This is easily the biggest news of the off-season for the Blue Devils. Will Kyrie Irving declare for the NBA Draft or will he return to school and play out an entire season.
To date Irving's career in Durham lasted a whopping 11 games. However, in those games it was clear that he was Duke's most NBA ready prospect, averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds in 27.5 minutes per night. Despite the big numbers, most fans will remember Irving's first season in Durham as one of "what might have been" after a freak toe injury cost him 26 games.
Should he leave, Irving would be picked among the first three picks and would have a strong case to go first overall depending on the results of the lottery. In most seasons it would be a no brainer, but with the NBA Labor crisis looming there are some legit concerns facing any college player coming out.
The thinking in and around Durham is that Irving will leave, which immediately casts some doubts in the Blue Devil backcourt - especially at the point guard position. Still, a platoon of Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook, and Seth Curry would be a dream at nearly all Top 25 programs.
Without Irving the Blue Devils figure to fall in the top 5-10 range in the preseason polls. Should Irving return Duke could move into the discussion for the top spot.
A decision is expected to be announced following the Duke team banquet on April 15th.
Originally there were rumors that sophomore big man Mason Plumlee was going to be testing the draft waters, but those discussions have been shot down.
2. DeAndre Daniels' Decision
The current recruiting class of Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, Michael Gbinije, and Marshall Plumlee features three five star prospects and three McDonald's All-Americans. In the last two months, however, Duke has been linked with former Texas commit DeAndre Daniels, currently of IMG Academy in Florida.
At 6-foot-8 and with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Daniels is a combo forward capable of playing a role very similar to departed senior Kyle Singler. He is a consistent shooter out to the perimeter and is a high major athlete who gets off the ground quickly and is a terrific leaper.
Quickly reviewing Duke's 2011-2012 roster, there is no player fitting a similar description or role. Therein lies the Blue Devils' recruiting pitch for Daniels who will be visiting Durham in the next few weeks with a target visit date of the banquet on April 15th.
Earning a commitment from the four star prospect would likely vault the Duke recruiting class into the number two spot behind Kentucky's group and would add an additional element to the Blue Devil roster for next season. One that could, like Irving's decision, vault Duke up a spot or two in the preseason prognosticators' eyes.
3. Coaching Staff Changes
First came the news that associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski was considered by Dayton. There are also rumblings that staff member and former player Chris Carrawell could end up as an assistant elsewhere.
Wojciechowski apparently withdrew his name from consideration by the Flyers according to Fox Sports. With that decision now behind them, the coaching staff appears to be set in the assistant department for the next year.
Meanwhile Carrawell who was named an assistant video coordinator and strength & conditioning coach in July, 2010 after serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Blue Devils for two seasons, could still depart for an assistant coach position at Louisiana Tech under head coach Michael White (son of Duke AD Kevin White).
4. The Land of China
The Blue Devils will get an early start on the 2011-2012 season with an International trip to China and Dubai. It'll be a near two week excursion that will see Duke playing four games - three in China and one in Dubai. In addition to the four games, the Blue Devils will be will conduct youth basketball clinics in China and the United Arab Emirates. It will also visit historic Chinese gardens, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China. In the United Arab Emirates, the team will learn about traditional Emirati culture and commerce as well as about Dubai's rise as a modern business center.
On the court the Blue Devils will get an early look at what projects to be a very young and largely unproven roster of players moving into new roles. Duke will be without, potentially, last season's top three scorers and will need to replace nearly 50 points per game while also tweaking the pace and style of play to better incorporate those secondary players who will now be asked to carry a larger load as upperclassmen.
"We have a young team, and we'll get a chance to try out some stuff," said head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
A likely adjustment will be a renewed commitment to working on the glass and generating more possessions by offensive rebounding, similar to the 2010 season. With Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly joining incoming freshman Marshall Plumlee, the Blue Devils will have four players 6'10 or taller. At the power/combo forward position Duke could have an additional two players in Daniels and Josh Hairston that are 6'8.
5. Spring & Summer Recruitment
The Daniels recruitment will take center stage for a few more weeks, but Duke has already gotten a nice start in the class of 2012 with commitments from a pair of five star players - Rasheed Sulaimon and Alex Murphy. There is still a chance Murphy could enroll early at Duke (a decision is expected in late May), which would leave Suliamon as the lone 2012 commit to date.
Should Duke add Daniels, the class of 2012 would likely be a three to four man group including Murphy (regardless of his early enrollment). Currently there are two offers extended in the rising crop of seniors with Nevada's Shabazz Muhammad, and Georgia's Tony Parker confirmed as the recipients.
Look for Duke to attempt to add a power player in the post and a dynamic wing player. Hence the offers to Parker and Muhammad. Additional prospects will continue to pop up on the radar as the AAU season continues to move forward.