We’ve been really impressed with the reaction Kentucky folk have had to Jeff Capel’s move to Pitt. As far as we can tell, Big Blue Nation holds Capel entirely responsible for Duke’s recent ability to out-recruit Kentucky and assume that that’s all done now.
Check out this article from CatsPause for example. But it goes beyond just Capel and recruiting and essentially demands - demands! - outrage if Duke doesn’t meet expectations in 2019.
Because you know, UK gets blasted when they don’t and that’s not fair.
Let’s start with the obvious: most of the people blasting Kentucky for falling short are Kentucky fans. It’s really not that big a deal to anyone else and the media, in general (and probably fairly), praises UK coach John Calipari for getting young groups to play together.
And people have come to understand that experience is likely to trump young talent as Villanova just proved again (as did the entire Final Four really).
This Duke class is indeed a very young group as the article helpfully points out. We’re not sure it’s the youngest in at least one sense.
When the great class of ‘86 entered Duke - without Capel’s help, by the way - the freshmen were thrown in the fire.
Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas and David Henderson either started or got near-starter’s minutes. Weldon Williams and Bill Jackman were also freshmen.
Mike Tissaw, Chip Engelland and Tom Emma were all seniors and Dan Meaghar was a sophomore but none were seen as major players (although Meaghar developed into one) and all were in their second year under Coach K, most having been recruited and coached by Bill Foster before K’s arrival.
That team had to sink or swim and it sank a fair amount.
But yes, it had seniors. So will next year’s Duke team. Antonio Vrankovic will be a senior and Justin Robinson will be a fourth-year junior.
Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden, both generally expected back, will be juniors as will Jack White.
So it’s not like next year’s team won’t have upperclassmen and those guys will set the tone on a daily basis as will Alex O’ Connell and Jordan Goldwire to probably lesser extents.
But no, none of them are big scorers or got huge minutes this year or earlier. Still, we count at least four guys who can have an impact. It may not be as young a group as people think. We’ve also said before that we think Robinson has a huge role on this team behind the scenes. He’s a great teammate.
So we’ll see how things go on the court. Who knows? Who worries about how another team is treated after a hypothetical loss next season before a single game has been played?
As for Capel’s role, there’s no question that he was a sensational recruiter for Duke. But it’s not as Duke hasn’t recruited well over the years. The ‘86 class was extraordinary. The ‘01 class didn’t stick around long, with three of four leaving after their sophomore seasons, but that was a superb class as well with Elton Brand, William Avery, Shane Battier and Chris Burgess.
Not long after, Duke brought in another great class featuring Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams.
You could run down a lot of guys who came to Duke who weren’t recruited by Capel. And what a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not as if Capel personally works (worked) every major recruit Duke has gotten lately.
He’s gotten a lot of attention, but when Chris Collins and Steve Wojciehowski were on Duke’s bench, they were dynamic recruiters. So was Mike Brey in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. You look back at some of those rosters and a ton of those guys were from the DMV - DC, Maryland and Virginia. Duke killed it in the DMV when Brey was in Durham.
Quin Snyder was a sensational recruiter as well.
And quietly, Jon Scheyer is becoming a tremendous recruiter as well. As we’ve said a couple of times, RJ Barrett said that he really didn't have much interaction with Capel since Scheyer was his primary recruiter.
And as we’ve also pointed out, Capel’s replacement, Chris Carrawell, has an outsized personality and tremendous charisma.
We first realized this at a Duke media day. Several guys came out including current assistant Nate James and the reporters gathered around them dutifully. Battier was a major draw or course. That guy was a great interview.
But we’ve never seen anything like when C-well came out. Everyone just gravitated to him (we felt a bit bad for James, who saw the assembled rush over to his buddy, before we concluded that he was probably happy to not be the center of attention. James was very guarded and careful in his comments. He’s always seemed quiet and reserved to us).
That’s never been the case with Carrawell. He likes people and he enjoys talking to almost anyone.
And while he is smart and charismatic and funny and cool and all of that, Carrawell has a particular quality that’s really special and should help him if, as we assume, Duke uses him as a recruiter: he never seems bigger than the person he’s talking to.
Carrawell could talk to Zion Williamson, or his mom, or his high school coach, or the cab driver, or the flight attendant, or the hotel clerk, and they’d all feel like they’d talk to the same guy and that guy is immensely likable.
When he came out for that media day interview session, Carrawell stretched his legs out, alternately had his hands on his chest or behind his head and took over. He was funny, spot-on and vastly entertaining. When he was done, the reporters, for the most part older men from very different backgrounds, smiling and laughing, actually patted him on the back and thanked him. They have pretty cool jobs, but he made their job fun.
And that’s the thing about Carrawell. You like being around him. You want to talk to him. You’ll like when he calls and you’ll want to keep talking. And that’s a huge asset for anyone involved in recruiting.
Aside from all of that, Krzyzewski has been recruiting for a long time. He and Capel worked extraordinarily well together, but to attribute all of Duke’s recent success to Capel, as important as he was, sort of overlooks one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.
He didn't get there without finding players.
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