Plain and simple—size matters.
Last season, Duke’s length deficiencies on the perimeter often resulted in one-on-one mismatches against lanky swingmen with guard skills. Looking forward, head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s imposing stable of sizable wings—Rodney Hood, Alex Murphy and 2013 commit Semi Ojeleye—should prevent that issue from reoccurring. That group could become even more formidable if Jabari Parker—the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2013 who will officially visit Duke later this month—decides to take his talents to Durham.
The future-frontcourt situation, however, could be a whole ‘nother story. After this season, the Blue Devils will lose the backbone of their presence in the paint when seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly graduate. Four-year services from the two allowed Duke to avoid desperation mode in big-men recruiting in recent years.
Without Plumlee and Kelly, next season’s frontcourt will be comprised of an unproven Marshall Plumlee and undersized combo-forwards Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston, hence the urgency for a quality low-post addition in the 2013 recruiting class.
“[Duke] is going to have a need to revamp their front court and the available targets are dwindling,” ESPN senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep said.
Dwindling may be an understatement. After being cut by 2013 power-forward recruits Marcus Lee and Julius Randle, Krzyzewski and his staff are down to just one big-man target in the class of 2013—Austin Nichols, who officially visited Duke this past weekend.
Since receiving a scholarship offer from Duke in April, Nichols has steadily risen in the rankings. In a class stockpiled with talent but short on impact post players, the Memphis, Tenn. product checks in as the No. 11 overall recruit in the class of 2013 rankings according to ESPN.com. With an ideal frame at 6-foot-8 and an impressive 7-foot-2 wingspan, Nichols is one of the few forwards that can step on campus and bolster a team’s frontcourt from day one.
“I just think he has a gift inside the lane and runs the floor exceptionally well,” Telep said. “Austin has a basketball brain [and] the ability to be a low-post scorer [who] can be highly impactful in a high-major frontcourt.” Sounds exactly like what the doctor ordered.
Accompanying Duke on Nichols’ list of potential suitors are Auburn, Memphis, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia. On the surface, it would appear that the Blue Devils would easily win over Nichols given the program’s superior history and tradition. In reality, Tennessee—the home-state school—is a serious threat to win this recruiting battle. Nichols’ twin sister is currently a freshman there and Robert Hubbs, his close friend and AAU teammate, recently gave his pledge to the Volunteers.
Nichols could not be reached to recap his official visit to Duke, but Telep sees distance as a pivotal factor as the recruitment enters its final stages.
“Austin has to decide how far he wants to go away from home,” Telep said. “That’s a key component in his decision-making process.”
It seemingly comes down to the comfortability of Knoxville versus the exposure and prestige of Duke, not to mention the immediate availability of playing time. If Krzyzewski comes up short in this one, the last thing it would trigger is comfortability in Durham.
“At this point, if you start missing your primary [recruits], you are in spring mode,” Telep said. “Spring mode means you have to jump on guys when they blow up during [the high school season]. If that doesn’t work, you go into carnivore mode and you see what coaches lose their job and what prospects shake loose.”
Monday, the scenario Telep described appeared to be reality when an online report on volnation.com surfaced indicating that Nichols has committed to Tennessee. Nichols quickly refuted that claim on his twitter account Monday by tweeting, “…I have not informed anybody of anything!”
As the Cameron Crazies exhale in relief, Nichols will take his final two official visits to Auburn and Tennessee in the coming weeks. Soon after that, he is expected to announce his college decision and sign in the early signing period, which is Nov. 14-21.
It’s a decision that could secure the future backbone of Duke’s frontcourt or potentially break it.