Duke basketball program could afford mass exodus

Duke basketball (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

No matter what happens next, just remember, it’s not as if the Duke basketball coaches lack experience when it comes to instant rebuilds.

On Saturday, ACC Player of the Year Tre Jones announced his decision to leave the Duke basketball program in order to turn pro early. Hours later, junior Alex O’Connell tweeted his decision to transfer. In all likelihood, within the coming weeks — maybe the coming days or even hours — several other underclassmen will depart.

ACC Rookie of the Year Vernon Carey Jr. looks ready to bulldoze his way into an NBA rotation. ACC All-Freshman Team selection Cassius Stanley looks ready to fly his private-jet self to the same place.

ALSO READ: Plea for Cassius Stanley to tweet much more often

Furthermore, search “Matthew Hurt” on Twitter or on message boards; you’ll find unlimited chatter that may leave you believing the Duke basketball freshman power forward could transfer (the NCAA is still talking about putting into effect this spring the rule that would allow guys to transfer without sitting out a season). Or he could try his hand at what would probably be either the G League or overseas professional route.

And keep in mind junior combo guard Jordan Goldwire is, from all accounts, tight with O’Connell — not saying he’ll also head elsewhere, as he now seems to be a coach’s pet and is in line next season for a heavy supply of minutes once again as a secondary ballhandler and defensive pest, but crazier things have happened.

By the time all decisions are said and done — freshman forward Wendell Moore and sophomore forward Joey Baker have been transparent on social media about their plans to return to Durham next season — there could be as few as three returning scholarship players (not counting Mike Buckmire, who earned a scholarship prior to this past Duke basketball season but rarely played and likely won’t see much time as a senior either).

No worries. Have no fear. One might suspect, in fact, that it’s pretty much all a part of the plan.

To begin with, six top 50 players on the 247Sports 2020 Composite are on their way to Duke. Three of those prospects — Paul VI (Va.) five-star point guard Jeremy Roach, Whitney Young (Ill.) five-star combo guard D.J. Steward, and Nicolet (Wis.) five-star small forward Jalen Johnson — boast skillsets, athleticism, and leadership qualities deserving of a starting role from Day One.

ALSO READ: Predicting Duke’s top scorer next season

The other three incoming freshmen — Huntington Prep (W.Va.) four-star power forward Jaemyn Brakefield, Trinity Episcopal (Va.) four-star power forward Henry Coleman, and IMG Academy (Fla.) four-star center Mark Williams — may only be role players, but there have certainly been less gifted members of the Duke basketball starting lineup over the years if that’s where any of three lands.

ALSO READ: Duke may wind up with a second 2020 center after all

Those six newbies plus Moore, Baker, and Goldwire would not only be a solid nine-man rotation, but such a scenario would provide a wealth of opportunities for the development of skills and stardom — maybe even from an unexpected source or two.

Besides, even though Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski used more of his bench last season than in most prior ones, he still trimmed the rotation from February onward, meaning nine is probably more than will see the floor in close March games next season anyway.

ALSO READ: An early look at the promising 2020-21 Blue Devils

Yes, the Blue Devils might lack a true second center. Yes, they might have little to no experience among their true weapons. Yes, true chemistry might take some extra effort to quickly build with such a reconstructed roster.

No, none of this would be anything new to the Coach K & Sons One-and-Done Roster Building Company (you know, the one that has won a national title within their past five tries and come within a few points of two more Final Four appearances…not too shabby, regardless of the envy-fueled nonsense that haters often preach).

ALSO READ: The stars just burn brighter in Durham

Also, keep in mind the Duke basketball coaches will likely end up snagging a grad transfer to fill needs (or a non-grad if that NCAA rule takes effect this year). And past evidence of their wooing superpowers suggests they’ll likely be able to do so at the snap of a finger the moment they feel those needs arise.

Now, it’s probably the case that outbound Harvard grad transfer Seth Towns will pick Ohio State over Duke when he announces his destination during Saturday’s 11 p.m. SportsCenter (at least that’s what the 247Sports Crystal Ball is shouting, not to mention the fact there is no news supporting the notion he has actually received a Duke basketball offer).

Plus, it’s probably the case that Coach K and his cohorts will miss out on another grad transfer or two, such as Yale’s Jordan Bruner and Columbia’s Patrick Tape, as a result of their minimal pursuit while they wait on final decisions from Carey Jr., Stanley, Hurt, etc.

ALSO READ: Transfers continue to grab Coach K’s interest

But don’t count out the possibility of a Marvin Bagley III repeat (meaning an August commitment just prior to the start of the academic year) in the form of reclass candidate Jonathan Kuminga, who ranks No. 1 on the 247Sports 2021 Composite, or some other name that could come out of nowhere at the last minute.

Regardless of what’s to come, it would be silly to think the 40-year Duke basketball head coach couldn’t figure out the most advantageous counterstep.

It’s all good. As long there’s a K, there’s a proven way to combat most any problem without finishing dead last in the ACC (ahem, North Carolina).

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