New Challenge Ahead: Berlin's Duke to play basketball at Muhlenberg College

Published on Friday, 30 June 2017 22:29
Written by DAVID GLOVACH

STAFF WRITER

BERLIN - There wasn’t much Spencer Duke did not accomplish on the basketball court for Berlin this past season - all-conference, all-state and averaged nearly 30 points per game, all while leading the Redcoats to a playoff berth in Class L.

Now, Duke will continue his basketball career a little over 200 miles away at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

“They’re getting a grand slam,” Berlin head coach Mike Veneziano said. “This was my ninth season as the head coach and he’s the most well-rounded player I’ve ever coached, in terms of being able to play all five positions. I haven’t had a player like that in the past.

“He’s smart. He knows how to study opponents. He might have averaged 8-10 points in the first half of a game and then came out in the second half and was like an assassin. Whenever we needed a big shot, he was always the guy that came up with it.”

Duke had received interest and offers from other schools throughout his senior year, but liked everything Muhlenberg had to offer from the campus, to the academics, to the athletics - a perfect fit. Even a coaching change could not dissuade Duke.

As the school decided to go in another direction, Duke received a call from the athletic director saying how much Muhlenberg wanted him to attend. It turned out to be worth the wait.

“I really clicked with the new coach and I really liked his system and style,” Duke said. “It made it an easy decision. He plays more of an up-pace style so me being a bigger, more versatile guy, I fit in well. Being able to handle the ball and get out on breaks and things like that. It’s exciting.

“He’s 6-10. He played in Germany for a couple of years and I think was a national champion at Amherst, so it was a pretty impressive background. Just talking to him, you just understood his knowledge of the game. It was very impressive for me.”

While Duke made the game look easy on the court this past season, he showed an ability to handle adversity as well. As his mother, Lorrie, was battling pancreatic cancer, Duke spent much of his time traveling back and forth to see her in the hospital when not on the court. She passed away earlier this year, just months before seeing her son graduate from high school.

Through it all, Duke showed up to practices and games ready to go.

“We were just amazed,” Veneziano said. “Spencer might have practiced the minimal amount of times to play. Then he would go out and score 28 [points] and 10 [rebounds] and you wonder ‘how’s he doing this?’ It was unbelievable.”

It was part of the reason why the academics proved to be just as, if not more, important to Duke. The all-stater is set to major in pre-med at Muhlenberg with sights set on medical school down to road. He wants to put himself in a position to help others.

“Through my situation with my mom, seeing how the doctors helped out other patients, it was something that I want to do, to hopefully help out other people so they don’t have to go through certain things that my family had to go through,” Duke said.

“When my Mom was still in the hospital, [attending] UConn was still an option because I could travel back and forth. But when she passed, I knew I wanted to continue my basketball career for me and for her to see how far I could go and with medical school, see how far I could push myself academically. If it works out, that would be great.”

Now, as Duke gets ready to start the next chapter of his basketball career, he’s exited for the new challenge that waits and the opportunity to grow his game even further. But he was quick to thank all the people that had helped him along the way to reach this point.

“I just want to thank my coach [Veneziano] for reaching out to coaches and putting me in situations where I could succeed,” Duke said. “I want to thank my family - my mom, my dad and my sister - for all the tournaments that we drove to last summer and all the time away and sticking with me to help me put up extra shots. It was a lot of time for me to put the work in and a lot of time for them. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”

Veneziano, however, only sees Duke getting better as his time in college progresses.

“He could be a very special player at Muhlenberg,” Veneziano said. “He’s going to get stronger. Right now, he’s a little limited in his jumping ability even though he plays around the rim well. I expect him by the end of his freshman year to play above the rim. He’s probably got a couple more inches left to grow with him being only 17. He should still be a senior in high school. By the time he graduates, he’s going to be even better.”

David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or dglovach@newbritainherald.com

On Twitter: @DavidGlovach



Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, General Sports on Friday, 30 June 2017 22:29. Updated: Friday, 30 June 2017 22:32.