Duke Basketball: Coach K still has chance to snag nation’s top 2019 class

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Not only does Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski remain in the battle to come away with the nation’s top-ranked 2019 recruiting class, but he must do exactly that — and then some — to even come close to replacing the studs who will be NBA-bound at the end of this season.

Facts: Current Duke basketball senior Antonio Vrankovic will not be on the 2019-20 roster. And unless Durham, N.C., instantly acquires an NBA franchise, the hottest-ticket-in-town freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish will not reside in the Bull City at this time next year.

Probable: Fellow freshman starter Tre Jones won’t either.

Possible: Some other Blue Devil(s), such as junior Marques Bolden, could play well enough to catch the eyes of enough NBA scouts to persuade him (or them) to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. And, as is always a possibility, a Blue Devil or two may decide to transfer.

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Result: A full reload isn’t possible.

Warning to Duke-haters: Coach K can still come close to a full reload by repeating his recent success at finding future Blue Devils from lists of top-10 talents — seven of those in the 2019 class, based on the 247Sports Composite, have yet to commit anywhere.

But there’s still tons of work to do by Krzyzewski and his staff. The Blue Devils thus far don’t have a commitment from a “franchise” player. What they do have, though, is solid: five-star small forward Wendell Moore (ranked No. 23 on the composite rankings), who announced in October his decision to play for Duke, and four-star combo guard Boogie Ellis (No. 35), who verbally joined #TheBrotherhood on Friday night.

As much as those two are nice kids and seem to have enough game to at least compete for a starting role on most any roster, the Blue Devils are in an unfamiliar position at the moment, ranking only No. 25 on the composite team rankings for the 2019 class. And 16 of the top 25 recruits are already taken.

Again, though, the top guys are still up for grabs.

And Duke has a legitimate shot at three of them: center Vernon Carey Jr. (No. 2), center Isaiah Stewart (No. 5), and forward Matthew Hurt (No. 6).

So considering that no program currently has more than two top-20 recruits — USC, Villanova, and Kentucky each have two apiece — and the fact that none of the top six recruits have committed anywhere, the addition of Carey Jr., Stewart, and Hurt to a class that already includes Moore and Ellis would likely end up as the best class in the country — depending on who you ask, of course.

But where does Duke stand with those three?

Carey Jr., a bruiser in the paint who also possesses a guard-like outside shot, has already taken all of his official visits, including to Duke the weekend of Oct. 19 (was in attendance for Countdown to Craziness). The 247Sports Crystal Ball has the Blue Devils as the favorite (53 percent of experts agree) over Miami, Michigan State, Kentucky, and UNC. The 6-foot-10, 275-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is expected to announce his final decision by the end of this month.

Stewart, a gifted post presence with shoulders the width of a Mack Truck, has tried to use his fifth and final visit on Duke but has had scheduling conflicts that haven’t allowed him to yet. But, according to 247Sports national recruiting director Evan Daniels, Stewart “told 247Sports on Monday that he still has to take a visit to Duke before making his college choice.”

As for when Stewart plans to announce, he reportedly told 247Sports this: “Would love to get my decision over with before the season really starts up.” The Crystal Ball gives the Blue Devils a 31-percent chance of nabbing the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Rochester, N.Y., native. Michigan State is the favorite with 44 percent.

Hurt, a crafty player with the skills to play inside or out, is not expected to announce his final college choice until the spring. And the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Minnesota native has yet to schedule any official visits. However, he did host several coaches, including Krzyzewski, in his home a few months back. While Duke does not appear in the Crystal Ball for Hurt — Kansas and Minnesota are the current favorites — there appears to be great uncertainty surrounding where he will end up. And it’s likely to stay that way for months.

In summary, no class may ever be able to match Duke’s 2018 group. And the Blue Devils’ class thus far for 2019 could indicate that the recruiting efforts of Coach K and Co. no longer dominate the rest of the field.

But leave it to Krzyzewski to prove doubters wrong. And he may just do exactly that again by the time this current recruiting game wraps up.

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