With a spectacular freshman season in the books, Paolo Banchero has become the newest member of the Blue Devils’ one-and-done club by declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Seattle native announced his decision Wednesday via social media and is the second member of this year’s roster to announce his departure from the program after sophomore center Mark Williams made his announcement Monday.
"Paolo had a truly incredible season and is absolutely ready to attack the next phase of his playing career," former head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a team release Wednesday. "He put up remarkable numbers and won awards, but he always put the team first. Paolo is a great leader in that regard and someone all of our players admired, even though he was just a freshman. He is so dynamic, explosive and versatile – a model player in today's NBA game. He did whatever we asked at a very high level. I loved having him and his family in our program and wish him all the best as his professional career begins."
Banchero, who was the No. 2 overall recruit at 247 Sports for the Class of 2021, is projected to be taken with one of the top picks after finishing his time at Duke with considerable accolades. In his freshman season, Banchero was the ACC Freshman of the Year, a consensus second-team All-American, the NCAA West Region Most Outstanding Player and a member of the Final Four All-Tournament Team, among other recognition.
Over the course of the season, the O’Dea High School product averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game to lead the Blue Devils in points and rebounds on 47.8% shooting from the field and a 33.8% mark from three. In addition, his 671 total points are the fourth-most by a freshman in Duke men’s basketball history, putting him one ahead of Jabari Parker. He also becomes just the third freshman, after Gene Banks and RJ Barrett, to average at least 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
NBA scouts likely saw the best the forward had to offer when he scored 20 points in one half against Gonzaga, performing against a frontcourt of junior Wooden Award finalist Drew Timme and fellow likely top-three pick Chet Holmgren. However, similarly dominant performances were in no shortage for Banchero this season. He scored a career-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field against the Citadel, and his 22-point showing against Texas Tech while going 3-of-4 from distance led Duke to the Elite Eight.
His 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame, successful track record and seemingly bottomless bag of tricks make him a tantalizing NBA prospect. Plus, after a dominant showing in the NCAA tournament in which he averaged 18.8 points per game to lead Duke to the Final Four, he is firmly in the conversation for the No. 1-overall pick. He would become the fifth Blue Devil to ever be taken with the top choice.
Regardless, Duke fans can get an idea of where the superstar could end up when the NBA Draft Lottery airs May 17, and know for sure when the draft commences June 23.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.