Reprint ESPN.com - Jeff Borzello
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.
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.
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
Williamson joins a class that already had No. 1 prospect R.J. Barrett and No. 3 Cameron Reddish, as well as No. 1 point guard Tre Jones, the No. 10 overall player in 2018.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
There’s no one else in college basketball able to do that right now.
Next time, we won’t be surprised.