Column: Banchero commitment sets up Duke men's basketball for unique, talented roster in 2021

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski's 2021 class could rival that of 2017 and 2018.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski's 2021 class could rival that of 2017 and 2018.

Without a set commitment date or even a single recruiting expert from 247Sports' Crystal Ball picking Duke as the favorite, Paolo Banchero’s choice to join the Blue Devils Thursday was nothing short of stunning. 

It seemed like Washington, Kentucky and even Tennessee were jostling at the top for the No. 3 overall prospect, but it was Mike Krzyzewski who swooped in to nab Banchero, now setting the table for a potential crop of 2021 recruits easily deserving of the title of best class in the country.

Though he’s listed as a center according to ESPN, Banchero plays anything but a typical big man game. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder has the size to compete down low, but is talented as an initiator anywhere on the court. With the ability to score from all three levels and great ball handling skills, Banchero is a wild card who can be a nightmare for opponents—think of a slightly less athletic Marvin Bagley III.

Banchero joins fellow top-10 recruit A.J. Griffin in Krzyzewski’s 2021 recruiting class, which at first glance has the potential to rival the classes from 2017 and 2018. The Blue Devils look primed to add another centerpiece with No. 2 overall prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr. and are still heavily involved with five-star shooting guard Trevor Keels.

It’s unclear whether or not any other recruits could commit to a college career in Durham, though Duke wouldn’t need much more with the versatility of Banchero, Griffin and Baldwin, if the latter does end up choosing the Blue Devils. That trio could bring a unique team makeup and scheme to Cameron, one rivaled only by the 2018-19  trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.

If Baldwin joins the two commits, it won’t be hard to envision Duke as one of the national title favorites. To put it simply, the Blue Devils would be the more talented team every time they step on the court. Any Cameron Crazie should be oozing with excitement to see Krzyzewski get another chance to coach a trio of elite wing prospects with guard skills on the same team, especially after what he learned in the 2018-19 season.

The offensive weapons are a fun thing to imagine, but a team with this many mobile forwards is another opportunity for Duke to run a fluid man-to-man defensive scheme that switches all screens. The freshmen will need time to adjust to defending college players, though returners with similar frames and athleticism like Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman III and Joey Baker would provide unmatched depth at the wing position.

Of course, the major question mark for 2021 is at guard. Jordan Goldwire will graduate and freshmen Jeremy Roach and D.J. Steward are certainly talented enough to go pro after one season, potentially leaving the Blue Devils short on ball handlers. After missing out on 2021 five-star guard Kennedy Chandler to Tennessee, Duke looks to have its confidence riding on a commitment from Keels, the fourth-ranked shooting guard in the class.

If the Blue Devils eventually find themselves staring at a roster situation without a point guard, it may be an opportunity for Krzyzewski to roll with a point guard by committee system. Keels and Baldwin could provide some help should they commit, while Griffin is flying under the radar as one of Duke’s most versatile recruits.

While the 2020-21 season hasn’t even kicked off yet, the Blue Devils have an exciting roster to put in the back of their minds just over that horizon. The faces always change, but like always, championship level talent will be in Cameron and Krzyzewski just has to find a way to piece it all together.


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