UK Recruiting

How much will Jeff Capel's departure hurt Duke basketball recruiting in 2019?

Jeff Capel left Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke to replace Kevin Stallings as head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers. The question now is whether Capel’s departure will reduce Duke’s prominence in recruiting elite, one-and-done talent.
Jeff Capel left Mike Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke to replace Kevin Stallings as head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers. The question now is whether Capel’s departure will reduce Duke’s prominence in recruiting elite, one-and-done talent. Associated Press

The latest group of McDonald’s All-Americans were wrapping up a practice in Atlanta and about to participate in that event’s media day festivities when news started to trickle out that Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel was going to be the next head coach at Pittsburgh.

The Blue Devils had four future players at the McDonald’s Game — RJ Barrett, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson — and all four wished Capel well on that day in late March.

“I’m extremely excited for him,” Jones said then. “I feel like he’s going to do really well with the Pittsburgh program and hopefully get them in the right direction.”

Jones added that Capel had texted all four players individually to tell them of the news, express sorrow that he wouldn’t get to coach them and wish them good luck at Duke.

They all understood, and Capel’s departure didn’t affect any of their recruitments.

The real question at that time was what it would mean for the Blue Devils’ future recruiting efforts. And that became an even bigger question when Mike Krzyzewski hired former Duke player Chris Carrawell — a respected assistant but not someone known as a master recruiter — to take Capel’s spot on the Blue Devils’ staff.

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Some highly rated Duke targets who spoke to the Herald-Leader at the recent USA Basketball camp in Colorado Springs indicated that Capel’s departure wouldn’t have much of an impact on the program’s overall recruiting.

“In all honesty, I don’t think it will,” said five-star recruit Scottie Lewis. “They have Jon Scheyer and players that have played at Duke before, and Coach K being the guy that he is, and just the mecca that he started at Duke University is just insane. I think the name Duke draws players as it is. There might be some setback, but I don’t think it will be a huge one to where they have a fall-off year or anything like that.”

Top-five overall prospect Matthew Hurt agreed.

“I don’t think so,” he said of any possible dip in recruiting. “Scheyer’s still there, and he’s probably one of the best recruiters in the country. He played on a national championship team, so he knows what it takes, and he knows how to develop. He’s a great recruiter, too.”

That echoed what others in the class of 2019 have said. They have one more season of high school remaining, but many — like Lewis’ five-star teammate Bryan Antoine — are getting closer to their college decisions, and that means they’ve already formed strong relationships with Krzyzewski, and, in some cases, Scheyer had taken over their recruitments.

The former Duke player was already the main contact for Antoine and Lewis.

“Because he’s young and he played for Coach K, he can relate on different levels,” Lewis said. “He went to the school. There’s a certain respect. As young guys, we watched him play, and that’s someone that we look up to now. He’s kind of on a similar level as Coach K talking to us, but as a player. So since he’s young, he’s kind of been in our shoes.”

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Duke remains the 247Sports Crystal Ball leader for Antoine, as well as five-star recruits Cole Anthony, Vernon Carey, Josiah James, Wendell Moore, Isaiah Stewart and first-team All-American Joe Girard. The Blue Devils will probably end up getting most of those players, and they’ll be in contention for another No. 1 class.

If there is any drop-off in Duke recruiting, it’ll likely be the next class where it’s seen first, according to recruiting observers who have spoken to the Herald-Leader.

Jones said that Scheyer had emerged as his main contact as his recruitment progressed, too, but he also noted that Capel initiated the recruitment. First contact such as that eventually led to strong recruiting relationships between program and player — something former UK assistant Orlando Antigua did so well when he was in Lexington — and that helped lead to Duke’s recent wave of top-notch commitments.

Those relationships were already strong among 2019 recruits by the time Capel left. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils can form the same bond with prospects in the 2020 class and beyond now that Capel is no longer part of the program.

Good teammates

Alex Lomax was one of Penny Hardaway’s first big recruits at Memphis.

Lomax — a signee for the 2018 class — also played for Hardaway for years with the Team Penny travel program and at Memphis East High School.

That means he was teammates with both UK commitment DJ Jeffries and No. 1 Wildcats recruiting target James Wiseman.

“James Wiseman is the No. 1 player in the country, no matter what class, if you ask me,” Lomax said. “And he’s a great person off the court. On the court, he can do everything. And the crazy thing is, he’s got a long way to go. He can get so much better, and he’s still the best player in the country. So that’s a great thing.”

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Lomax laughed when asked for a prediction on where Wiseman ends up — UK or Memphis? — saying he had one but was going to keep it to himself.

“I would love to play with him, because he’s the greatest player and I feel like he can make everybody better,” he said. “But if he don’t, I’m still there for him and going to love him regardless.”

Jeffries, a 6-7 forward and UK’s first commitment for the 2019 class, has played alongside Lomax and Wiseman with Team Penny.

“DJ is a great player,” Lomax said. “He has a high motor. He can make shots. He can do everything. I really like DJ’s game, and I feel like he can be one of the best players in his class.”

Jeffries’ versatility is what drew John Calipari’s attention, and Lomax says it’s what makes him stand out.

“DJ can switch up his flow,” he said. “He can do whatever the coach asks, and he don’t have a problem with it. The good players are going to shine regardless, and that’s what he’s always been doing.”

Down to eight

Five-star forward Trendon Watford — brother of former Indiana standout Christian Watford — trimmed his list to eight schools this week.

Watford — a 6-9 prospect from Birmingham, Ala. — was one of the first 2019 recruits linked to Kentucky, but UK is not in his final eight and he told the Herald-Leader this month that he hasn’t had much recent contact with the Cats.

The No. 11 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings did say he’d still be interested if Kentucky wanted to get back involved.

“Yeah, no doubt. Definitely,” Watford said. “They’re obviously a great school, and they have great coaches, too, so I’m always open to anything like that.”

Watford said he has no timetable for a college decision. The eight schools he listed this week were Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana State, Memphis, Texas Christian and Vanderbilt.

Memphis has emerged recently as the leader on his Crystal Ball page.


UK commitment Tyrese Maxey did not play in the USA Basketball U18 team's 132-55 victory over Ecuador on Thursday night after suffering a sprained ankle in the final game of pool play Tuesday. He is listed as day to day, though U18 Coach Bill Self said Thursday night he is "doubtful" for the rest of the tournament, which ends Saturday.

Maxey — a UK pledge for the class of 2019 — started all three of USA Basketball's pool play games before the injury and was one of the squad's most effective players. He was averaging 11.0 points, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game.

Team USA will play Argentina in the semifinals Friday evening, with the winner of that game set to face either Puerto Rico or Canada for the FIBA gold medal Saturday.