He was probably going to pick Clemson, though it wouldn't have come as a shock to see him commit to Kentucky or South Carolina, either. Maybe it would even be North Carolina.

Zion Williamson was not coming to Duke—that much was clear, at least from the opinions of almost every college basketball insider for the last few weeks.

But as I settled into my chair in The Chronicle’s sports hall and noticed that it was a few minutes after 8 p.m., shortly before he would make his announcement, I decided to put one screen on SportsCenter, out of curiosity more than anything else.

I’ve watched several of these announcements since last spring, usually waiting anxiously to click the publish button and tweet out a pre-written story announcing that Marvin Bagley III, Tre Jones, Cameron Reddish or R.J. Barrett were committing to the Blue Devils. And yes, there’s a Chronicle story on freshman Kentucky forward Kevin Knox’s imaginary commitment to Duke floating somewhere in the depths of the Internet.

The point is, I felt none of that adrenaline or stress last night in the moments leading up to 8:15 p.m. I sat back at my desk and texted two close friends, our sports managing editor and my predecessor as sports editor, joking about how unprepared I would be in the impossible scenario that the No. 2 recruit in the 2018 class would decide to come to Durham, without even considering starting to prepare a story just in case. The Blue Devils couldn’t get everybody, after all.

But then Williamson said the word “brotherhood” on SportsCenter, and all of a sudden he was wearing a Duke hat and I had to set aside my shock and get to work, taking about 10 frantic minutes to piece a few paragraphs of writing together.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. 

Sure, the Blue Devils have landed a bunch of top-three recruits in the last five seasons, but they aren’t supposed to get all three of them in the same year. There will always be a few left for Kentucky and head coach John Calipari, of course, and a few that elect to stay close to home and play for their local schools—think Oklahoma’s national player of the year frontrunner Trae Young, a homegrown product from Norman, though he was undervalued at just inside the top 25 in last year’s recruiting class.

That was supposed to be the category Williamson belonged to. Spartanburg, S.C., is just about 60 miles from Clemson, where Tiger head coach Brad Brownell has consistently extracted more wins than expected out of very little talent on the recruiting trail for the better part of a decade. Never has he done a better job than this year, with Clemson somehow ranked in the top 25 and near the top of the ACC standings, and Williamson was going to be the next step, a program-changing recruiting breakthrough.

Instead, Williamson ripped the heart out of the Tigers’ fan base in favor of a blueblood, and it wasn’t just any blueblood. 

He picked Duke. 

It is no longer Krzyzewski vs. Calipari for most of the nation’s top prospects—in the twilight of his career, there’s Krzyzewski and then there’s everybody else after possibly the most stunning heist of his 38 years with the Blue Devils.

Duke has been preseason No. 1 for the last two years thanks to stacked freshman classes, and it will now almost certainly make it three in a row no matter who leaves for the NBA from this year’s team, with the top three recruits in the 2018 class all coming together to Durham. That might be the way things remain for as long as Krzyzewski keeps coaching, which admittedly is unlikely to be long for a man less than a month from turning 71, though it sure seems like it’ll definitely be at least one more year with the way he has recruited this group.

Of course, the preseason No. 1 ranking is meaningless unless it results in postseason No. 1. Duke won the national title with three freshmen starters in 2015—ironically, the last time Kentucky had a dominant preseason No. 1 team—but last year’s young Blue Devil squad fell short of sky-high expectations in the regular season and the NCAA tournament. This year’s team also has its flaws, and with a single-elimination tournament to decide the champion that can catch any team on a bad night, the Blue Devils are never going to waltz to the trophy presentation like the Golden State Warriors.

But more talent never hurts, and Duke will have as good a chance as anybody this year, next year and beyond, as long as Krzyzewski is around to attract the cream of the crop year after year.