As decision time rapidly approaches, Duke's coaches are making their final pitches to several blue-chip recruits and renewing their involvement with the top players in the Class of 2018.
Meanwhile, the recruits, while considering their options and deciding when to make their announcements on where they will go to school, have been participating in national showcases—the most prominent one being the Jordan Brand Classic, which took place April 14 at the Barclays Center in New York.
In ESPN’s final top 100, Trevon Duval—the top-ranked point guard—found himself ranked No. 5 overall. At the Jordan Brand Classic, Duval shot 2-of-3 from downtown and scored eight points to go along with four assists for the East Team, which lost 124-116. With Grayson Allen announcing his return to Duke for his senior season and Frank Jackson expected to remain for a sophomore campaign, the Blue Devil backcourt would be experienced, talented and lethal with the addition of Duval.
Duval is a natural floor general, a role the Blue Devils sorely missed last season. Duval’s handles and court vision paired with Jackson’s explosiveness and Allen’s shooting will spread the floor and make Duke hard to defend. Gary Trent Jr, No. 7 in the ESPN 100, who has already committed to the Blue Devils, would likely provide much-needed depth off the bench. Trent Jr. chipped in six points and three assists in the Jordan Brand Classic for the West Team, struggling from the field at 16.7 percent shooting.
In an interesting story Tuesday night, Duval was reportedly set to visit Duke unofficially, and a Harry Giles Fan Page account tweeted a screenshotted snapchat from Duval, who appeared to be in Durham with the University Tower in the background. However, Duval responded to the rumors later in the day.
Lol I'm not visiting Duke— Trevon Duval (@DatGuy_Trey) April 18, 2017
A decision for Duval, who is still considering Kansas, Baylor, Arizona and Seton Hall, is expected to come by the end of the month.
In case Duval opts elsewhere, Coach K and his staff have a backup plan in mind as they are now heavily recruiting four-star Mark Smith. Smith, also a point guard, is an intriguing prospect that has garnered plenty of attention recently, though he still finds himself on the outside of the ESPN 100. The Blue Devils had an in-home visit with Smith April 19.
Moving to the frontcourt, Duke is still targeting Kevin Knox and Mohamed Bamba, though the latter is looking increasingly improbable. Knox, No. 9 in the ESPN 100, was expected to make a decision following the Jordan Brand Classic. However, after adding a last-second visit to Missouri, he decided to postpone his announcement to between late April and mid-May.
The Tigers pose an interesting threat to Duke, as they recently got Michael Porter Jr., the top player in the class of 2017, to sign after he decommitted from Washington when head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired. Missouri then went on to sign Blake Harris, a four-star point guard from Chapel Hill. Given the close friendship between Knox and Porter, the Tigers have become a serious dark horse candidate, evidenced by a decrease in the Blue Devils' chances in 247Sports' crystal ball.
Knox has continued his high level of play, dropping 12 points on 44.4 percent shooting at the Jordan Brand Classic despite missing all four of his attempts from 3-point range. He also flashed his abilities on the glass, pulling down three offensive boards. Knox and Duke commit Wendell Carter, No. 4 in the ESPN 100, would bolster a depleted frontcourt dealing with the departures of Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Chase Jeter. Carter had eight points and four boards at the Jordan Brand Classic.
Knox scheduled his final in-home visits with potential suitors for April 18 and 19. The Blue Devils received the final slot to sell Knox on Duke, from 8-9:15 Wednesday night.
Finally, for the Class of 2017, Bamba has moved up to No. 3 in the ESPN 100 after another promising performance at the Jordan Brand Classic. Despite only scoring six points, Bamba pulled down 10 rebounds, five of which were offensive, to prove his game-changing ability in the paint. However, all the signs are pointing to Bamba signing with Kentucky, with Texas also an intriguing option after freshman forward Jarrett Allen recently declared for the NBA Draft.
Moving to the Class of 2018, the Blue Devils have turned their attention to two top-five forwards—Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish. Williamson has garnered attention for his unbelievable athleticism in highlight reel dunks during his junior season. The Duke coaching staff paid an in-home visit to Williamson April 10 in South Carolina and April 13 with Reddish in Pennsylvania. Tre Jones, the brother of beloved former Blue Devil point guard Tyus Jones and a four-star point guard, hosted Duke's coaches in Minnesota April 12.
Blue Devil fans should be very excited for the upcoming season if two out of the three remaining top-10 recruits in the Class of 2017 sign. However, with the past year in recent memory, it is important to temper expectations and recognize that the freshmen will still likely experience growing pains playing at a higher level.