Duke basketball: Competition heats up for fierce five-star forward

Wherever there is a prospect with the potential to lead a powerhouse as a freshman, Duke basketball suitors and one other heavyweight staff are almost sure to either be there or on the way.

The Duke basketball coaches and their regular foes from Kentucky are currently neck and neck on the 2020 recruiting trail. Both are out to add just the right finishing touches to what are already four-deep classes — Duke holds commitments from three five-stars and one four-star while Kentucky has two of each.

Meanwhile, both juggernauts are sending assistants out to gain early advantages in key 2021 races. Both the Blue Devils and Wildcats have already extended five such offers — all to five-stars. Naturally, they overlap for three forwards: Jonathan Kuminga, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and Paolo Banchero.

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And a fourth overlap appears near considering Kentucky hinted at a fast-approaching offer by making a return visit this week — one week after the first and this time with head coach John Calipari in tow — to check out Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) small forward A.J. Griffin.

Also in attendance on the same day as Calipari, per insider Andrew Slater, was Villanova’s Jay Wright, who extended an offer to Griffin on June 15 — the same day as Duke, Michigan, Kansas, and Vanderbilt.

A week prior to Kentucky’s first trip, on the first day of the recruiting period, Griffin received a statement visit from Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and two assistants: Jon Scheyer and Nate James. On the same day, the 16-year-old informed insider Adam Zagoria of his plan to attend Countdown to Craziness on Oct. 18.

ALSO READ: Duke staff sends a serious message to A.J. Griffin

One reason for the onslaught of attention and offers from major programs is that the 6-foot-7, 215-pound five-star, who ranks No. 10 on the 247Sports 2021 Composite, seems to be better than 99 percent of his peers at aggressively driving into the lane and consistently creating ways — on the fly — to come away with points.

Other reasons must include Griffin’s steel frame, long arms, refined jumper, Shake n’ Bake handles, always-on motor, turbo speed, legit ability to play either guard or forward positions, and ideal hoops pedigree — his dad, Adrian Griffin, was a star for Seton Hall in the ’90s, then an NBA journeyman, and now the lead assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors.

With no mention of unveiling finalists or a timeline for a decision, expect the battle to keep heating up across at least the next 12 months. While positive signs for the Blue Devils include the heavy interest from the Duke basketball staff and the currently one-and-only Crystal Ball pick, Griffin’s past words suggest Kentucky could instantly be a top contender just by handing over an offer.

“I’m really interested in [Kentucky], so it would be nice to see them,” Griffin told Zagoria in June. “One of the things I like about them is that they get [players] ready for the NBA the first year. That’s something I look forward to trying to do…”

No matter where Griffin lands in the fall of 2021 for a one-year college layover, his impressive overall game should attract enough eyes to land somewhere within the 2022 NBA Draft’s first round — possibly as a lottery pick.

NBA Draft Room has Griffin going No. 7 in 2022 — which, of course, doesn’t mean diddly-squat at this point. However, the site lists Jimmy Butler as a comparison — which fits and is telling of the star power the recruit should bring to all levels.

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