Duke basketball: Have Blue Devils secured lead for primary 2021 target?

Could Duke basketball respond to one 2021 recruiting loss with an epic win?

By picking Michigan State on Tuesday, Rolling Meadows (Ill.) shooting guard and longtime Duke basketball target Max Christie indirectly offered a touch of clarity to the chase for Hamilton (Wis.) small forward Patrick Baldwin Jr.

The impact lies in two facts: 1) the five-star sharpshooters, who were once ballboys together for Northwestern, had spoken on several occasions about choosing the same school, and 2) Christie’s chosen destination isn’t among Baldwin Jr.’s 10 finalists: Duke, Georgetown, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, UCLA, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Therefore, it’s time to scratch the idea of this package deal coming together. However, it’s not time to stop thinking about Baldwin Jr. one day lacing ’em up for Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. In fact, except for the issue of distance, signs tend to point toward the 6-foot-10, 205-pound hoops savant becoming a Blue Devil.

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The Duke recruiters have made Baldwin Jr. priority No. 1 since the summer of 2018 when he became the youngest recipient of an offer from Krzyzewski. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has unanimously favored the Blue Devils ever since.

As a coach’s son, Baldwin Jr. displays the maturity of a college senior. His playing style and demeanor have given off Dukie vibes to numerous recruiting insiders. On Tuesday, Eric Bossi of Rivals outlined the perceived advantage of Coach K and his staff:

“Whether it has the commanding lead that many consider it to have remains to be seen, but for a while now Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke program has been considered the team to beat for Baldwin. After all, Duke is Duke, and they have a history of rangy combo types like Jabari Parker, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Zion Williamson to name a few.”

Bossi continued:

“Baldwin isn’t exactly like them…they aren’t exactly like each other, but Coach K and his staff have shown a willingness to showcase players like Baldwin in recent years. They will likely be doing it again with another Wisconsin product, Jalen Johnson, this season. Baldwin has been on campus, everything behind the scenes sounds good for the Blue Devils, and their status as the favorite seems to be earned.”

What makes the potential Duke basketball centerpiece such a coveted prize?

Seeing that the No. 2 overall prospect on the 247Sports 2021 Composite looks set on attending college, even if only for a year, Baldwin Jr. could be a one-and-done headliner — possibly even a top Naismith candidate — for whichever recruiters seal the deal. Here’s Bossi’s take on that:

“[Patrick Baldwin Jr.] is one of the best jump shooters in the land, handles the ball extremely well, is a playmaker for others, and has the type of versatility that is craved in the era of positionless basketball. Even better, as the G League and other professional leagues continue to try and get talent to skip college, Baldwin is most likely heading to school.”

Granted, Baldwin Jr. has spoken highly to Rivals in the past about the thought of playing for his namesake at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the obvious hometown favorite:

“My dad hasn’t said this, but my kind of mentality is that no coach will have your back greater than your dad. So whether he’s at a D3 or a D2 school, he’s still going to have my back better than any coach in the country ever will.”

The consensus seems to be that outside of Coach K, his dad, and Northwestern’s Chris Collins — a Duke basketball alum who once had former Wildcat star Patrick Baldwin Sr. on his staff — no other head coaches appear to have much steam in the race.

Similar to Christie, Baldwin Jr. has hinted at a decision to come before his senior year. And like Christie, Baldwin Jr.’s announcement could come suddenly.

Four more five-stars fill out the 2021 Duke basketball wishlist: Sunrise Christian (Kan.) point guard Kennedy Chandler, Paul VI Catholic (Va.) shooting guard Trevor Keels, O’Dea (Wash.) power forward Paolo Banchero, and IMG Academy (Fla.) center Charles Bediako.

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Coach K’s lone pickup from the class remains Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) five-star small forward AJ Griffin, who committed eight months ago.

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