Duke basketball: Blue Devils battling only Kentucky for five-star?

An insider sees the Duke basketball recruiters in a key duel with Kentucky.

Corey Evans of Rivals recently ranked the six contenders for O’Dea (Wash.) power forward Paolo Banchero, who sits No. 4 on the 247Sports 2021 Composite and is the smoothest, surest-footed bruiser among rising seniors. On the ranking, the Duke basketball program is No. 2, behind Kentucky.

But Evans did note that the two recruiting powerhouses stand out from the other finalists: Tennessee, Washington, Gonzaga, and Arizona.

Supporting the case for Kentucky, Evans examined the Wildcats’ strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, notably the commitments from two Oregon natives across the past decade. Plus, John Calipari and his staff apparently seemed on the verge of a pledge from Banchero after his official visit to Lexington back in the fall.

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Of course, that didn’t happen. And Evans also pointed out the 6-foot-9, 235-pound five-star’s fall trip to Durham in addition to Banchero’s potential to see max minutes should he become a Duke basketball player:

“The latest player to pit Duke and Kentucky in a battle for a five-star…the fit and need for someone in his mold cannot be understated. The Blue Devils will likely see Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson, and Patrick Tape depart after the season, while Mark Williams could also be a one-and-done…[Banchero] has received countless Carlos Boozer comparisons, and Coach K would love to have another player of that caliber…”

The Duke basketball target’s landing spot might depend on that of another

Bluebloods and Carlos Boozer talks aside, Evans argued Tennessee has an outside shot at snagging Banchero just by being a frontrunner for his five-star pal and possible college teammate, Sunrise Christian (Kan.) point guard Kennedy Chandler.

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Yet bear in mind that Chandler, who boasts a No. 11 composite ranking and hopes to commit before winter, also has Kentucky and Duke among his top five, which he unveiled the same week in spring that Banchero named his six. Furthermore, the Memphis native has referred to Duke as his dream school while noticing heavy attention from Mike Krzyzewski and his gang.

As for when Banchero plans to pick a winner, the 17-year-old hinted in his SI blog last week that an announcement may not come until after next season (he also wrote “good chance” in reference to joining forces with Chandler). However, Evans feels a decision could arrive sooner:

“Banchero is hoping to take five official visits in the fall before signing in November, but that could be pushed back if on-campus recruiting is barred beyond its current date of Aug. 31.”

Speaking of restrictions, Eric Bossi of Rivals asserted on Wednesday that Banchero looked ready to dominate the summer if not for canceled tournaments:

“It’s hard to imagine a player who ranks No. 3 in the country [per Rivals] feeling that he’s underrated or overlooked, but Banchero seems to me like a highly ranked player who has the drive and chip on his shoulder of a player who is unranked and without offers…remarkably efficient, very skilled…does so many things well that his excellence can sometimes be taken for granted.”

Other 2021 five-stars with Duke basketball offers are Paul VI Catholic (Va.) shooting guard Trevor Keels, Hamilton (Wis.) small forward Patrick Baldwin Jr., and IMG Academy (Fla.) center Charles Bediako. Meanwhile, Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) five-star small forward AJ Griffin remains the only Blue Devil commit from the class.

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball recruiting news and views.