Duke basketball recruiters face decisive battle against Kentucky

Duke basketball (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball program and Kentucky are the main players in what could become the one-and-done era’s most important duel for a No. 1 prospect.

After ruling over recruiting for the first half of the decade, Kentucky landed its first top-five commit since 2015 on Saturday in the form of five-star shooting guard Terrence Clarke; many of those John Calipari and his staff missed on during the 0-for stretch ended up on Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s one-and-done list, which includes seven former top-five recruits since 2015.

By also announcing a reclass, Clarke now sits at No. 4 on the 247Sports 2020 Composite, bumping Duke’s highest-ranked pledge, five-star small forward Jalen Johnson, to No. 6 while also launching Calipari’s class to the top spot.

Despite bursting out of the gates with the top haul early on — with May and July commitments from five-star point guard Jeremy Roach and Johnson, respectively, each of whom had Kentucky as a finalist — Krzyzewski’s class now sits at No. 8 after more than two months without an addition.

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However, the No. 1 player in the 2021 class, The Patrick School (N.J.) small forward Jonathan Kuminga, has the power to potentially decide the top 2020 class, as he has not ruled out a reclass. The college choice from the versatile five-star, whose size and skillset spark memories of former Duke basketball one-and-done Luol Deng, could also serve as the tiebreaker between the Blue Devils and Wildcats for the imaginary title of the No. 1 recruiting machine from the one-and-done era, which is likely to end in 2022.

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Although the 16-year-old Kuminga is relatively young for a reclass, he showed he has little business still being in high school at all by putting up 27.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.4 steals per game at Peach Jam in July. Not only is the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Congo native lean, long, and bouncy — biting the rim on dunks would be a cinch — but he also holds the special gift of simultaneously being vicious and composed when attacking the rim.

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Already included in Kuminga’s repertoire are the post moves of an elite big man and the handles of a crafty guard. Possibly his specialty, though, is his innate ability to take over games by refusing to play at any other pace but his own. An improved outside shot would render him all but unstoppable at any level.

All three 247Sports Crystal Ball picks to date show the Blue Devils as the frontrunners for Kuminga, but at least one Kentucky recruiting insider has pointed out what he believes could prove an insurmountable advantage for the Wildcats.

"“Jonathan Kuminga has been seen as a Duke lean and reclassification candidate,” Kentucky Sports Radio’s Jack Pilgrim wrote in a tweet on Sunday. “Interestingly, the nation’s No. 1 prospect told me at Peach Jam that he was hoping to form a ‘super team’ in college and named Terrence Clarke as someone he had talked to about it. This is significant.”"

Also significant is the fact Coach Cal and his top recruiting assistant, Kenny Payne, visited with Kuminga on Monday.

That being said, insider Andrew Slater, who has proven time and again to have a knack for reading where guys are leaning early in their recruitments, doesn’t believe Clarke’s commitment has any bearing on Kuminga’s destination.

"“Jon and T.Clarke know each other Very well,” Slater responded to Pilgrim on Twitter. “Their recruitments, however, are separate entities. At the highest level, this will be about fit and being able to showcase for the League. There’s too much money to jeopardize any draft slots.”"

And with bragging rights over recruiting prowess at stake, not to mention what could be the primary ingredient to a future national championship, the Duke basketball coaches cannot afford to let Kentucky gain any momentum in the pursuit of Kuminga — no matter when the gamechanger opts to enter college.

Granted, Kuminga holds offers from 26 suitors altogether, but like a bulk of the top-five prospects this decade, it seems unlikely he’ll end up anywhere but Durham or Lexington.

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