Devils boast nation's top recruiting class
A new starting five, a new style and even a new assistant coach. It’s almost all new for the Blue Devils this season, but don’t expect to see them slip from that old familiar spot near the top of the ACC and the national rankings, thanks to another top-ranked recruiting class.
Duke reeled in the top-ranked player in R.J. Barrett, smooth-scoring wing Cam Reddish, a freak athlete in Zion Williamson and an elite floor general in Tre Jones — all ranked among the top 15 players in the class — before picking up sharpshooter Joey Baker, a top-35 recruit who reclassified to head to Durham a year early.
After building around big men last season, Duke will boast a high degree of versatility as its signature.
“Their talents, they’re more positionless players,” says coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Even Tre is not just a point guard; the ball doesn’t stick in his hands much. He doesn’t pound the ball, so that gives an opportunity for R.J., Zion, Cameron — they can play all over the court. They can complement.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike Krzyzewski
2017-18 RECORD (ACC): 29-8 (13–5)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Kansas 85-81 in the Elite Eight
G Grayson Allen (15.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg)
F Marvin Bagley (21.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg)
F Wendell Carter (13.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
G Trevon Duval (10.3 ppg, 5.6 apg)
G Gary Trent (14.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
The time is now for junior center Marques Bolden. A top recruit in 2014, Bolden battled injury over his first two seasons before finding his footing late last season. The 6'11" rim protector earned consistent minutes off the bench for the first time and finally caught up to the speed of the game.
Should Duke choose to go small and play faster, Javin DeLaurier can slide in at center. A 6'10" junior, DeLaurier actually boasted the best offensive rebounding rate on the team last season, per KenPom.
Either upperclassman will be paired with Williamson, a 6'6", 272-pound physical anomaly whose game is built on power and features a dizzying array of highlight-reel dunks.
Baker is a small forward who can add perimeter shooting — if he cracks the rotation as a freshman.
The Blue Devils are going back to the future at the point with Jones, younger brother of Tyus Jones, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in Duke’s 2015 title run. “Tre is a little bit more athletic,” Krzyzewski says. “They both pass ahead really well, and Tre is a little bit more of a penetrator.”
Jones will play alongside two natural scorers in Barrett and Reddish, both projected to be at the top of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Barrett, who spent his summer with the Canadian national team, will show his versatility by rotating between the three spots on the perimeter. He understands the game and uses his athleticism and his 6'7", 208-pound frame to get to the bucket or find space to show his mid-range game. One wild card will be a rebuilt jumper, meant to smooth out a streaky stroke from 3-point range.
Reddish has similar versatility on the perimeter, albeit with a more consistent stroke from 3-point range and the potential to be Duke’s best perimeter defender. His style and scoring ability resemble that of a young Carmelo Anthony.
Despite having seven first-round picks in the past three years, a return to the Final Four has been elusive. Still, the expectation in Durham is that the Blue Devils will cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
Chemistry and defense have been hurdles for Duke with its one-and-done talent, and a well-timed tour of Canada in August could be the jump-start it needs.
Krzyzewski, who will turn 72 late in the 2018-19 season, is more determined than ever to win a title. “Not coaching [USA Basketball] and being healthy, that combination has produced enormous energy for me,” he says. “Kind of nuts how good I feel and how excited I am about doing all this.”
Postseason Prediction: Final Four
ACC Prediction: 1st