By Jack Crouter,
Every year ESPN ranks the Top 40 recruiting classes. Teams with highly ranked recruiting classes are usually expected to put a better product on the floor the next season, especially if their incoming class was abnormally good. A lot of times the expectations can be misguided. For example it may not make a significant difference that your team gets one of the five highest ranked points guards if they already have the best point guard in the country on their team, or if the player is an unnatural fit in the coach’s system. Other times, highly recruited players can come in, like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins did, and immediately became the go-to guy or a key piece. Duke has the #1 ranked 2014 recruiting class on ESPN, boasting four 5-star recruits. What kind of impact will their class have in the next season, and how will the new and veteran talent function together as a team? Enjoy!
Duke’s 2014 Recruiting Class:
#1 Center: Jahlil Okafor
#1 Point Guard: Tyus Jones
#5 Small Forward: Justice Winslow
#6 Shooting Guard: Grayson Allen
Duke’s Key Returners:
PG: Quinn Cook
SG: Rasheed Sulaimon
PF: Amile Jefferson
The Blue Devils lost several key players from last season both to the draft and graduation. Jabari Parker’s ability to score in a huge variety of ways and Rodney Hood’s ridiculous length and jump shot will be especially missed. Duke also said farewell to Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, and Andre Dawkins. Even so, Duke’s depth should be solid next season. But it all starts with the new man in the middle.
There is a reason Jahlil was the #1 ranked player in all of high school basketball last season. He brings great size to the Center position at 6’10” and 265 pounds. His advanced footwork in the post and touch give him tremendous upside as a traditional back to the basket big man. He can shoot a bit outside the paint too. With the shooting ability around him, Jahlil will have space to operate in the paint where he excels.
Defensively his size and mobility discourages defenders from trying to score in the paint. Coach K hasn’t had the luxury of working with a dominant post player since Sheldon Williams, and Jahlil has all the tools to dominate right away. Likely to start up front with Okafor is Amile Jefferson who brings length, rebounding ability and efficient scoring providing he takes a low volume of shots.
Jefferson isn’t a star, but a great complementary piece to Okafor as a guy who will do the dirty work in the paint. Duke also returns Marshall Plumlee, Semi Ojeleye, both of whom still have to prove they can handle a consistent role in the middle.
At the point guard, Duke has one of the best in the ACC in Quinn Cook. He scores efficiently, picks up assists while minimizing turnovers, and plays defense. The addition of Tyus Jones, the #1 ranked point guard in 2014, gives coach K an embarrassment of riches at the position.
Jones is a true point guard whose game resembles Tyler Ennis who played extremely well in his one collegiate season at Syracuse last year. Jones has excellent court vision and passing ability. His shot is respectable but with a little work can become good enough to make him a multidimensional offensive threat. Jones doesn’t have great size at just 6’1” and 170lbs and will need to get stronger to handle the demands of defending more physical guards over the duration of the season. Jones can play with Cook for stretches too, because of Cook’s ability to play off ball.
Duke has some excellent versatility at the wings. Sulaimon is an electric shooter, extremely quick and has a ton of defensive potential. He has an underrated ability to handle the ball and play pick and roll. Coming off a season with an inconsistent role and a disappointing statistical regression, Sulaimon should thrive with a bigger role as the most experienced shooting guard on the roster. He’s an excellent fit with a new wing addition as well.
Justice Winslow’s game screams Michael Kidd-Gilchrest. He has all the intangibles, plays hard during his minutes, and will buy into the team concept. Defensively he can guard positions 2 through 4. Winslow’s shot leaves something to be desired but on a team with scorers like Cook, Suliamon and Okafor, he doesn’t need to score double digits every game. Rounding out the wings is Grayson Allen who can shoot the lights out.
Allen, like Winslow possesses the intangibles we have seen in a number of Coach K players over the years such as Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer. His range is excellent, he moves the ball well, is a good athlete and willing to defend. What more can you want in a role player?
Duke is going to be more reliant on their youth than we are accustomed to seeing next season. Jones, Winslow, and Okafor in particular will all play critical roles next season from day one. What’s even better is how well the pieces should mesh together.
Offensively, they have perimeter shooting, shot creating ability, a true paint scorer and guys who will do the dirty work. Defensively, they have experience and tenacity in the backcourt and length and size in the frontcourt. They have the athletes to play quickly and should have the discipline to play slowly. The integration of the Blue Devil’s 2014 recruiting class should be seamless.
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The college basketball landscape has changed over the past years. With top recruits staying for one year and then bolting for the NBA, high-level teams must continually adapt. For those players who choose to stay in school, one year can be the difference between a supporting role on a contending team, to the focal point. One of the best parts of college basketball is watching kids grow as they progress from freshmen to sophomores or juniors to seniors. Here are five players to keep an eye on as their role is sure to expand in the 2014-15 season. These players are ready to break through: (more…)