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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blue Devils See Green: Duke, Not Kentucky, The Real One-And-Done Powerhouse

Coach K Might Be Beating Coach Cal At His Own Game



Does that “K” in Coach K stand for Kentucky?

That’s what it might seem like recently, after Duke's Mike Krzyzewski apparently transformed his recruiting philosophy since his 2010 NCAA championship team to be closer to that of Kentucky coach John Calipari. That 2010 Duke team, driven largely by senior starters Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, and Lance Thomas, never had a full chance to defend or recapture its crown in the following years, after its ranks were depleted by those three’s graduations that summer.

Duke’s recent 2015 championship team won’t have that chance either, but for a completely different reason: instead of graduating, freshmen starters Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow all got promoted.

Duke's underrated NBA appeal has received more of its proper due recently, as multiple articles counting Duke among the most productive in terms of big ball talent shows. But not enough focus has been placed on the very top recruits, the Jabari Parkers and the Kyrie Irvings, the 1% of the 1% of freshmen who are good enough to leave college after just one year. And maybe commentators are right: when Calipari had 4 freshmen selected in 2010, including #1 overall pick John Wall, he all at once doubled the number of freshmen that Krzyzewski had ever sent to the NBA in his decades-long career at Duke by that time. 

But a new narrative surrounding the one-and-done phenomenon has begun to emerge since 2011. It’s a story with strong, disruptive waves currently emanating out of Durham, NC, that have the potential to completely upend the received wisdom around men's basketball recruiting.

The phenomenon of the one-and-done has been here since 2006, when the NBA put into place its current 19-year old age requirement. Since then, Kentucky coach John Calipari has re-engineered his universities, whether Memphis or Kentucky, into well-oiled factories that succeed by promising Top 100 high school recruits NBA-money after just one year. In the 8 NBA drafts since 2008, for instance, Calipari has coached the #1 overall pick four times — each of them freshman. 

It would, however, be several years of agonizing wait before Coach Cal’s system achieved the ultimate prize in NCAA basketball. In 2012, Kentucky may have arguably had the first through-and-through, one-and-done championship team. College rookies had played starring roles on past championship teams, like Carmelo Anthony in 2003. But in contrast to Melo’s more experienced supporting cast, Kentucky was fully led by freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marquis Teague. According to Sports-Reference.com, this trio altogether averaged over 31 minutes of playing time per game, and made up 46.6% of their team’s average points per game.

Coach Cal, while never replicating his championship dreams in the years since those 3 left Lexington, seems to have only opened up his lead over other colleges with draft picks since then. It was just 2 months ago that he tied the single-year record for number of draft picks from one school…with himself, because 6 Kentucky players were also chosen over two rounds in 2012.

And if Kentucky leads the rest of the NCAA in one-and-done NBA stock, then their lead over the more veteran-laden Duke could only be greater, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Kentucky does have almost twice as many freshmen draft picks as Duke since 2011 — 11 to 6. But although Kentucky plays more freshmen, Duke now plays better freshmen. That’s because although Kentucky’s freshmen triplets altogether averaged 36.1 points per game, Duke’s own 2015 trio — Jones, Okafor, and Winslow — outpaced them by almost 5.6 points, at 41.7 combined points per game.

And while Coach Cal has had more picks since 2011, Coach K’s own rookie picks can expect to be drafted at a better position. Calipari's crop of 2011–2015 freshmen averaged a draft position of 9th, while Krzyzewski's own 6 rookies over those years were drafted at an average position of 8th. That might not seem like a big difference, but just try telling that to this year’s 9th pick, the Hornets' Frank Kaminsky. He can expect to make $600,000 less than this year’s 8th pick, the Pistons' Stanley Johnson, over the course of their respective 3-year rookie contracts. All of that great Carolina barbecue Kaminsky has coming his way still might not be enough to make up for that difference in salary. 

Even a head-to-head matchup of these two program’s recent flagship players tilts in Duke’s favor: Kyrie Irving, his year’s #1 pick like Anthony Davis, won the Rookie Of The Year Award, while Davis lost out to Damian Lillard.

The most frightening thing for all of the Wildcats out there (or Tar Heels) is that Duke seems poised to continue the reversal, and possible overturning, of this trend over the next few years. Per ESPN, Duke has the top-ranked incoming class for this year’s season. It includes four Top 100 recruits, as well as three 5-star recruits, among them the #1 overall small forward, Brandon Ingram, and Derryck Thornton, the #3 point guard. Kentucky’s class, although containing the top center and top point guard, has only two 5 star recruits, and three ESPN 100 commits.

Furthermore, only 1 recruit out of the Top 10 for 2016 has firmly committed to any school yet, and it just so happens that #1 overall small forward Jayson Tatum will be taking his talents...to Duke.

If top recruits are already adding up their millions when they get the call from Calipari, as many cynical observers believe, then maybe those recruits should start adding these numbers into their calculations too.