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Embracing The One And Done Model

Another young team, but the talent is crazy good.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Duke vs Rhode Island
Mar 17, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Marvin Bagley III (35) on the court against the Rhode Island Rams in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at PPG Paints Arena.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For better or worse, Duke has become a one-and-done program.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s commitment to the one-and-done model has been dated to the 2011 season and the arrival of Kyrie Irving. He wasn’t Duke’s first one-and-done (that would be Corey Maggette in 1999) or even the second (Luol Deng in 2004), but he was the first player specifically recruited with the expectation that he would be a one-and-done player. Austin Rivers followed a year later and after a one-year gap, Jabari Parker followed the one-and-done path.

But those teams in the early part of the decade were not really one-and-done teams. Each included just one one-and-done player. The model changed in 2014-15, when Duke started three freshmen. Only Jahlil Okafor was expected to be a one-and-done, but that team was so successful that Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones elected to go pro after one season.

For the last four seasons, the Blue Devils have been heavily freshman-oriented. Last year, Krzyzewski started four freshmen most of the season, All four elected to go pro after one season, leaving a huge void in the Blue Devil roster. Krzyzewski will fill that void with four new freshmen – all prospective one-and-done candidates.

That’s both good news and bad.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Next year’s team will almost certainly start four freshmen again with all the pitfalls that entails. The 2017-18 Blue Devils were the least experienced Duke team in history. Next year’s team will be even more inexperienced as senior Grayson Allen will be replaced with one of two juniors who have just limited playing time in their careers.

But that’s balanced with the good news.

This will be the best recruiting class -- on paper – in Duke history. In fact, it’s may very well be rated the best class in NCAA history.

That’s a bold statement. Can I back it up?

Let’s look at the class and the current rankings in the RSCI – a recruiting service that averages the rankings from the major services:

1. R.J. Barrett, 6-7, Montverde, Fla.

2. Zion Williamson, 6-7, Spartanburg, S.C.

3. Cameron Reddish, 6-8, Norristown, Pa.

7. Tre Jones, 6-2, Apple Valley, Minn.

The RSCI has been in operation since 1998 and never before has one school signed the top three prospects in the class. In fact, never before has one school signed the top two prospects in a class.

Just three times in the previous 20 years has a school landed two of the top three: 2012 UCLA (No. 1 Shabaz Muhammad and No. 3 Kyle Anderson); 2011 Kentucky (No. 1 Anthony Davis and No. 3 Michael Gilchrist); and 2009 Kentucky (No. 2 John Wall and No. 3 DeMarcus Cousins).

And as for signing four top seven prospects – that’s never been done before.

Could it have happened in the pre-RSCI era?

It’s possible with the myriad of recruiting services out there that somebody ranked a recruiting class as highly as this Duke class. But I can’t find it.

Michigan’s Fab Five came close – No. 1 Chris Webber, No. 3 Juwan Howard, No. 5 Jalen Rose and No. 9 Jimmy King. Ray Jackson was No.84.

And Duke’s great 1997 class – just one year before the RSCI -- was mighty strong. At the time that Krzyzewski signed Shane Battier, Elton Brand and Chris Burgess in the fall of 1996, all three were ranked the No. 1 player in the class by at least one service. But the only postseason ranking I can find (the 1997 Hoop Scoop) only lists Burgess as a first team All-America with Battier and Brand relegated to the second team. Will Avery was on the 11th team.

Suffice it to say that I’ve been covering prep basketball recruiting since the mid-1970s and I’ve never seen a class that is as impressive as Duke’s current recruiting class.

On paper.

The Fab Five is famous, not because of its prep rankings, but because all five freshmen started on a team that reached the national title game in 1992 ... and came back to start as sophomores in the 1993 title game.

Duke’s 1997 class is great, not because of its prep rankings, but because it is the only recruiting class in NCAA history to produce two consensus national players of the year (Brand in 1999 and Battier in 2001).

Kentucky has had a lot of highly ranked classes in recent years, but the best has to be 2011 – because Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and point guard Marquise Teague anchored the Wildcats to the 2012 national title. K can match that with his 2014 class – Okafor, Winslow and Tyus Jones – the 2015 national champs.

That leads to one more possible positive for next year,

It’s based on a small sample size, but the evidence is that one-and-done dominated teams usually do better than teams with just one one-and-done quality player.

I know that’s counter-intuitive to the Duke fans who hate the one-and-done model. They’d rather go back to the kind of team that featured one one-and-done player, along with a bunch of veterans.

The truth is that the only examples of one-and-done dominated teams are at Duke and Kentucky – unless you go back to the Fab Five (and actually, none of the players on that team were one-and-done). Kansas and Arizona have had multiple one-and-done types in one class, but as far as I can find have never started a majority (or even close to it) of one-and-dones. No other program has been able to bring in enough one-and-done players to create one-and-done dominated teams.

Let’s go back to 2010, when John Calipari arrived at Kentucky and Mike Krzyzewski was winning his fourth national title with a team that started three seniors and two juniors.

That championship team got just one freshman start (out of 200 total starts). Freshmen (chiefly Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins) played 14.8 percent of the minutes. That was actually a higher percentage of the minutes that freshmen played in 2011, when Kyrie Irving was hurt after starting the first eight games.

But here’s a rundown on the “one-and-done era” at Duke (with the team results):

  • 2011 – 11 freshman starts (8 by Irving; 3 by Tyler Thornton). Freshmen played 12.4 percent of the minutes. Team won 32 games and the ACC Tournament. Finished No. 3 in the nation and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Beaten in the Sweet 16.
  • 2012 – 37 freshman starts (33 by Austin Rivers, 4 by Quinn Cook). Freshmen played 19.4 percent of the minutes. 27 wins and no titles. Finished No. 8 in the final AP poll. Earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Beaten in the first round by Lehigh.
  • 2013 – 40 freshman starts (33 by Rasheed Sulaimon; seven by Amile Jefferson). Freshmen played 23.6 percent of the minutes. Team won 30 games, but no titles. Finished No. 6 nationally. Earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Beaten in the Elite Eight.
  • 2014 – 39 freshman starts (35 by Jabari Parker, 4 by Matt Jones). Freshmen played 18.4 percent of the minutes. Team won 26 games. No titles and finished No. 8 nationally. Earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Lost in the first round to Mercer.
  • 2015 – 116 freshman starts (39 by Tyus Jones, 39 by Justise Winslow, 38 by Jahlil Okafor). Freshmen played exactly 50 percent of the minutes (well, to be accurate, they played 49.96 minutes, but when you round to tenths as I’ve been doing, that’s 50 percent). Team won 35 games, but no ACC titles. Finished No. 4 in the polls and earned a No. 1 seed. Won the NCAA title.
  • 2016 – 65 freshman starts (34 Brandon Ingram, 20 Derryck Thornton, 11 Luke Kennard). Freshmen played 33.8 percent of the available minutes. Team won 25 games with no titles. Finished No. 19 nationally. Earned a No. 4 seed. Beaten in the Sweet 16.
  • 2017 – 50 freshman starts (27 Jayson Tatum, 16 Frank Jackson, 6 Harry Giles, 1 Marquise Bolden). Freshmen played 32.5 percent of the minutes. Team won 28 games and the ACC title. Finished No. 7 in the final AP poll and earned a No. 2 seed. Beaten in the second round by South Carolina.
  • 2018 – 141 freshman starts (37 Gary Trent, 37 Wendell Carter, 34 Trevon Duval, 32 Marvin Bagley, 1 Alex O’Connell). Freshmen played 67.5 percent of the minutes. Team won 29 games. No titles. Finished No. 8 nationally. Earned a No. 2 seed. Beaten (in overtime) in the Elite Eight.

As I said – a small sample size. But if recent years (since 2010) tell us anything, it’s that the teams that most heavily rely on one-and-done players do better than the veteran dominated teams.

Put it like this, the four teams that averaged just one freshman starter (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) finished 5-4 in the NCAA Tournament with one Elite Eight, one Sweet 16 and two first round losses.

The four teams that averaged at least two freshman starters (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) finished 12-3 in NCAA play with one national title, one Elite Eight, one Sweet 16 and one second-round loss.

Take it further – the two teams that started at least three one-and-done freshmen (2015 and 2018) finished 9-1 in NCAA play with a national title and an Elite Eight (that came within a shot that spun out at the buzzer of being another Final Four team).

Kentucky’s experience is similar. Calipari has played with one-and-done dominated teams in 2010 (Elite Eight), 2011 (Final Four). 2012 (national champs), 2013 (NIT), 2014 Final Four, 2016 (second round), 2017 (Elite Eight), 2018 (Sweet 16).

The only Kentucky team that has not started a majority of one-and-done was 2015, when the ‘Cats (with 60 freshman starts out of a possible 195) went 38-1 and reached the Final Four.

There are no other programs that have been able to follow the one-and-done model set by Kentucky and then by Duke. So our evidence is extremely thin – as I keep saying, based on a small sample size But the evidence we have so far – thin as it is – suggests that the way to deal with the one-and-done model is to embrace it – and bring in even more one-and-dones.

Now, the 2018-19 season will provide a pretty good test of this theory.

It may be the last (or one of the last) seasons to be played under the one-and-done model. The NBA, which has the last say on pro entry rules, is considering modifying its eligibility requirements – perhaps to offer direct entry into the league from high school; perhaps to force college players to wait two years before jumping to the league.

It appears that 2020 is the NBA’s target date for the new system – or at least that’s the earliest possible date for implementation.

If the rules change, Coach K will almost certainly change his recruiting strategy. But until that happens, he’ll continue to embrace the one-and-done model.

And the evidence suggests that he should.

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