Zion Williamson’s surprise announcement Saturday night that he plans to play his college basketball career at Duke was yet another major point in Mike Krzyzewski’s favor on the recruiting trail.
Williamson’s addition could very well make the Blue Devils’ 2018 class an unprecedented one.
Duke already had signed the No. 1 and 2 players for next season — R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish, respectively — and Williamson is the No. 3 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings, an aggregate of several recruiting services.
So, when was the last time one school signed the top three recruits in a class?
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In terms of modern recruiting rankings, it never has happened.
The 247Sports rankings began in 2011, and, before that, the similarly structured Recruiting Services Consensus Index had tracked composite recruiting rankings back to the class of 1998.
In the past 20 years, at least, no team has ever secured the top three players in a single class. Few have been even close. (And keep in mind that Duke also has signed Tre Jones, the No. 8 overall recruit and No. 1 point guard in the class of 2018).
In the RSCI/247Sports era of composite rankings, Kentucky’s class of 2011 comes the closest to matching Duke’s unbelievable 2018 haul.
That UK class — the third under John Calipari — included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, the Nos. 1, 3 and 6 players, respectively, in the country that year, and they won a national title in their only season with the Wildcats. (Kyle Wiltjer — the No. 20 prospect — also signed with the Cats).
The UK class two years later featured Julius Randle (No. 2), Andrew Harrison (No. 5) and Aaron Harrison (No. 6), in addition to No. 9-ranked James Young, No. 10 Dakari Johnson and No. 18 Marcus Lee. That team went to the national title game.
That 2013 group also, on paper, was surely one of the best recruiting classes ever, but it didn’t feature the top three players in the country. (Andrew Wiggins, who considered UK until the end, was No. 1 that year).
Only three other recruiting classes in the past 20 years have included three of the top-10 prospects in one group.
Duke’s current batch of freshman stars — Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter — were ranked No. 1, 6 and 7, respectively, last year. Gary Trent Jr. was No. 17.
North Carolina’s signing class in 2006 included Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, the No. 3, 5 and 8 players, respectively, in the RSCI rankings. Lawson and Ellington won a national title in 2009.
UNC’s 2002 group featured Ray Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May, the No. 3, 4 and 9 players, respectively, in the RSCI rankings. That trio won it all in 2005.
Other (relatively) recent recruiting hauls of note were the 1997 Duke class (Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Chris Burgess and William Avery were all McDonald’s All-Americans) and UNC’s 1993 haul, which included first-team high school All-Americans Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse, plus McDonald’s All-American Jeff McInnis.
But, again, neither of those groups included the top three players in the class.
Then there’s perhaps the most celebrated recruiting class ever: Michigan’s Fab Five, the 1991 group of recruits that Sports Illustrated referred to as “the biggest haul of blue-chippers ever” — a quintet that became a college basketball sensation and advanced to two consecutive national title games in their only two seasons together (losing both).
They were highly ranked, yes. But, did they have the top three players in the class? No.
Recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons ranked Chris Webber at No. 1 that year, followed by Juwan Howard (No. 4), Jimmy King (No. 10), Jalen Rose (No. 12) and Ray Jackson (No. 76).
According to the numbers, the 2018 Duke class — a Fab Four, for now, with that unprecedented trio at the top — is better.
Best of the class
Top 3 basketball recruits for 1998-2018:
Michael Porter Jr.
Note: Rankings from 247Sports composite (2011-2018); RSCI (1998-2010)