Shocked? By Duke getting a top-five recruit?
Maybe we should have known not to count out Mike Krzyzewski when it comes to elite prospects, but Zion Williamson picking the Blue Devils on Saturday night counts as a stunner in the recruiting world.
Heading into Saturday, there was no buzz for Duke. Clemson was seen as the favorite, but if not the Tigers, staying in-state and going to South Carolina or heading to North Carolina or Kentucky all were seen as more likely options. There were even some questions as to whether the Blue Devils were still heavily involved for Williamson.
We should have known better.
Krzyzewski pulled the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, landing Williamson -- and securing the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 prospects in the 2018 class, something that’s never been done since the ESPN recruiting database started in 2007.
Krzyzewski is simply on another level on the recruiting trail right now. He has now landed four top-10 prospects in back-to-back years. He’s landed 11 top-three prospects since 2007, seven more than anyone else in the country.
Duke has surpassed Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country. The Blue Devils undoubtedly will have the No. 1 recruiting class this year, the fourth time in the past five years Krzyzewski has landed the top-ranked group nationally. He had gone the one-and-done route before, getting Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker -- but he fully jumped on board when he recruited Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow in the 2014 class. That trio led Duke to a national championship and started a recruiting cycle that brought us to Saturday night.
Krzyzewski saw what having the best talent in the country can do, but what also happened was Duke now had to get used to completely redoing rosters from year to year. Okafor, Jones and Winslow all left. The following year, Brandon Ingram left after one season. After last season, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson were all one-and-done prospects -- while Luke Kennard spent two years at Duke before entering the NBA draft.
This spring, Duke will bid farewell to senior Grayson Allen, and will also likely have to replace projected first-rounders Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Trevon Duval. Krzyzewski knew he needed reinforcements, and Barrett, Reddish and Jones weren’t enough on their own.
Williamson might not be the missing piece, either, but Krzyzewski now has talent that will likely be unrivaled in college basketball -- much as he did last season and this season. Having Reddish, Barrett and Williamson on the court at the same time creates a number of issues for defenses. Barrett is a terrific two-way player who has improved his playmaking ability; Williamson is a battering ram in transition, but also an underrated passer; and Reddish can handle the ball and create plays for himself and others very well for a 6-foot-7 wing. Krzyzewski will be able to spread the floor and let his three elite prospects go to work in one-on-one situations, and defenses won’t be able to focus on one player. Throw in Jones or Duval running the show, and Gary Trent Jr. knocking down open shots, and there will be few defenses capable of defending Duke.
In an age where the common thought is “Duke and Kentucky always get the best players” or “the rich get richer” in recruiting, it’s easy to overlook just how special this recruiting class is for Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. Getting the top three players in the country is unheard of. There are any number of complications to getting it done: ego, chemistry, resources, etc.
But Krzyzewski went to Barrett, a small forward; Williamson, who wants to be a small forward; and Reddish, a small forward, and somehow convinced all three to play their one season of college basketball in Durham, North Carolina, next season.
There’s no one else in college basketball able to do that right now.
Next time, we won’t be surprised.