These days, the Duke basketball coaches can ill afford to ignore the emerging alternate paths for prized prep phenoms.
In hindsight, 2020 may have been the perfect recruiting cycle for the Duke basketball five-star magnets to attract only one prospect inside the top 20 on the 247Sports Composite. Also, maybe it’s a blessing that said prospect, small forward Jalen Johnson, fell from No. 3 in April 2019 to No. 11 at last check — falling outside the main spotlight in the process — after sitting out most of his senior campaign for murky reasons.
But Mike Krzyzewski and his staff must recognize that 2021 may bring an explosion to the number of players who help turn the one-and-done era back into the good old none-and-done days. The trend looks ready for liftoff, even without the NBA yet nixing the infamous rule that has been in effect for more than a decade, which requires a player to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school graduation in order to be eligible for that year’s draft.
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Last year, then-Duke basketball target R.J. Hampton moved his graduation up a year and headed overseas to begin his professional career. Frequently as of late, the No. 5 overall prospect from the 2019 class has been speaking highly of his experience to current high schoolers, as one can see from what the smooth point guard recently told SI:
“I tell them like this, if you’re looking to compete and have fun and have that whole college experience, then go to college. But if you’re looking to step into the league and make an impact, I think going overseas is the best option…I think you’ll see players go this route more and more. There are just so many pros that come with it, and players are noticing.”
Many more will likely take note should both Hampton and LaMelo Ball, who also went the overseas route last year, wind up as top lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, thereby instantly reaping the next-level benefits of the performance-based endorsement deals they inked last summer.
On Tuesday, Michigan felt the impact by losing five-star power forward Isaiah Todd to the pro ranks. The Wolverines’ former 2020 commit, who holds a No. 13 composite ranking, has not decided whether he’ll head overseas or to the G-League, just that he won’t be in Ann Arbor.
On Thursday, Jalen Green, a five-star combo guard who ranks No. 3 in the 2020 class, will announce his choice between Memphis, Auburn, and the pros. According to what 247Sports recruiting insider Evan Daniels wrote on Wednesday, “multiple industry sources believe the G League is the favorite to land Green.”
Gonzaga signee Jalen Suggs, a five-star combo guard who ranks No. 8, has apparently not completely ruled out the pro path for next season either. With rumors of other such names sure to surface, Duke basketball fans can only hope, of course, that Johnson isn’t one of them (he signed with the Blue Devils last November, joining fellow top 50 prospects Jeremy Roach, D.J. Steward, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman, and Mark Williams; currently, the only 2021 Duke basketball commit is five-star small forward A.J. Griffin).
What is the reason for all this buzz about the G League and other options? Money. Duh. Six-figure salaries for 18-year-olds are growing in size, in terms of both the amount of the proposed salaries and the number of big-ticket teens weighing the option to cash in by ditching college altogether. Here’s how Daniels broke it down:
“When the G League announced intentions of creating a program that would harbor prospects that opted out of college, the salary released to try and entice potential players was $125,000. Sources have indicated to 247Sports that the G League is now willing to pay more for the right prospects…
“The truth is going to college is valued less by high school athletes now more than ever. These are not only real, appealing alternatives…they fit what the elite players want to do — get to the money and the pros as quickly as possible.”
Now, all this isn’t to say the Duke recruiters should stop pursuing top-shelf guys altogether.
All this is to say, however, that in order to not waste time, Coach K and his team will have to further advance their techniques to detect early on those five-stars who deep down have little desire to spend any time on a college campus.