Duke Looking For Key Components In '07 Class

The class of 2006 is now signed, sealed, and in a few months will be delivered to Durham to bolster the Duke roster. With Thomas, Henderson, Scheyer, and Zoubek in the fold, the Blue Devils are now turning their full attention to the recruiting class of 2007. With two top prospects already committed, where else will the Duke coaching staff look? TDD investigates.

The class of 2007 got off to a very strong earlier this year as both Taylor King and Nolan Smith committed to the Blue Devils on January 12th. Both are expected to contribute early in their careers. King, a 6-foot-7 long range sharpshooter from California can play either forward position, while Smith is a combo guard that will fill an immediate need as Greg Paulus' understudy, while also earning time as a scoring guard.

With rising sophomore Josh McRoberts likely entering the NBA Draft after the 2006-2007 season, the recruiting class of 2007 will consist of four players. In other words the Blue Devils are looking to add another pair of high major prospects to King and Smith.

It's no secret that the top prospect on the Duke recruiting radar is 6-foot-8 small forward Kyle Singler of Medford Oregon. Rated as a five star prospect and ranked number six overall in the class by Scout.com's Dave Telep, Singler has earned the full attention of the Blue Devil staff for the better part of a year. He's already visited Durham and has seen head coach Mike Krzyzewski make a cross country trek on more than one occasion.

Currently Singler's list sits at four with Kansas, Duke, UCLA, and North Carolina vying for his services. With visits to UCLA and Duke behind him, Singler has indicated he will visit both Chapel Hill and Lawrence at some point during the summer. However, many industry experts believe this will come down to a battle between the Bruins and Blue Devils. A decision is expected before the end of the summer.

Early reports on Singler's spring performances have been glowing. After adding weight to his frame, recruiting experts have little concern over his ability to mix it up inside and on the boards defensively. On the offensive side of things, there aren't many 6'8 prospects with his overall offensive skill-set, nor his ability to handle the ball. It's why the Blue Devils have pointed as much attention his way as they have any other player in recent years.

With Singler seemingly having a scholarship reserved unless he declines, the final member of the class of 2007 will undoubtedly be an interior player who will be able to step in early and solidify the paint. Currently, three players occupy the wish list, but more could emerge as the summer evaluation period continues.

Gary Johnson (pictured right), a 6-foot-6 ½, 210 pound rebounding machine from Houston (Tex.) has been on the radar the longest, dating back to early summer of 2005. Despite his lack of ideal height, Johnson's non-stop aggressive nature and chiseled frame allow him to be one of the AAU circuit's fiercest rebounders.

As with Singler, Johnson has already drawn Coach K to various AAU events as well as open gyms as Adeline High School. And, like Singler, Johnson earned a scholarship offer from the Blue Devils many months ago. However, with the looming departure of the 6'10 McRoberts, would the Blue Devils be better off going for a taller player? Johnson doesn't think so, in fact he doesn't think height is a deciding factor for a school evaluating him.

"There's ways around (the height)," Johnson told Scout.com's Dave Telep earlier this spring after he out-played a 6'10 opponent. I feel like every player has a weakness and once you find that weakness you try to attack it all night."

Which is why the Blue Devils continue to work on the Houstonian hard.

Currently Johnson's list is in constant motion, but the schools mentioned the most frequently are Texas, Duke, Kentucky and Connecticut. Arizona and North Carolina. A decision isn't expected until late October.

One player who has burst onto the Duke radar recently is 6-foot-8, 230lbs big forward Blake Griffin of Edmond, Oklahoma. At the Kingwood Classic in Houston, Griffin had his national coming out party that including several big performances in front of any number of high major coaching staffs. Including the Blue Devils, who one analyst reported "were absolutely in love with his game."

Griffin (left) seems to have it all, with size (a legit 6'8), strength, and a well rounded bag of tricks on both the offensive and defensive ends. Add in a healthy dose of explosiveness and you it's easy to understand how he's become one of the hottest prospects in the country.

Since the big performance in Houston, Griffin says he's getting peppered by the big name programs including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Illinois, Connecticut, Michigan State, Michigan, Kentucky, Duke, USC, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Baylor.

Griffin, whose style has been compared to former Blue Devil Shelden Williams, actually plays for the same AAU program (Athletes First) as Williams did five years ago.

One intriguing question surrounding the 6-foot-8 big forward is the strength of his obvious ties to Oklahoma. Griffin's brother, Taylor, is currently on the Sooners' roster. Will the younger brother look to join his older brother, or will he look to chart his own course at a program? That may be the biggest variable throughout this recruitment.

The third big man prospect on the radar has yet to fight his way onto the AAU circuit in 2006 due to an ankle injury. Julian Vaughn, a 6-foot-9, 240 pound big forward from Reston, Va., has long been rumored to favor a hoops career on Tobacco Road. More specifically, the rumor goes, he'd like to play for one of the two powers – Duke or North Carolina.

Due to the injury, the Blue Devils have yet to evaluate Vaughn (right) this spring, but will get the chance in July when he's back in action for the DC Assault, which is conveniently the AAU squad that Nolan Smith runs with.

Like Johnson and soon to be Griffin, Vaughn is rated as a five star prospect by Scout.com as well as the No. 19 overall player in the country. Described as a good rebounder on the inside, Vaughn has also shown the ability to face the basket, while displaying the ability to score early and often inside.

The most current Scout.com interview with Vaughn revealed a list of Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Virginia, Ohio State, and Georgetown. All but the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have extended a scholarship offer.

After watching the past few years of Duke basketball, the writing is clearly on the wall. After the loss of Luol Deng to the NBA, the Blue Devils' roster had no shortage of high school stars, but the pieces didn't seem to mesh in a way that could propel Duke to a fourth national title. Gone was the kind of versatility that had been a hallmark of the Blue Devil program for so many years.

Gone, too, was the high level of athleticism throughout the roster. That's not to say there wasn't high major talent in Durham. You can't win 61 games in two seasons and be rated among the top five continually without it. But, you also run the risk of a team being bigger, faster, and stronger, and that can be lethal in the one and done format of March. It was a season ago against Michigan State, and it was certainly the case this year against LSU.

Those problems are now being addressed in a big way. To win the national title in college basketball a team needs players who have great talent, which the Blue Devils do. However you also need players with great size and athleticism who can play multiple positions and know the game – much like the 2001 team that had 6-foot-9 Mike Dunleavy at the small forward and 6-foot-8 Shane Battier at the big forward slot.

That's the kind of roster Duke will try to build with the class of 2007 after adding the superior athleticism of Gerald Henderson and the versatility, length, and athleticism of Lance Thomas to go with the high basketball IQ of Jon Scheyer and the tremendous size of Brian Zoubek.

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