baseball were always there for Deen, his basketball career shined the brightest. Making the state championship finals in his junior and senior seasons at Bossier High School, Deen lifted a state title with the Bearkats in his senior year.

 “I’m supposed to have two high school championships, I only got one but it’s cool though,” Deen said. “Not many people can say they got one so I don’t try to dwell on it. When I look back at it I’m like ‘that was four years ago?’ It doesn’t feel like it at all.” 

“I can tell you every play of the championship game right now, it’s just like that for every basketball game. Once you see it and remember how you feel, everything comes back to you,” Deen added. 

A higher level 

Although his first season of MVC basketball is in the books, it wasn’t Deen’s first dose of Division I. Deen started his collegiate career playing junior college basketball at Panola College before making the jump to Division I. 

Starting at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, Deen’s collegiate career was abnormal at best. At a time when COVID-19 loomed large, eight months passed before Deen actually started playing for the Fillies.

Still, Deen knew this wouldn’t be forever. 

“It was a great experience, but I was ready to get up out of there, cause JUCO life and Division I life is nowhere near the same,” Deen said. “I mean just from the travel, the food, waking up at random times and having to travel [the] day of the game eight hours.” 

“It’s hard but it’s what you have to go through to get here. JUCO players, they’re coming up,” Deen added. 

After a season in Texas, during which Deen was putting up an average of 20 points per game, he once again had multiple offers on the table to move to a higher level. He landed, with his freshmen status intact, at Troy University where he was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year.

“At JUCO we were just out there hooping, honestly,” Deen said. “You could go out there any night and get 30 [points].”

Despite all the accolades and accomplishments, Deen struggled with the transition from the Sun Belt to the MVC. 

“I’m a pretty disciplined person, but it’s another level, a discipline that you have to play here in the MVC,” Deen said. “That was a big adjustment: just staying disciplined and staying disciplined on defense, which I’m still working on.”

Working hard off the court, in the gym and in the weight room, Deen wasn’t alone, as he always had the support of his coaching staff in those first few months of transition. 

“Film and repetition, coaches reminding me what my strengths are on defense and what I need to do everyday constantly ‘cause they want to see me succeed,” Deen said. “If they didn’t, they wouldn’t talk to me and they wouldn’t critique me.” 

“So I just try to keep an open mind and always pay attention and listen to the things they say because I know they are not telling me anything wrong,” Deen added.

Deen’s impact on the court goes beyond his basketball IQ. Hearing and seeing Deen’s passion spill onto the court with the main goal of energizing his teammates made him a natural candidate to be one of the leaders for this Braves team. 

“Ever since he got here he’s been outstanding. His leadership, his voice, he’s been heard. He’s got the work ethic to back up everything he does,” senior forward Darius Hannah said. “That’s who we look up to even though he’s small, we look up to Duke Deen.”

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