mike krzyzewski-duke blue devils-r.j. barrett

On Friday evening, Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils landed a commitment from the No. 1 basketball recruit in the nation, R.J. Barrett, who chose the Blue Devils over Kentucky and Oregon.

Barrett is a 6-foot-6-inch small forward from Ontario and is, by all accounts, a future superstar. He’s springy and athletic but also skilled and poised. The 17 year old announced himself to the world back in July when he dropped 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in a Canadian victory over a John Calipari-coached Team USA at the U19 World Cup.

Barrett’s commitment is obviously great news for Duke, which will have yet another young star to build around, this one for the 2018-19 season. It also underscores just how much Coach K and his program have gone all-in on the one-and-done players the Blue Devils once avoided. Yes Duke has always had the occasional freshman dart for the NBA — Corey Maggette in 1999, Luol Deng in 2004 — but in recent years Krzyzewski and company have clearly opened their arms wider to top-ranked recruits who might not last long in Durham. Here’s a sampling:

  • 2010: Kyrie Irving (No. 2 recruit nationally, per 247Sports composite ranking)
  • 2011: Austin Rivers (also No. 2, per 247Sports)
  • 2013: Jabari Parker (No. 4)
  • 2014: Jahlil Okafor (No. 1), Tyus Jones (No. 7)
  • 2015: Brandon Ingram (No. 3)
  • 2016: Harry Giles (No. 2), Jayson Tatum (No. 4)
  • 2017: Marvin Bagley (No. 1), Trevon Duval (No. 6), Wendell Carter (No. 7)
  • 2018: R.J. Barrett (No. 1), Cameron Reddish (No. 4), Tre Jones (No. 6)

As you can see, Duke has gotten more effective at attracting top recruits as the years have gone on. Ever since winning the 2014-15 NCAA Tournament behind Okafor, Jones and Justise Winslow, Coach K has ratcheted up his pursuit of top-shelf young players destined to leave after their freshman seasons. Based on ESPN’s recruiting rankings, the Blue Devils have actually signed the No. 1 overall recruit in four of the five classes since 2014, with the lone exception coming in 2015, when they settled for No. 3.

Of course, the only comparison for this style of roster construction is Kentucky, where John Calipari has developed a reputation as king of the one-and-dones. And though we’re not quite ready to give Cal’s crown to Coach K (whose teams typically include at least a couple prominent upperclassmen), there’s no question Duke is catching up to, and in some ways surpassing, Kentucky as the destination for young players seeking a quick stopover on the way to the NBA. The yearly restocked that Calipari has made routine in Lexington might be arduous, but the rewards are too enticing for a Duke program that knows it can have top recruits if it wants them.

Ten or even five years ago, R.J. Barrett likely would not have chosen Duke. Now, he is headed to Durham, even if he won’t likely stay there long.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.