The most important rule in following recruiting is the simplest: don’t believe anything until it comes straight from a player’s own mouth.
Take the latest turn in JP Estrella’s recruitment: once seen as a strong Duke lean, the multiple “Crystal Ball” picks for Estrella in Duke’s direction disappeared earlier this week, followed soon by the news that he had cancelled his official visit to Durham. It now appears that Estrella is focused on other opportunities, perhaps reflected by Duke’s recent focus on another late-riser in the recruiting rankings, power forward TJ Power, and a recent offer extended to 4* sharpshooter Andrej Stojakovic (yes, he is the son of former NBA star Peja Stojakovic).
There are a myriad of potential reasons for Estrella’s change of heart, most of which aren’t worth speculating on without direct insight into the young man’s mind. But what we can constructively analyze is whether the outlook for Duke’s 2023-24 roster may have been a factor.
No one expects Dereck Lively back in Durham for a sophomore year: ESPN’s No. 1 ranked recruit in the 2022 class is bound for the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery barring something hugely unexpected. But there is the potential for other members of the current Blue Devil frontcourt to return in 2023, which may have convinced Estrella to look to other programs where he’d be guaranteed early minutes.
The most likely returnees are freshman Christian Reeves and super-senior Ryan Young. Reeves is expected to redshirt this season, but was himself a late-rising big man in the 2022 class: the 7-footer ended his prep career ranked as a 4* recruit by both ESPN and Rivals, with Rivals ranking him in the Top 20 centers in his class. It’s possible that Reeves has impressed Jon Scheyer and his staff enough during the summer that they expect him to claim significant minutes in the post in 2023.
Young, meanwhile, has two years of eligibility remaining: one from the free COVID year, and another from his redshirt. Young has shown he can be productive offensively against the best centers in the country in the Big 10: he averaged 9 points and more than 4 rebounds last year for Northwestern, while being limited to 17 minutes per game given coach Chris Collins’ shift to a small-ball lineup. The wealth of experience a sixth year Young would bring would be invaluable; if Young has indicated to Scheyer that he plans to stay at Duke in 2023, that too could have made recruiting a center in the 2023 class less of a priority.
Finally, there’s the unknown of Mark Mitchell and Kyle Filipowski’s status on the 2023 team. It would be surprising for Filipowski, a consensus Top 5 2022 recruit, to stay in college multiple years based on recent history. However, there are legitimate questions about how his game will translate to the NBA, especially on the defensive end. If Filipowski performs well this season, his prep pedigree will likely merit a first round pick on potential alone, but if he struggles it’s not out of the question he might return and shift to the center position (as opposed to playing alongside Lively this year) in 2023. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s recruiting rankings put him on the traditional borderline of one-and-done talent; if he remains Duke’s sixth man this year, he may want to return in 2023 to star and be a focal point of the frontcourt, potentially alongside 5* 2023 commit Sean Stewart.
There are a lot of lines to read between regarding Estrella’s sudden loss of interest in Duke, not to mention Duke’s shift in recruiting focus away from the post and to the wing (Power, while listed as a power forward, is likely to be a perimeter-oriented player in college). The most logical conclusion is that Duke’s projections for their 2023 roster have shifted somewhat as summer practices have begun, leaving less potential minutes for Estrella. If Scheyer does not target another big man in the 2023 class, that’s likely an indication that the staff feels confident that the pieces of a 2023 frontcourt are currently on campus.