Duke Basketball: Tobacco Road tussle underway for four-star 2020 center

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and NC State's Kevin Keatts (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and NC State's Kevin Keatts (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

A skilled 7-footer from the 2020 class has named the Duke basketball coaches and their ACC counterparts from 25 miles down the road as two of five staffs hitting him up the hardest.

More times than not, when Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants are competing for a recruit with a clear interest in both the Duke basketball program and one of its Tobacco Road foes, the foe is the staff from UNC.

But along Duke’s path to land 2020 center Mark Williams stands the coaches from NC State, led by Kevin Keatts — with Ol’ Roy and his Tar Heel buddies nowhere in sight. And the recruiting game of Keatts, who just wrapped up his second season at the helm in Raleigh, appears to be on the rise as he attempts to make Williams his third four-star haul since his arrival.

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Although Williams — a 7-foot-1, 225-pound younger brother to former Duke women’s basketball great Elizabeth Williams — holds 22 scholarship offers and has not put out a list of finalists for his services nor indicated a timeline for deciding on a college, he listed to Tipton Edits this week the five programs most vigorously pursuing him:

Duke, NC State, Stanford, UConn, and Ohio State.

Both Krzyzewski and Keatts are well aware their respective 2020-21 rosters currently have a less-than-ideal number of bigs set to be on tap and would, therefore, benefit from his presence; each coach has labeled the Norfolk, Va., native a priority.

However, in terms of extending Williams an offer, Keatts beat Krzyzewski to the punch by almost a year.

The Blue Devil staff didn’t formally ask for Williams to play in Durham until the last week of April; the timing was relatively early for Duke, though, considering the only high school juniors who typically hold Blue Devil offers are five-stars.

Coach K, along with assistant coach Nate James and director of basketball operations Nolan Smith, followed up the offer with an in-home visit with Williams and his family the first week of May.

ALSO READ: Coach K makes a crucial visit with Mark Williams

Williams, who ranks No. 45 on the 247Sports Composite for the 2020 class, displays a consistent motor on the court. And what he lacks in eye-catching athleticism he makes up for with his length — a reported 7-foot-3 wingspan — as well as his soft touch around the rim and even from deep. He also has strong hands and an obvious knack for anticipating movements of the ball, his opponents, and his teammates.

His addition to #TheBrotherhood would be significant with not a single power forward or center expected to return after next season.

Furthermore, the Duke staff has only one other offer on the table to a 2020 center: five-star Walker Kessler, who ranks No. 16 on the composite and has said he would like to have his recruitment out of the way before his senior season begins in the fall.

ALSO READ: Duke staff uses bold comparison to lure Walker Kessler

According to the 247Sports Crystal Ball, Duke leads the race for Williams, and the only other program registering inside the ball is Stanford; granted, only four experts have entered predictions — plus, Krzyzewski would be wise not to discount up-and-comer Keatts as a credible competitor.

Duke’s 2020 class sat empty until Wednesday night when five-star point guard Jeremy Roach suddenly announced his commitment without any forewarning to the public.

ALSO READ: Jeremy Roach commits to Duke out of the blue

Other than Williams and Kessler, three other 2020 prospects hold outstanding Blue Devil offers, and all three are five-stars: small forward Jalen Johnson, who ranks No. 3 and expects to pick a program within the next couple months; forward Scottie Barnes, who ranks No. 4 and doesn’t intend to announce his choice until possibly next spring; and shooting guard B.J. Boston, who ranks No. 8 and could decide anytime during his senior year.

ALSO READ: Jalen Johnson admits package deal is possible

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Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball recruiting updates, analyses, opinions, and predictions.