Sports journalism is full of hyperbole.
The world of Duke sports is no different—it seems a yearly ritual, for example, for a rumor about Mike Krzyzewski being offered another job to be blown out of proportion.
So it’s a rare occurrence indeed when the nation doesn’t seem to fully recognize the momentous significance of any story, let alone one dealing with Duke, a program that always is in the national spotlight.
But that’s what seems to be happening after Austin Rivers’s verbal commitment to the Blue Devils.
The importance of Rivers’s commitment cannot be over-hyped, overvalued or over-reported. Now it seems as if Duke is the hottest program in college basketball, only a year after many analysts proclaimed the Blue Devils were taking a backseat to rival North Carolina, in a prime example of hyperbole in action.
Think about it: Around this time last year people had moderate expectations for the Blue Devils’ upcoming season, and the program had just lost out on mega-recruit Harrison Barnes. It seemed as if Duke lived in the shadow of the defending national champions down Tobacco Road.
Now the Blue Devils are themselves the defending champions. And they’re the clear cut favorites to repeat this season, and they just wrapped up arguably the best high school player in the country.
That’s an incredible turnaround, no hyperbole intended.
What’s even more important for Duke fans still smarting over the Barnes defection is that the Blue Devils out-recruited the Tar Heels for Rivers. But this time, according to Dave Telep, Scout.com’s national recruiting director, Duke was able to hold off its rival without much difficulty.
“Once he publicly decommitted from Florida, it looked to me like Duke moved into a leadership position with him that they never relinquished,” Telep said. “This one, behind closed doors, was heading Duke’s way. It would’ve been an upset of pretty big proportions if he went anywhere else.”
All this would be enough to leave Duke fans, and the program itself, feeling pretty chipper. And that’s without even mentioning Telep’s most intriguing comment regarding Rivers.
If the lockout alters the NBA collective bargaining agreement as Telep thinks it might, Blue Devil fans might get to see an NBA-caliber talent in Cameron for more than the customary year.
“Things are going to change with the collective bargaining agreement,” Telep said. “It is entirely possible that we see either a 20-year age limit instituted or we see two years in college required. People who use the term one-and-done from this point forward are putting themselves in a position to get a little egg on their faces, because one-and-done could be a term that is one-and-done after this year.”
The lockout might not just affect Rivers but his possible teammates in 2011, as well. Even if the 20-year age limit is not implemented, the possible absence of NBA basketball in 2011 could keep Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee in Durham for an additional year. While it’s foolish at best to try to prognosticate so far in advance, next year Duke could trot out a backcourt of Irving, Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, with the Plumlee brothers (all three of them) anchoring a deep front-court.
If you take into account Rivers’ potential on an actual basketball court, then this story reaches the next level.
Forget the comparisons with Barnes—Rivers could be better. He’s an extremely polished scorer, who will instantly make the Blue Devils better when he steps foot in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Austin’s game is extremely mature for a high school basketball player. He’s got a scoring array,” Telep said. “The easiest way to picture Austin Rivers is as a guy that’s just more advanced. It sounds very simple, but the fact of the matter is he has NBA style about him in terms of what he can do as a perimeter player.”
So there seems to be no downside to this story—Rivers’s commitment has helped reengineer Duke’s recruiting pitch, it has given fans still sore over Barnes some measure of revenge and it could lead to one of the more talented Blue Devil teams in history.
And for once, the hyperbole that will invariably be thrown around by fans, and the media, is actually merited.
Even if Rivers is still a high school senior.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.