How 'The Decision' will impact recruiting for Duke basketball this year

Jahlil Okafor (left) and Tyus Jones (second from right) are college basketball's most coveted recruiting package.
Jahlil Okafor (left) and Tyus Jones (second from right) are college basketball's most coveted recruiting package.

When LeBron James made “The Decision” to go to the Miami Heat in 2010, the move was not a popular one. How could this homegrown titan leave to presumably be number two in South Beach? The reality was James wanted to team up with his friends, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, to finally capture his elusive first championship. 

Three seasons later, James is the king of basketball, guiding the Heat to three straight finals appearances and back-to-back championships. Miami’s formula for success has paid off and then some.

The strategy is simple: team up with the best and championships will be easier to come by. Sports fans have spoken out against the free agency move, questioning its fairness to the rest of the league—but nearly four years after James’ ill-fated press conference, the concept of a “super team” may not be limited to the NBA.

According to reports, Duke recruit Tyus Jones, ranked the No. 3 player in the Class of 2014 by ESPN, says he’ll come in a packaged deal with two five-star recruits—Chicago native Jahlil Okafor, a center ranked No. 1 in his recruiting class and small forward Justise Winslow, ranked 15th.

“You guys already know that me and Jahlil are gonna play together in college, and now we’re feeling pretty good about getting our boy Justise Winslow to come along with us as well,” Jones wrote June 12 in his USA Today blog.

Both Okafor and Winslow have downplayed Jones’ comments for now, saying their decision will come in time. That being said, such comments introduce a possible shift in college basketball to more of the player driven style of the NBA.

This isn’t the first time players have tried to lobby their fellow recruits to play with them. The Kentucky Wildcats will bring in arguably the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history next season using a similar strategy. Head coach John Calipari signed five of the top nine recruits according to both and ESPN rankings, in addition to a slew of four-star recruits. Calipari has a history of recruiting top players—by means that range from legal and morally questionable—but this class has been drawing comparisons to Michigan’s Fab Five. They’re that good on paper.

Most of the credit for the juggernaut that will be the 2013 Wildcats should go to the Kentucky coaching staff. However, the players have more power in the college game than ever before. Incoming Kentucky freshman James Young put it best when discussing lobbying for more players, including Kansas commit Andrew Wiggins, to join the Wildcats.

“The more great players, the easier it is for a national championship,” Young told recruiting guru Adam Zagoria in March.

Once again, this strategy is not rocket science.

Of course, the differences between using such a strategy in college and at the professional level are abundant. There is no guarantee that highly-touted freshmen pan out to be the players most expect them to be. In addition, the immaturity factor can make a team crumble over the course of season (i.e. the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats). As such, the importance of coaching at the college level is far greater than at the professional level.

“I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a 2005 American Express commercial. “I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”

So the question remains: will super teams translate to the college level? It’s hard to fathom a team loaded with raw, largely untapped talent could be used in full. However, let’s think of this from the perspective of the average top-10 recruit. Highly-touted recruits are in college because the NBA has a one-and-done rule in place, so they presumably will leave after one year, perhaps two years maximum. What better way to spend your short time at a higher learning institution than with equally gifted athletes chasing down an NCAA title before you leave? There’s no guarantee success will follow, but when the best in the game are teaming up and dominating in the NBA, the plan is enticing.

Whether Jones’ statements end up coming to fruition remains to be seen. If true, then Duke would be one of three schools in the mix for the trifecta, along with Baylor and Kansas. Securing all three would solidify Duke as the odds on favorites for a national championship in 2014-15, but it seems the move would only typify what the college game is slowly becoming: a rush for talent, no matter how long they stay in school. 

As the recruiting cycle heats up, college basketball coaches and pundits will be sitting on pins and needles as the nation’s newest power trio prepares to make their big decision. I’m not sure if I love the fact that super teams could be the future of college basetball. But if Okfaor, Jones and Winslow decide to take their talents to Durham, you know I’ll have my popcorn ready.


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