Duke Basketball: Blue Devils need nation’s top recruiting class yet again

Duke basketball mascot (Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images)
Duke basketball mascot (Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball coaches’ 2019 recruiting class is already strong, but it needs to be Herculean to adequately reload from the expected departures after this season.

No Duke basketball team has ever won a national championship without a roster that includes at least three verified studs — some combination of NBA-ready underclassmen and upperclassmen who either refined or manufactured their star power with hard work.

  • The ’91 and ’92 squads had four such players: Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Thomas Hill.
  • ’01 also had four: Jason Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, and Mike Dunleavy.
  • ’10 had three: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer.
  • ’15 had four: Quinn Cook, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow.

The current Blue Devils — ranked No. 2 with a 17-2 record entering their game at Notre Dame on Monday — arguably have five: freshmen Zion Williamson (he counts as two), R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones, and Cam Reddish.

But all four of the current freshmen starters are likely to be in the NBA next season. And of the players who are likely to return, none possess talents anywhere near those of the players who are most responsible for Duke cutting down nets in the past.

This means that next season’s title hopes rest on the strength of the 2019 recruiting class; however, that class currently only includes one surefire game-changer: five-star center Vernon Carey Jr., who ranks No. 2 on the 247Sports Composite and should be a matchup nightmare for the Blue Devils’ opponents due to his overwhelming strength, stellar post moves, and guard-like handles.

The other two Duke commits — five-star small forward Wendell Moore, who ranks No. 24, and four-star combo guard Boogie Ellis, who ranks No. 36 — are nice pieces who both have the potential to become stars in Durham, but they probably won’t be stars right away.

ALSO READ: McDonald’s snub of Boogie Ellis may benefit Blue Devils

So in order to have strong title hopes for the 2019-20 season, coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff still need to haul in at least two more players with the skills to consistently take over games.

Yet the only outstanding 2019 offer is to Matthew Hurt, a five-star power forward who ranks No. 7. While Hurt is a lethal scorer who could be a leader on a title-winning Duke squad, the chance he becomes a Blue Devil seems slim at the moment (the 247Sports Crystal Ball currently gives Duke no chance; that being said, he is not expected to announce his decision until the spring).

Therefore, the potential reclassification of 2020 combo guard R.J. Hampton, a five-star who ranks No. 5 in his class, is critical. Like the current R.J. on campus, Hampton can score in bunches and has the ability to play point guard if need be (that would be needed if Jones is no longer around). Unlike the race for Hurt, the Crystal Ball pegs Duke as the leader for Hampton (62 percent of the experts see him as a future Blue Devil).

ALSO READ: R.J. Hampton may reclassify if Tre Jones bolts for the NBA

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But if Coach K and Co. fail to add either Hurt or Hampton to the 2019 class, next season may include dimmer title hopes than Duke fans have become accustomed to in recent years. And unless Jones avoids the temptation to go pro — or a returning Blue Devil shows a surprising amount of improvement — the addition of just one of the two isn’t likely going to be enough to make Duke a favorite to win a Monday game next April.

In other words, the turnover rate that comes with recruiting so many one-and-done prospects may prove too great to instantly overcome after this season.

Although the coaches have a 2019 class that ranks No. 6 in the country at the moment — according to 247Sports — they may need to find a way to come away with the No. 1 class for the fourth year straight (would be five out of the past six) in order for next season’s Blue Devils to be anyone’s preseason No. 1.

And in order for that to happen, Duke’s 39th-year coach may need to pull off an incredible performance on the recruiting trail. Luckily, though, incredible performances — like those he oversaw in ’91, ’92, ’01, ’10, and ’15 — just so happen to be Krzyzewski’s specialty.

Next. Coach K nears another record. dark

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