Art Heyman was Duke’s first nationally known recruit.
Of course, 1959 (when Heyman flipped his commitment from UNC to Duke) was before the era of Hoop Scoop, the RSCI, Scout, Rivals, 247 and the like. The recruiting industry was still far in the future.
Dick Groat, who preceded Heyman as a Duke great, was an unheralded prospect out of Pennsylvania, more celebrated for his baseball skills than his basketball prowess.
But Heyman was the best player in the New York area, which was at the time THE prep hoop hotbed and he was pursued by some of the nation’s strongest programs. Heyman once told me that he was offered a suitcase full of money by a Cincinnati recruiter (at a time when the Bearcats had Oscar Robertson and were assembling the team that would play in three straight national title games, winning two).
Heyman might have been the nation’s best prospect in 1959.
The next time Duke vied for a player rated that highly, it was Gene Banks in 1977. The Philadelphia wunderkind was touted as the greatest prospect out of Philadelphia since Wilt Chamberlain. But New York’s Albert King and Michigan’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson were also in the mix as the top player in the class.
The first solid No. 1 player to sign with the Blue Devils was DeMatha’s Danny Ferry in 1985. Since then, Duke has landed a number of players who were either No. 1 or close to it in their classes – Elton Brand, Josh McRoberts, Kyrie Irving (a clearcut No. 2 to Harrison Barnes), Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor. Luol Deng was the No. 1 player in his class to play college basketball … he was actually No. 2 to a guy named LeBron James, who went straight to the NBA.
None of Duke’s targets this year was a contender for No. 1. Mo Bamba (Texas) and Duke signee Wendell Carter are in a hot contest for the No. 3 spot in the class – depending on the prep ranking you prefer. Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, by way of Washington) is the consensus No. 1 guy, although there is a small minority that prefers No. 2 DeAndre Ayton (Arizona).
But what do the rankings mean?
Recruiting is not an exact science, but I would argue that on the whole, the rankings give us a good guide to the immediate impact of various recruits. There are lower rated prospects who work hard and develop and eventually outclass many of the higher rated guys in their class. But if you are looking for freshman impact, keep an eye on the five-star prospects … especially on the top 5 and top 10 guys.
Having said that, also keep in mind that there are exceptions.
Just last year, two three-star prospects made the ACC All-Freshman team (Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech; Ky Bowman, Boston College). The other three winners were all five stars, including ACC Rookie of the Year Dennis Smith Jr. Five-stars Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, Bruce Brown, Frank Jackson, Kyle Guy and even UNC’s Tony Bradley off the bench, all made significant impact as freshmen.
If course, some five stars were less impressive. Harry Giles, a consensus top three pick in the class, was hampered by injuries and did little. Marques Bolden was also hobbled by an early season injury. Louisville’s V.J. King was a good player, but hardly made an impact on a team with several other gifted wings. Miami’s Dewan Huell – the last of ESPN’s 28 five-star prospects – had a decent, but fairly quiet freshman season.
The ACC had 10 five-star prospects in last year’s freshman class. This year’s class – as it stands today – has just eight five stars (note: since the post-season RSCI is not out yet, I’m going with ESPN rankings):
- No. 4 Wendell Carter, PF, Duke
- No. 5 Trevon Duval, PG, Duke
- No. 7 Gary Trent Jr., SG, Duke
- No. 12 Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
- No. 20 Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech
- No. 25 M.J. Walker, SG, Florida State
- No. 26 Jalek Felton, SG, UNC
- No. 27 Malik Williams, PF, Louisville
Beyond that, the ACC is loaded with four-star prospects. The ESPN top 100 includes 18 ACC targets – the eight five-stars, plus 10 four-stars:
- No. 31 Chaundee Brown, SG, Wake Forest
- No. 40 Jordan Tucker, SF, Duke
- No. 45 Chris Lykes, PG, Miami
- No. 50 D.J. Harvey, SF, Notre Dame
- No. 51 Darius Perry, PG, Louisville
- No. 70 Wabissa Bede, PG, Virginia Tech
- No. 80 Okey Obiagu, C, Florida State
- No. 84 Alex O’Connell, SG, Duke
- No. 91 Deng Gak, PF, Miami
- No. 94 Lavar Batts, PG, N.C. State
This is the fourth year in a row that Duke has signed at least the top two ranked players in the ACC class. Back in 2013, Duke signee Jabari Parker was the top ACC player (at No. 2 player in the class to Andrew Wiggins), but UNC’s Isaiah Hicks was a distant second in the ACC at No. 18.
The last time that Duke failed to sign the top-rated player in the ACC class was 2010, when UNC landed No. 1 Harrison Barnes, while Duke had to settle for No. 2 Kyrie Irving.
In recent years, UNC has dropped out of the competition for the top kids. Roy Williams last signed a top 10 prospect in 2014, when he landed No. 8 Justin Jackson and No. 10 Theo Pinson.
The reason for UNC’s recent recruiting slump is debatable. Roy has not stopped recruiting top 10 prospects. There is talk on the recruiting circuits that his system is not very favorable to one-and-done type talent. He’s reputed to have held several guys back (including Bradley this season).
But there is also the scandal.
Jackson and Pinson signed before the Wainstein Report was released – which exploded the 18+ year academic scandal into the public view. It’s not a coincidence that since the release of that report, UNC has signed:
- No. 84 Kenny Williams (who only flipped to UNC after signing with VCU)
- No. 97 Luke Maye (the son of a UNC football player)
- No. 17 Tony Bradley
- No. 56 Brandon Robinson
- No. 58 Seventh Woods
- No. 26 Jalek Felton (the nephew of UNC star Raymond Felton)
The other four members of UNC’s current five-man recruiting class are non-top 100 prospects.
Consider that this is a time when the state of North Carolina has produced such top 10 talents as Brandon Ingram, Dennis Smith, Bam Adebayo and Harry Giles. For decades, UNC got almost everybody it wanted from North Carolina. Now, not so much.
That’s an astonishingly abysmal recruiting record for a blue-blood program and unless something changes, the Tar Heels will face the on-court consequences as their pre-Wainstein players leave.
Of course, something could change – this spring.
Reportedly, Roy Williams urged Bradley to pull out of the draft and return for his sophomore year. His departure will be a huge blow to the 2017-18 Tar Heels. At the same time, by staying in the draft, Bradley becomes UNC’s first one-and-done since Brandon Wright in 2008, it would help assuage the smear that Roy does not nurture one-and-done prospects – although it would have helped more if Williams had not buried Bradley on the bench for so much of the season and had instead publicly pushed him to be a one-and-done.
Still, Bradley’s departure should help in the long run.
Or will it?
The answer to that question could be answered this summer, when UNC meets with the NCAA’s committee of infractions and that group delivers its verdict (probably early October). If the Tar Heels skate, the scandal is over. If they are nailed, the recruiting situation next year could be worse.
In UNC’s absence – and with superpowers Syracuse and Louisville also somewhat limited by their own NCAA issues, the league’s two Florida schools have picked up some of the slack.
Leonard Hamilton has produced one-and-done players in the last two seasons (Malik Beasley in 2016; Jonathan Isaac this year). That doesn’t count Dwayne Bacon, a five star prospect who could have been one-and-done a year ago, but elected to play a second year at FSU before going pro. Hamilton has another five star coming in this year – late signee M.J. Walker. The shooting guard could be FSU’s third straight one-and-done.
In addition, Miami’s Jim Larranaga has signed three five-star prospects in the last two recruiting classes. Neither Bruce Brown nor Dewan Huell were one-and-done players, but Lonnie Walker could be.
You have to understand how rare that is for a non-blueblood. Georgia Tech last signed a five-star freshman in 2009 when former coach Paul Hewitt landed Derrick Favors, the No. 1 player in his class. Nickiel-Alexander Walker is Virginia Tech’s first five-star since Seth Greenberg signed Dorian Finney-Smith in 2011.
Heck, even before his NCAA issue, Pitino built his Louisville program on four-star, not five star talent. Indeed, Terry Rozier and V.J. King are his only five-star recruits in the last decade (since Samardo Samuels in 2008). Maybe that’s why freshman so rarely play a huge role in Louisville.
The bulk of the ACC’s 2017 recruiting class involves four-star prospects. Those are all fairly well-regarded prospects. There are also a handful of two and three star prospects, who shouldn’t have much immediate impact next season – although don’t forget Okagie and Bowman from last season.
There is also a one-star – the first one-star I’ve ever seen for an ACC school (although there are always a few non-rated players every year).
Here’s a listing of the class:
Luka Kraljevic (6-10, 3 star PF); Vin Baker Jr. (6-8, 3 star )
Comment: An infusion of size, which helps. But neither player should have a huge immediate impact. Baker’s father played for the Celtics in the NBA.
Malik William (6-7, 4 star PF); Aamir Simms (6-8, 4 star PF); A.J. Oliver (6-5, 4 star SG); Clyde Trapp Jr. (6-4, UNR, SG).
Comment: No top 100 kids, but three four stars should help this program in the long run.
Wendell Carter (6-10, 5 star PF); Trevon Duval (6-3 5 star PG), Gary Trent Jr. (6-6, 5 star SG), Alex O’Connell (6-6, 4 star SG), Jordan Tucker (6-7, 4 star SF), Jordan Goldwire (6-2, 3 star PG)
Comment: Easily the ACC’s best class with three top 10 prospects that should make a huge impact, along with two more top 100 guys who should be long-term prospects.
M.J. Walker (6-4, 5 star SG) ; Ikey Ogiagu (7-0, 4 star C); Raiquan Gray (6-8, 4 star PF); Wyatt Wilkes (6-7, 4 star PF); Anthony Polite (6-6, 4 star SG); Bryan Trimble Jr. (6-3, 3 star, SG)
Comments: Walker is obviously a big get for a team losing its top three scorers, but this class contains a lot of strong athletes. FSU will continue to have the deepest roster in the league. Plus, Leonard Hamilton continues to collect 7-footers.
Curtis Haywood II (6-5, 4 star SF); Jose Alvarado (5-11, 4 star PG); Evan Cole (6-8, 3 star PF); Moses Wright (6-9, UNR PF)
Comments: Alvarado is probably the most important. Can he replace Josh Heath at the point? Unless Josh Pastner has another Josh Okogie somewhere in this group, it’s not going to help the Jackets improve on last year’s NIT season.
Malik Williams (6-11, 5 star PF); Darius Perry (6-2, 4 star PG); Jordan Nwora (6-8, 4 star PF); Lance Thomas (6-9, 4 star PF)
Comments: Williams is just Pitino’s third five star recruit in a decade. Perry appears to be the backup (and heir apparent) to Snyder at the point. Thomas is the same kind of long forward than Pitino likes (Jaylen Johnson, Ray Spalding).
Lonnie Walker (6-4, 5 star SG); Chris Lykes (5-7, 4 star PG); Deng Gak (6-10 4 star PF); Samuel Waardenburg (6-9, UNR, SF)
Comments: Walker is a huge get – the top-rated new talent in the ACC who is not going to Duke. Lykes is a fascinating talent – can a 5-7 guy be effective in the ACC? Spud Webb did it (as well as 5-3 Muggsy Bogues), but that was a long time ago. Gak is a nice raw talent that Duke had some interest in.
Jalek Felton (6-3, 5 star SG); Garrett Brooks (6-9 4 star PF); Brandon Huffman (6-9, 4 star C); Andrew Platek (6-4, 3 star SG); Sterling Manley (6-10, 3 star C)
Comments: Felton is the only top 100 prospect -- Platek and Manley aren’t even top 200 prospects. Not a bad class, but not near UNC’s norm.
Lavar Batts (6-2, 4 star PG)
Comments: Keatts didn’t have much time to work after his hire, but Batts is a nice addition at a position of need. N.C. State will get more help next year from transfers (Al Freeman especially). Keatts’ test as a recruiter will come next season.
D.J. Harvey (6-6, 4 star, SF)
Comments: a small class for Mike Brey, but Harvey is a DeMatha player who looks like he was born to play for Brey at Notre Dame. Decent chance Harvey ends up starting on the wing for the Irish.
Terrell Brown (6-10, 3 star C); Marcus Carr (6-1, 3 star PG); Peace Ilegomah (6-9, 2 star C); Shamiel Stevenson, 6-7, UNR SF); Jared Wilson-Frame (6-5 JC SF)
Comments: Not a very impressive class for a program that desperately needs talent. Kevin Stallings’ best recruit – four-star PG Aaron Thompson – bailed on his commitment.
Oshae Brissett (6-6, 4 star SF); Bourama Sidibe (6-10, 4 star C); Howard Washington (6-2 4 star PG)
Comment: Jim Boeheim could use some impact players to help a depleted team (one losing three of its top four scorers). Still, three nice recruits with a lot of long-term potential.
Marco Anthony (6-5, 3 star SG)
Comments: A small, unimpressive class for a coach who appeared to have made a recruiting breakthrough last season. Virginia’s top new players will be redshirt freshmen Jay Huff and De’Andre Hunter (two 2016 four stars who redshirted as freshmen).
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6-5, 5 star SG); Wabissa Bede (6-1, 4 star PG); Preston Horne (6-8, UNR PF)
Comments: Walker is VPI’s top rated recruit in memory and the No. 2 non-Duke recruit in the ACC this year. Bede provides a nice backup for Justin Robinson.
Chaundee Brown (6-5, 4 star SG); Melo Eggleston (6-8, 3 star SF); Sunday Okeke (6-8, 1 star C)
Comments: Brown adds another talent on the wing, where the Deacs are strong, but not much immediate help in the post, where Danny Manning needs immediate help.