One year ago, Duke’s men’s basketball program debuted four highly-touted freshmen and five months later, those players led their team to a national championship.

Now, the Blue Devils’ women’s squad is welcoming its own top-ranked recruiting class to Durham, and everyone is wondering—can they do it too?

This offseason, Duke struck gold. Head coach Joanne P. McCallie and her team of scouts recruited five top-60 prospects—all of them guards—to revive a depleted backcourt that was understaffed last year, with some players forced to play out of position.

The gang of five in this year’s class is fifth-ranked Angela Salvadores, ninth-ranked Kyra Lambert, 42nd-ranked Crystal Primm, 47th-ranked Faith Suggs and 52nd-ranked Haley Gorecki. Together, they make up a dynamic group of passers, shooters and ball-handlers.

But McCallie said that more than either their technical skills or raw athletic abilities, the unit’s intangibles is what makes these players a special group.

“They realize that they’ve come here to play at the highest level,” McCallie said. “We’re really fortunate because you could have kids that think they’re all that, but they’re very willing [to work] and that’s what makes it a lot of fun.”

With the addition of multiple ball-handlers and perimeter scorers, the Blue Devils can finally balance their inside-outside game and curb the amount of turnovers they commit—the number of Duke giveaways has increased in each of the last three years, finishing last year at 18.3 per game.

Salvadores is the brightest prospect of Duke’s star-studded freshman class, but it could be a while before the floor general takes the court in Durham. The Leon, Spain, native is getting a well-deserved rest after representing her country at multiple international tournaments this summer.

At the FIBA Women’s U19 Championship in Russia this July—which included two matchups against Duke sophomore Azurá Stevens and Team USA—the point guard averaged 18.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists through seven games and was the tournament’s top scorer. A month later, Salvadores won gold at the FIBA Women’s U18 European Championship, posting 20.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

McCallie has limited Salvadores in practice to allow her time to recover, but the freshman has still picked up Duke’s system by watching and talking with coaches and teammates in order to step in seamlessly when the time comes.

“She was overplayed by miles, so we need to ease her in gradually,” McCallie said. “She wants to play so badly. She’s never missed any practice in her entire life, so that’s really, really hard.... This is going to challenge her. I know right now it’s not very pleasant for her, but I think it’s going to be very good for her in the long run.”

When Salvadores finally does make her first appearance for the Blue Devils, she will no doubt make an immediate impact, especially on the offensive end of the court. With the ball in her hands, Salvadores is a potent weapon from any distance. A gifted passer with the ability to knock down 3-pointers, the 5-foot-10 Salvadores will be a nightmare matchup for any defense that stands in Duke’s path.

Salvadores’ quickness and keen eye for finding the open player promise to revitalize the Blue Devils’ transition offense—a less-emphasized aspect of Duke’s post-oriented squad last season. Her ability to control the tempo of the game, refined by years of international playing experience, will come in handy for McCallie and her young Blue Devils as they learn to play in high-pressure situations.

“She really has a knack for the game, particularly on offense,” McCallie said. “She plays the game so smoothly…I really hope that’s going to be something that passes on to the team, especially the young players, because right now we’re a little rushy.”

Even without Salvadores, the strength of the freshman group was on full display at  the annual Blue-White Scrimmage. Primm paced the freshmen with 16 points, two steals and an assist and Lambert joined her in double-figures with 11 points, four assists and five steals. Gorecki notched nine points and three assists, and Suggs rounded things out with four points, four assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

The group has accomplished a lot in the short time they have had on campus to learn to play with each other and gel as a team. On top of the adjustment to the college lifestyle and staying on top of their academics—a burden the program has tried to ease by delaying their availability to the media—the freshmen must adapt to a higher level of competition on the court.

“Everything’s at a faster pace,” Stevens said, reflecting on her experience a freshman. “You’re stronger, [the game is] quicker, you’re having to focus more on things that you might not have had to focus on in high school. It is just really being able to be coachable and learning a bunch of different things.”

Shooting guards Suggs and Gorecki will support Salvadores on the wings. Both talented shooters from beyond the arc, the duo will work together along with redshirt sophomore shooting guard Rebecca Greenwell to replace scoring potential lost in the offseason due to the graduations of four-time All-American Elizabeth Williams and gritty leader Ka’lia Johnson.

Lambert and Primm provide Duke with two more capable weapons in the backcourt. At point, Lambert is a skilled facilitator, boasting a high basketball IQ and strong court awareness. Primm, a combo guard, adds a versatile skill set that combines post play with a smooth jump shot, making her a dangerous weapon from nearly any spot on the floor.

The Blue Devils’ top-ranked freshman class has taken the steps toward meeting the challenges that this season will bring—but will they be ready to contend for a championship when the time comes?

Only time will tell.

“They’re going to have a really big role this year,” Greenwell said. “They all are very versatile and offer a lot of different weapons and skills, but they’re going to help us be a faster team and definitely a more dangerous team.”