PROVIDENCE — David Duke Jr. stared at his phone for an extra second or two.
His father had just texted him with a photo attached. Duke was posing backstage with former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski at the 2016 All-State Rhode Island High School Sports Awards.
Six years later, they both became professional athletes. On Tuesday night, Duke could find his arm wrapped around the next version of himself. The former classic basketball player and current Brooklyn Nets guard is thrilled with a return to his hometown and a headlining appearance on the 7:30 p.m. schedule at Veterans Memorial Auditorium (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) .
“It’s come full circle,” Duke said in a conference call Wednesday. “It’s just amazing to put things into perspective – what can happen in just a few years.”
This teenage version of Duke had just led the Purple to an Interscholastic League Division I championship. Prep school, three years in the backcourt at Providence and a rookie season in the New York spotlight were still ahead of him. These dreams came true thanks to Duke’s work ethic and natural gifts.
“I grew up in the exact same place you grew up,” Duke said. “I went through all the same things. I didn’t do anything necessarily different.
“The best person I can be”
Duke was not drafted after playing with the Friars, but was signed as a free agent by the Nets. His first group of NBA teammates included three potential Hall of Famers in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn was a preseason championship favorite and went on a rollercoaster ride through 2021-22, ending in a sweep at the hands of the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“Everything that’s part of your development is for the bigger picture, and I think that increases the level of accountability,” Duke said. “Which I’m very grateful for – I would like someone to push me to be the best person possible because that will help the team.
“It will also help me and my career instead of being in an environment where it’s like, ‘Ah, you know, we’re not really going to win’ – so guys can get away with it. a little more. I want to be on every little detail, because I want to be the best basketball player I can be.”
Duke appeared in 22 games with Brooklyn and also spent time in the G League with Long Island. COVID-19 prematurely ended his second season at Providence, but he also offered a chance to step onto the floor with the Nets in December. An outbreak within the team and Irving’s refusal to comply with vaccination requirements opened the door for Duke’s first real action. He posted two double-doubles in the space of four days against the Raptors and Magic.
“The more you work on your body, the more you get out of it,” Duke said. “The better you’ll feel and the more you’ll understand too – which I think is the biggest part.”
Already giving back
That’s part of why Duke stayed in his Battery Park apartment after the season and found himself training with Brooklyn’s newest signings last week. His trip home was supposed to include a youth basketball clinic — it’s important for Duke to give back even so early in his career. March brought a surprise to fellow classic basketball players, as Duke contacted a Converse representative to ship new sneakers and other gear to the Purple ahead of their playoff run.
“I will always think of ways to give back,” Duke said. “At least make where I come from a better place and a more positive place. Give them more opportunities and trust the next generation.
“They can do that too – whatever they want to do.”
On Twitter: @BillKoch25