Duke basketball: No. 1 recruit might soon chop list in half

Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

The Duke basketball coaches continue inching toward a top recruiting prize.

This summer, Hamilton (Wis.) small forward and prime Duke basketball target Patrick Baldwin Jr. further validated his No. 1 ranking on the 247Sports 2021 Composite by leading his Phenom University (Wis.) Nike EYBL squad to a 22-2 record while averaging more than 20 points per game.

Then two weeks ago, after the final game of his AAU campaign, Baldwin Jr. told SI recruiting director Jason Jordan that he’s shifting to the recruiting game and looking to trim his top 10 of Duke, Georgetown, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, UCLA, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

“It’s a tough decision because all of the schools have great scenarios for me. Now that I’m back to focusing on my recruitment, I could see myself cutting my list down and speeding things up a little bit more now.”

Based on those comments, it now seems more likely than not that Baldwin Jr., who visited Duke on an unofficial visit in February, will pick a college destination before November’s early signing period arrives. Also, according to what else the 6-foot-10, 205-pound phenom said to Jordan, he’s been keeping tabs lately on other top recruits:

“I’ve been getting to know some of the players and staying up to date with who goes where and who I can potentially be playing with.”

That may bode well for the Blue Devils considering Baldwin Jr. and recent Duke basketball commit Paolo Banchero, a five-star power forward out of O’Dea (Wash.) who ranks No. 3 overall in the class, have each expressed familiarity and affinity for the other’s skill set. In fact, since joining #TheBrotherhood, Banchero has made no secret of his frequent sales pitches to Baldwin Jr.

Pairing all the intel directly from Baldwin Jr. with the opinions this week from Eric Bossi of Rivals, one could presume an announcement of five finalists — give or take a few but definitely to include Duke — will come soon. If so, then it seems Bossi would have a hunch as to which five will advance to the final stage for arguably the most polished prospect currently in high school:

“He’s got ties to Northwestern, where both of his parents went to school, and to Milwaukee, where his father is currently the head coach. For much of his recruitment, Baldwin has been closely linked to Duke…If not Duke, then the possibility that Baldwin chooses to play for his father can’t be ignored…Kentucky, North Carolina, and Northwestern are in there as well…”

Though Bossi’s kindness in mentioning those last three might reflect the respect that Baldwin Jr. intends to pay them as well — if and when he chops his list — the recruiting insider noted that the chase appears to be just a two-horse race:

“I’d be fairly surprised if he were to pick a team other than Duke or Milwaukee.”

By the looks of it, the 247Sports Crystal Ball experts would be surprised if Baldwin Jr. ends up anywhere outside of Durham. After all, the Blue Devils are the only recipient of any Crystal Ball predictions ever since July 2018, when the high-IQ sharpshooter became the all-time youngest recipient of an offer from Mike Krzyzewski.

The same is true for the Rivals FutureCast: all Duke.

An epic cast of 2021 signees remains in the cards for Duke basketball

On top of Banchero, Coach K and his assistants have already reeled in an early pledge from Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) five-star small forward AJ Griffin, who ranks No. 6 overall and has been on board with the Blue Devils since last November. Together, Banchero and Griffin remain the nation’s only top 10 seniors off the board.

While Baldwin Jr. certainly appears to be priority No. 1 for Duke, the staff is also still actively recruiting two other top 20 five-stars, in hopes of giving Banchero and Griffin more company and thereby finishing with an absolute dream haul.

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Those other two names are Paul VI (Va.) shooting guard Trevor Keels, who ranks No. 16 and has the Blue Devils in his top three alongside Virginia and Villanova, plus Montverde (Fla.) small forward Caleb Houstan, who ranks No. 8 and is probably a backup option in case Baldwin Jr. proves the experts wrong by winding up elsewhere (Houstan has yet to name favorites).

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