Duke basketball: What Patrick Tape’s change of heart implies

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Patrick Tape situation should serve as a Duke basketball lesson, but it could also prove to be a positive sign; either way, speculation about its meaning abounds.

Now two springs in a row, after watching a player back out of a commitment, the Duke basketball coaches have encountered what rival fans jump at the chance to label “a bad look.”

Last May, it was four-star recruit Boogie Ellis, who had signed with Duke but ended up at Memphis. Thursday afternoon, it was Columbia grad transfer Patrick Tape, a solid post presence who had joined the Duke basketball family only nine days prior and now hasn’t said where he’ll end up for his final college season — only that it won’t be in Durham.

Naturally, jokes from the national media never fail to immediately ensue:

OK, so the first implication that came to mind after the Tape news, which 247Sports recruiting insider Evan Daniels first reported, is that Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants were too antsy in terms of ensuring a loaded 2020-21 Duke basketball roster. In other words, it implies that the staff jumped the gun a bit when it comes to filling holes that might not even exist.

After all, even if current freshmen Vernon Carey Jr., Cassius Stanley, and Matthew Hurt all leave, next season’s squad would still include nine scholarship players worthy of significant minutes: the six signees, all ranking among the top 50 on the 247Sports 2020 Composite, plus returnees Wendell Moore, Joey Baker, and Jordan Goldwire.

On top of that, Tape’s decommitment implies Coach K and his cohorts, who have never been gung-ho about snagging seniors from elsewhere, have taken this one on the chin and will never again rush to land a grad transfer.

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But Tape’s change of heart also suggests that what this site published only a few hours before word of his commitment last week — “Duke recruiting for next season needs to stop” — was an apt forewarning that is once again relevant. Here’s an excerpt:

“The 2020-21 Blue Devils are in good shape, regardless of where Carey Jr., Stanley, and Hurt decide to reside next year (sophomore Tre Jones has already opted to enter the professional ranks, and junior Alex O’Connell announced he’s seeking greener pastures via the transfer route)…If all three leave, the Blue Devils would have nine quality pieces, which is more than Coach K is likely to regularly play anyway…

“Sure, the group would be on the small and inexperienced side…but those two shortcomings would equate to two opportunities that could be more exciting than landing new faces: 1) the opportunity for Coach K to put his adapting powers on full display and 2) the opportunity for stars to rise up in cohesive fashion.”

Another implication — the one Duke basketball fans are no doubt more optimistic about in light of the peeled-off Tape — is that one or more of Carey Jr., Stanley, and Hurt will indeed return.

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Maybe Tape gave his Duke basketball pledge with the assumption that Hurt would either transfer or try his hand at the professional ranks, thereby freeing up playing time in the paint; maybe the 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward since found out that’s not likely going to be the case.

Maybe Tape even worried about the fact that Carey Jr. has yet to announce what most folks just assume will be his decision to bolt for the NBA. Keep in mind that the NABC National Freshman of the Year has recently fallen outside the first round on a few mock drafts.

Yes, one might try to claim that all the troubles in the world at the moment may have left Tape looking for schools closer to his family. Considering the 21-year-old hails from a few hours down the road in Charlotte, though, that’s not likely the case. That said, it is definitely possible that some unknown personal matter is at play.

Of course, the other implication floating around on Twitter is that a former suitor at another school must have stayed in Tape’s ear, cautioning him about the amount of competition for playing time he would experience as a Blue Devil (we’re all aware that shady recruiting is far from a rarity).

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Finally, all this implies that the dangers of a one-and-done recruiting strategy — that is obviously what the intended path has been of late whether Coach K cops to it or not — extend to the offseason. Simply put, as Ball Durham has pointed out too many times to count, coaches’ recruiting pitches are sure to look misleading in hindsight should so-called “surefire one-and-done freshmen” decide they aren’t yet done at Duke after all.

Live and learn.

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