Mike Krzyzewski Keeps Rolling With Latest Elite Duke Freshman Class
In continuing our annual summer theme of getting you acquainted with the next crop of young, skilled players that will arrive to college basketball, we're taking a closer look at the Top 10 incoming recruiting classes (per the 247Sports composite) in the country. These schools range from the usual faces (Duke, Kentucky) to fresh ones (Memphis, Washington, Georgia), but they all have one big thing in common: there's plenty of major talent arriving. Five-stars get the headline, but a truly great recruiting class often has depth as well—players who can be program-changers over three or four years, not just one or two. Without further ado, let's move to the next top-10 class: the Duke Blue Devils.
How the Class Was Built
Fall 2018: The Blue Devils got a later start than usual. Wendell Moore Jr. was the first prospect to land in Durham after committing in early October. The four-star wing from Cox Mill fielded interest from in-state challengers North Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest, but eventually decided on Duke. Vernon Carey Jr. followed two months later, giving Duke a boost in the class rankings. A Florida native and son of former Hurricanes and Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey Sr., the 6-foot-10 center received interest from Miami since early 2016. His top-three included North Carolina and Michigan State before he chose to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Spring 2019: One week after RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson each declared for the NBA draft in April, the retooling Blue Devils gained the commitment of five-star forward Matthew Hurt. Shortly after, Sierra Canyon star Cassius Stanley signed on as well. Hurt, the No. 2 power forward in the class, chose Duke over many top programs, including Kansas and Kentucky. Stanley also weighed an offer from the Jayhawks among west coast programs Oregon and UCLA. In May, four-star prospect Boogie Ellis requested a release from his letter of intent. Ellis committed to Duke in November and later joined the country’s No. 1 recruiting class at Memphis after his release was granted.
How It Stacks Up to 2018 and Recent History
Krzyzewski is faced with the same daunting cycle of tasks every year: Build a team. Compete. Watch it get dismantled with the NBA on the horizon for top prospects. In each of the last three seasons, the Blue Devils have had the best recruiting class and a fair amount of tournament success to show for it. Over that same span, 11 Duke players have been drafted, with four being selected in the top three.
Last year’s Duke squad clearly revealed which school had the best recruiting cycle with a 34-point thrashing of Kentucky on the opening night of the season. The trio of Barrett, Reddish and Zion went on to average 58.7 points per game over their lone season together. This year’s No. 3 class—hardly a consolation prize—is the first that hasn’t featured multiple top-10 players since 2015. It might not be a treasure trove of three top-five recruits, but Coach K has once again stockpiled major talent.
Perhaps the best thing about having four starters leave school is that it opens up four starting spots for incoming talent. Each of the newcomers will immediately contribute for the Blue Devils, with the very real possibility that all of them start the season opener. Carey Jr. fills a need in the middle with Zion’s absence and the early departure of center Marques Bolden. While the team lost a lot of defensive effort between the two, Carey Jr. gives them more depth than Bolden did with fluidity around the rim. When paired with Hurt, the freshmen have the potential to provide more overall floor spacing than Duke had last season. Hurt is widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the class, but obviously lacks the build Zion brought to the four spot on defense. At 6-foot-9, his length gives him an edge defending on the perimeter, but it’s unlikely Duke will tally 6.8 blocks per game again this season. Moore Jr.’s biggest impact will begin on the defensive end. He has shown quickness in disrupting passing lanes and an ability to finish at the basket on the other end, as evidenced by his field day in transition at the McDonald’s All-American Game. Stanley shares similar traits on offense, but his athleticism is what makes him special. He’s already accustomed to playing next to high-level talent at Sierra Canyon and his natural skills give Duke another human highlight reel in the making.
Team Expectations for 2019–20
Even with a new-look starting lineup, this year’s Duke team isn’t exactly building from the ground up. It has Tre Jones to thank for that. As the only regular contributor returning from last year’s class, Jones’s presence is the most important piece of Duke’s rebuild. Jones served the Blue Devils well with 9.4 points per game and 5.4 assists, but his defensive calling card puts him in the early conversation for defensive player of the year. One of three team captains—along with senior forwards Javin DeLaurier and Jack White—he’s in line to carve out an even bigger role on offense this year as well. As Coach K tinkers with his most effective lineups throughout the season, Jones’s command will help acclimate the younger stars. DeLaurier, who briefly considered a jump to the pros, also returns for the Blue Devils. Much like last season, he’ll stick closely to the basket for rebounding opportunities and putbacks. White could be in line for added minutes as well after leading the team in free throw percentage last season—a major shortcoming on a team which ranked in the bottom-third of the country in team percentage. Coach K hasn’t always had the benefit of a deep bench over the years and it might just be the team’s biggest asset come March.
To no surprise, the Blue Devils have already added some of the country’s top talent in its 2020 class. Three five-star prospects (No. 6 Jalen Johnson, No. 20 Jeremy Roach and No. 26 DJ Steward) have committed, with multiple top-10 targets still to decide. It’s unlikely all four freshmen will declare for the draft after the season, but the possibility isn’t off the table. Tre Jones’s future also impacts the long-term outlook. A huge year is in the works for the point guard, but a buy-in to the program for a junior season would certainly keep the team among the biggest contenders. Most of all, Duke’s success has been driven by the guidance of Coach K for nearly 40 years. As long as he remains at the helm, the Blue Devils will be in line for college basketball’s top prize regardless of who’s on the floor.