With college sports becoming a year round business, there are the inevitable highs and lows with each turn of the calendar. For Duke fans, April of 2015 has to be considered one of the best months in history.
Here’s a look back…
During the first week Blue Devil fans were on cloud nine as head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s young squad pounded Michigan State by 20 (April 4) in the national semifinal to set up a shot at the program’s fifth title on April 6th against Wisconsin.
After falling behind by nine midway through the second half, Duke got an unexpected lift from Grayson Allen to stem the tide of the title game. From there Tyus Jones completed his Duke legacy with a claim as one of the more clutch players in history by hitting a pair of huge three pointers down the stretch to give his team and eight point lead with just over a minute remaining.
Less than two minutes later…Coach K had his fifth national title.
And then the exodus happened. Four starters from the title team departed as Quinn Cook graduated followed by the NBA defections of Jahlil Okafor (April 9), Justise Winslow (April 14), and Tyus Jones (April 15). Those four departures left next season’s roster without a point guard and only seven scholarship players.
So the coaches hit the recruiting trail.
On the same day Jones announced his decision to enter the draft, the Blue Devil coaches were communicating with three star Florida center Antonio Vrankovic (April 15).
“Duke’s been a dream school of mine ever since I first started playing basketball, so just the fact that I had the possibility to play there was exciting and I’m excited for my opportunity,” Vrankovic told TDD. “To me it was a no-brainer and I saw it for myself when I went on my unofficial visit there, I saw the facilities and everything and I just fell in love with it. It was just a matter of time before I knew I was going to make my commitment.”
So what was Duke adding with the commitment? According to Scout.com’s Evan Daniels, a player with long term potential.
“At 6-foot-11 he has a big, thick frame and the type of body that will allow him to play physical inside. While he's a below the rim player, Vrankovic possesses good hands and nice touch around the goal.”
Vrankovic's father -- Stojko -- played in the NBA for the Boston Celtics for five seasons.
Despite the infusion of size, the roster lacked both a true small forward and a point guard. While the Blue Devils were prepared to move forward with Luke Kennard playing both the point and off guard roles as a freshman, the preferred option centered around 2016’s Derryck Thornton’s decision.
On April 21st Thornton made the dual decision to reclassify into the class of 2015 and to commit to Duke. Despite reclassifying, Thornton will be slotted as the top point guard and a five-star prospect in the final Scout.com rankings.
“He’s one of the top point guards in high school basketball, Thornton plays the game almost exactly how someone at his position should,” said Daniels. “He has a terrific basketball IQ, sees the court very well and does a nice job creating for others. He's best from midrange, but can also hit shots from the perimeter or get to the basket, where he finishes with both hands. Thornton is one of the nation's top defenders and competitors and is almost the full package.”
After landing Thornton, Duke completed the roster transformation - and the month of April - by landing five star small forward Brandon Ingram over Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, and North Carolina on April 27th.
Ingram is one of the most improved prospects in the country. Although he’s currently ranked No. 13 overall in the 2015 class, he will jump into the national top five when the final 2015 rankings are released.
At 6-foot-9, Ingram has a lengthy set of arms, good athleticism and a jump shot that continues to improve.
“I see myself just impacting the program as soon as I get there by running the floor, with spot shooting and then they’ll help me improve as a defender,” Ingram told Scout.
With the Ingram pledge and commitments from Thornton, Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard and Antonio Vrankovic, Duke ended the recruiting cycle with the nation’s top recruiting class.
After a third straight bowl game Coach Cutcliffe’s program had started the 2016 recruiting cycle with a bang by landing three four star prospects through March. In April things turned up a notch as the Blue Devils reeled in three more pledges including a four star offensive lineman and four star quarterback.
It all began on April 12th with the commitment of Athens (GA) Prince Ave Christian School offensive tackle Robert Kraeling. The 6-foot-8, 250 pound prospect picked Duke over Auburn, California, NC State, Nebraska, and Penn State.
The commitment of Kraeling seemed to trigger a sense of urgency among several lineman prospects as several moved towards announcements. That urgency proved to be too late for some players, but not all.
There're multiple guys being recruited hard for limited positions at every university. If you know where you want to go don't gamble. #Ap2w— Derek Jones (@dukecoachdj) April 15, 2015
On April 13th the Blue Devils reeled in four star offensive Liam Smith over offers from Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Wake Forest.
The next day (April 14th), Smith had transformed from recruit to recruiter.
Smith said he was texting with prospects Monday, and one of his top targets is Woodberry Forest (Va.) School offensive tackle Clark Yarbrough.
“I want it to be the best program we want it to be,” Smith said. “I’m not concerned about other offensive linemen coming in trying to compete with me. I just want to be part of the best football team that we can build.
“I’ve known (Yarbrough) since I was one year old. We go way back, and we’ve been talking about maybe playing in college together and we’ve been talking about some different schools, and I’m all I his ear about Duke.”
With the offensive line falling into place, the Blue Devils would move on to the quarterback position. On April 21st Duke landed Denver (N.C.) East Lincoln quarterback Chazz Surratt over offers from Boston College, Clemson, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia.
Surratt’s commitment to the Blue Devils is strong.
”My commitment to Duke is very solid,” he said. “I had known for a while that I wanted to go to Duke. I’m very happy with my decision and I don’t plan on visiting any other schools.”
While the basketball program’s April went from the present and built toward the future by way of big recruiting news, the gridiron Blue Devils went the opposite way. Cutcliffe’s program began the month with big news on the recruiting trail and continued the momentum with big news in the NFL Draft as the program saw former offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round (April 30th).
Tomlinson was the program’s highest pick in nearly 30 years and was the sixth player selected in the first round in program history.
“We are so proud of Laken, and certainly could not be happier for him and his entire family,” Cutcliffe said. “Laken’s accountability is second to none. Fifty-two consecutive starts at right guard tell a part of the story, and the Lions will find out quickly just how reliable he is both on and off the field. Obviously, Laken has had a great deal of success on the field while playing at the highest level of college football. I truly believe that will translate into a successful professional career.”
Following an extremely successful career in Durham, Scout.com's Dave-Te Thomas rated Tomlinson as the second best guard in the draft and the 33rd best prospect overall.
"Tomlinson started in 53 straight games for the Blue Devils at guard," wrote Thomas. "This past season he graded out at nearly 90% and recorded 124 knockdown blocks and 14 touchdown resulting blocks. This kid is athletic, strong, smart and really knows how to use his hands in the trenches. He gets off the ball well and shows toughness and plays scrappy. Tomlinson can drive block and pull and trap in the run game and shows the ability to be a good pass protector on the inside."
Duke also had former wide receiver Jamison Crowder drafted in the fourth round by the Washington Redskins.
4th - BASKETBALL - Defeat Michigan State in the Final Four
6th - BASKETBALL - Defeat Wisconsin for program’s fifth National Championship
12th - FOOTBALL - Land three-star tackle Robert Kraeling
13th - FOOTBALL - Land four-star tackle Liam Smith
15th - BASKETBALL - Land three-star center Antonio Vrankovic
21st - BASKETBALL - Land five-star point guard Derryck Thornton
21st - FOOTBALL - Land four-star quarterback Chazz Surratt
27th - BASKETBALL - Land five-star small forward Brandon Ingram
30th - FOOTBALL - Laken Tomlinson drafted 28th overall by Detroit Lions