Imagine if Kobe Bryant or Shaun Livingston had come to Duke. Would the Blue Devils have more than just three national championships? How dominant would Amare Stoudamire have been if he had spent his rookie season playing for John Calipari and Memphis? Or would Dwight Howard and J.R. Smith have made last year’s North Carolina Tar Heels, already national champions, one of the most dominant teams in NCAA history?
There’s little doubt that an NBA age limit could have dramatically changed the last 10 years of college basketball. But now that the freshly instituted 19-year old age limit is a reality, how will college teams adjust their recruiting strategies?
At a place like Duke, the answer is probably not much. As one of college basketball’s most desired destinations and with six high school All-Americans on the roster next season, Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski already recruit the nation’s top players, with few exceptions.
“In the last five years or so we have not recruited a small pool of players each year that we have just forecasted to be guys who would go,” Krzyzewski said. “People in this pool aren’t necessarily better right now than the people we’re recruiting, in fact some of them aren’t as good. But they have the physical characteristics that the NBA is looking for—potential.”
In other words, the Blue Devils probably won’t be making heavy recruiting overtures to every top player in the class. None of Duke’s three verbal commitments for the class of 2006—Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Gerald Henderson—were early entry candidates, and Krzyzewski said he would never recruit a player who has already set a timetable for when he’ll begin his professional career even before stepping foot on a college campus.
Duke has already been witness to the effects that early exit can have on a basketball team, as evidenced by the dearth of senior leadership the Blue Devils will face in 2007 and 2008.
“With Louie [Deng] going after one year, Kris Humphries never got here, Shaun didn’t come. You’ve got three guys that potentially could give you 12 years and we got one,” Krzyzewski said. “What that did is we couldn’t recruit anybody else, so now we’ve got a team right now that has seniors, one sophomore, because Dave probably won’t play, and freshmen. We’ve got to be careful.”
This is not to say, however, that the Blue Devils will not remain completely unaffected by the new limit. The new limit may embolden Duke to take a few more chances with the phenoms instead of eschewing possible early entry players entirely.
For instance, the Blue Devils are in need of an athletic power forward to finish out their class of 2006. The class contains many attractive options—Duke is rumored to be recruiting Alabama forward Stanley Robinson and New Jersey’s Lance Thomas—but the new age limit could push the coaching staff toward undecided Tennessee phenom Brandan Wright. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Wright, one of the top-three players in his class, would have been a likely lottery pick without an age limit.
Wright’s top-notch rebounding and shotblocking abilities could make the Blue Devils serious national title contenders in 2007 even without the four seniors who will graduate this year. And with top forwards such as Gani Lawal and Kyle Singler waiting in the class of 2007, Duke could be well-equipped to handle an early departure. Now that Wright will be ineligible for the NBA draft for one year after high school, Duke can recruit him even harder with the security that a commitment will result in his almost certain presence on campus, a luxury Krzyzewski did not have with Livingston.
Although the new age limit won’t result in a complete overhaul of Duke’s recruiting, it will likely keep the Blue Devils recruiting at the top of the class for superstar talent.
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