Duke basketball: New recruiting trend may be problematic for Blue Devils

Will Duke basketball suddenly run out of time on the 2021 recruiting trail?

Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) small forward AJ Griffin gave the Duke basketball program a nice headstart to its 2021 class. In hindsight, though, and relatively speaking, the five-star’s commitment way back in November wasn’t quite as early as it seemed at the time.

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Sure, at No. 6 on the 247Sports 2021 Composite, Griffin is still the highest-ranked prospect from this cycle to have picked a college destination. Plus, it’s worth noting the 6-foot-7, 200-pound chiseled specimen sits at or near the top of multiple 2022 mock drafts.

But as recruiting insider Eric Bossi pointed out in Saturday’s Rivals Roundtable, though the reasoning behind the trend is tough to explain for some top-notch talents, options for all schools are indeed decreasing at what looks to be a record pace:

“So far, 62 players from the 2021 Rivals150 have committed. At the same time last year, only 28 from the class of 2020 had done so. For top-end players being chased by great programs that will wait on them, I don’t really see why there is such a rush…they can’t even take visits at this point. However, for the most part, commitments have been pretty regional, so we have to factor in some kids seeing a pandemic, the uncertainty that it causes, and deciding to end things because they have a comfort level.”

Fellow Rivals observer Corey Evans offered similar sentiments about the new landscape and noted that they’re not alone in their thinking:

“I don’t get it, to tell you the truth, and neither do a number of coaches that I have spoken with in recent weeks. I do understand that prospects want to beat others to the lone offer which is more of a first-come, first-serve situation. But others are being scared into committing by worries that schools could move on or they’ve been told that a scholarship could be used on a transfer in the spring if they wait any longer. Others have just been exhausted by the process.”

One significant issue for Mike Krzyzewski and his staff in Durham — likewise, likely, for those rising seniors sill considering Duke — is the uncertainty about how many players will depart after next season.

Of Duke’s six incoming freshmen this year, only five-star small forward Jalen Johnson appears to be a sure-thing one-and-done; however, any number of the others could conceivably become projected first-rounders by next spring. Also, nobody knows for certain whether rising sophomore forwards Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore will be heading for the pro ranks at that point.

Senior guard Jordan Goldwire and grad transfer big man Patrick Tape are the only two scholarship Blue Devils who will exhaust their eligibility during the 2020-21 campaign (assuming, of course, that there is one).

The 2021 Duke basketball recruiting record so far (and what it needs to be)

Taking into account all that, Coach K and his assistants certainly need to haul in at least a few more 2021 talents, preferably to include a shooter/ballhandler and an inside force. Yet they must do so while cautious not to compile too many prizes in case all but one of the current underclassmen decide to return. Also, they must account for the possibility of soon having rather bleak backup plans.

Tricky work. That said, all in all, the Duke basketball recruiters haven’t been anything less than measured and somewhat successful in their efforts to date.

While Griffin remains their only piece to the puzzle, they have technically lost only one 2021 battle: the one for Rolling Meadows (Ill.) five-star shooting guard Max Christie, a Michigan State pledge as of three weeks ago. And viewing the unanswered offers, the Blue Devils are the perceived leaders for their top target: Hamilton (Wis.) small forward Patrick Baldwin Jr., who happens to hold the nation’s No. 1 composite ranking.

The other five on the Duke basketball radar are also five-stars: Sunrise Christian (Kan.) point guard Kennedy Chandler, Paul VI (Va.) shooting guard Trevor Keels, Montverde (Fla.) small forward Caleb Houstan, O’Dea (Wash.) power forward Paolo Banchero, and IMG (Fla.) center Charles Bediako.

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