The 2020-21 men’s basketball season is in the past, and incoming freshmen are leading the way in ensuring the Blue Devils have all the pieces necessary to make a serious run for a championship in 2022.
With the departures of Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson and DJ Steward to the NBA draft, and transfers Patrick Tapé, Jordan Goldwire, Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman III all finding homes elsewhere, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has been in dire need of top-notch players to replace the production from the seven departures. Along with his coaching staff, he is finding recruiting support elsewhere: five-star power forward Paolo Banchero.
Banchero, the No. 3 recruit in his class, announced his commitment to Duke Aug. 20, making him the second member of the incoming class along with A.J. Griffin. The 6-foot-11 power forward out of Seattle has since been extremely active communicating with fellow recruits, voicing his support for others to come to Durham.
When it was time for Trevor Keels—the No. 21 recruit and high school teammate of Duke guard Jeremy Roach in Fairfax, Va.—to commit, he said that Banchero, in addition to Griffin, was a driving force in his decision to join the Blue Devils.
"AJ and Paolo was recruiting me and now all three of us about to go right at [Patrick Baldwin]. We definitely gonna get him. We gonna try to get him. We three-for-four right now man so we gotta get that four-for-four and we straight," Keels said on an Instagram Live following his college announcement.
Since his April 2 commitment, Duke has added transfers Theo John from Marquette and Bates Jones from Davidson, and pulled in four-star freshman guard Jaylen Blakes to fill in the backcourt. Still, with the unexpected departures of Coleman and Steward, Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils face a bit of a depth issue.
On Duke’s radar since this recruiting cycle began has been Patrick Baldwin Jr., the No. 4 recruit and Sussex, Wis., native suspected to be choosing between nearby Wisconsin-Milwaukee—where he would play for his father—and Duke. Following Keels’ commitment, it now seems possible that Duke is in the process of assembling a 2018-level freshman corps, where incoming freshmen RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were able to snag Zion Williamson from the grasp of conference foe Clemson.
In response to an Instagram post with edits of the three commits plus Baldwin in Duke’s home whites with a caption, “Is this gonna happen?” Banchero responded “95%”.
Banchero also added on his Twitter in response to the same edit, “let’s make it happen.”
"Why don't you wanna come win? That's my thing. [Baldwin is] a phenomenal player so why don't you just come join the [Duke] Brotherhood and get these wins cause we definitely gonna win," Keels said on his Instagram live in reference to his recruiting pitch to Baldwin.
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The trio of Banchero, Keels and Griffin have seemingly formed a brotherhood in anticipation of the season and the prospect of bringing in the 6-foot-9 Baldwin. The recruiting cycle is not yet finished, however, as Krzyzewski’s new-look team hopes to lure the fourth and final piece of the puzzle to Duke.
Banchero also announced via Twitter that he will be arriving at Duke June 6, leaving fans wondering whether Baldwin will be with him as he prepares for the upcoming season.