Mark Story

Duke’s and Coach K’s embrace of one-and-dones has cut two ways for Kentucky

Starting with Kyrie Irving in 2011, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has had nine one-and-done players selected in the NBA Draft since — and could have three more this year.
Starting with Kyrie Irving in 2011, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has had nine one-and-done players selected in the NBA Draft since — and could have three more this year. Associated Press

When Duke won the 2010 NCAA men’s basketball championship with a narrow escape over Butler, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils started three seniors and two juniors.

That night, who would have dreamed that, eight years later, Duke and Coach K would be fully immersed in one-and-done culture?

Yet starting with Kyrie Irving in 2011, Duke has sent at least one one-and-done player into every NBA Draft except for 2013.

In 2015, the Blue Devils delivered three one-and-dones to the NBA. Last year, Duke had two one-year players chosen in the draft. With big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter plus point guard Trevon Duval, the current Blue Devils roster may boast three one-and-done freshmen.

For the school, Kentucky, and coach, John Calipari, that have been most synonymous with elite one-and-done talent, Krzyzewski’s full embrace of one-year players has cut two ways.

Obviously, Duke has made the competition at the very top of the market for college basketball talent far more challenging for UK.

In each of his first six Kentucky recruiting classes, Calipari signed at least one player ranked in the top six of his class by Rivals. Cal inked multiple players ranked among the top five prospects of their classes in 2009 (two), 2011 (three) and 2013 (two).

However, over UK’s past three recruiting classes, 2016-18, Kentucky has not signed any top-five prospects. In the 2017 and ’18 (so far) classes combined, UK has added only one top 10-ranked player. Current Cats freshman forward Kevin Knox was rated No. 10 in 2017.

Kevin Knox
The No. 10-ranked prospect in the class of 2017 by Rivals.com, Kevin Knox (5) is the highest-ranked player Kentucky has signed in its past two classes. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Duke, meanwhile, has now signed at least one top five-ranked prospect six years in a row.

In its last three recruiting classes, Duke has signed the No. 2 (Harry Giles) and No. 3 (Jayson Tatum) prospects in 2016; the No. 2 (Marvin Bagley III), No. 5 (Trevon Duval) and No. 7 (Wendell Carter) players in 2017; and the No. 1 (R.J. Barrett), No. 2 (Cameron Reddish) and No. 8 (Tre Jones) players for 2018.

R.J. Barrett Canada
Canadian R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 swingman, is ranked the No. 1 player in the class of 2018 by Rivals.com. He is committed to play for Duke next season. Photo provided by FIBA

For those of you who live and die on every recruiting battle, what follows will sound bizarrely counterintuitive, but Duke’s full-scale success in working the one-and-done market has not been all bad for Kentucky.

Once Krzyzewski, with his exalted reputation for probity, went all in on one-and-dones, it essentially shut down the “Kentucky is killing college basketball” narrative in the national media.

Cameron Reddish
Cameron Reddish, a 6-foot-8 swingman from Haverford, Pa., is ranked the number two player in the class of 2018 by Rivals.com. He will play for Duke next season. Mike Fender

So far in its 2018 recruiting class, Kentucky has commitments from the No. 14 (Keldon Johnson), No. 15 (Immanuel Quickley) and No. 35 (Tyler Herro) players in the country.

With No. 3-ranked prospect Zion Williamson of Spartanburg, S.C., widely projected to pick home-state Clemson over UK when he announces Jan. 20, there has been ample consternation locally over Kentucky’s inability to land a perceived elite prospect in the class of 2018.

Yet, given the optics around college basketball this year as a result of the FBI investigation into financial improprieties in the world of men’s hoops recruiting, this is not the worst time to have a well-publicized recruiting miss or two.

For those Kentucky fans suffering from “one-and-done fatigue” and who profess to being tired of having to learn a whole new cast every year, the way UK has recruited the past two seasons could — emphasis on could — lead to more returning players in future years.

That might even lead to better Kentucky teams.

John Calipari recruiting
Duke’s embrace of one-and-done players has had both negative and positive ramifications for the coach most identified with one-and-done players, Kentucky’s John Calipari, center. Mike Fender

It remains very much up for debate whether rosters built around a revolving door of one-and-done freshmen are the best way to win NCAA Tournament games.

Since Duke got on the one-and-done train, its NCAA tourney performance has been wildly uneven. Behind one-and-doners Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils won the 2015 NCAA title.

That matches the one NCAA crown (2012) UK has won since embracing one-and-dones.

Overall, however, in the seven NCAA Tournaments since Duke started regularly using one-and-done players, the Blue Devils have also lost in the round of 64 twice, the round of 32 once and in the round of 16 twice — and made only the one Final Four trip.

Duke’s current roster, packed with freshmen stars, has the highest talent ceiling in men’s college basketball.

Yet if the Blue Devils — No. 94 in the kenpom.com ratings in adjusted defensive efficiency — don’t improve at stopping people, another early tournament exit is at least possible for the unexpected new kings of the one-and-done.

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