Recruiting & Departures Have Caught Up

The backcourt trouble may have mushroomed this season, but the seeds of an off season were planted long ago on the recruiting trail.

After the 1996-1996 season ended in the first round, head coach Mike Krzyzewski began to take Duke recruiting to a completely different level than what had resulted in Duke's first fall under Coach K.

Sure, Duke landed high school All-Americans such as Joey Beard, Ricky Price, Carmen Wallace, and Taymon Domzalski, but those players were not the dominant sort of recruits that began filtering in when Krzyzewski came back.

Those began with a three man class of athletic wing players (Chris Carrawell, Nate James, and Mike Chappelle). The next season Duke brough in a lightning quick guard (William Avery) along with two of the best players ever to play at Duke in the post (Elton Brand and Shane Battier), as well as a top five talent (Chris Burgess) - the Killer B's, as they were called, began a run of Duke dominance over the ACC and NCAA that hadn't been seen for many years.

A look at the recruiting classes following K's return:

1996- Carrawell, James, Chappelle
1997- Avery, Brand, Burgess (Utah), Battier
1998- Corey Maggette
1999- Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Casey Sanders, Nick Horvath
2000- Chris Duhon
2001- Daniel Ewing
2002- J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery, Lee Melchionni, Shavlik Randolph, Michael Thompson
2003- Luol Deng, Kris Humphries (Released from LOI)
2004- Shaun Livingston (NBA), DeMarcus Nelson, David McClure
2005- Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus, Jamal Boykin, Eric Boateng, Martynas Pocius
2006- Lance Thomas, Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek
2007- Kyle Singler, Taylor King, Nolan Smith

That 10 year span has more McDonalds All-Americans than any other program in the country. And yet most analsysts would point to the class of 2004 as the "dipping point" for recruiting results. But was it really? Duke brought in just one player in 2000, 2001, and 2003, meaning that the class of 2002 was forced into action much earlier - leaving Duke with a very inexperienced lineup. It also meant that the Blue Devils would absolutely have to recruit big groups in the coming seasons. And that's where the foundation for Duke's down season in 2006-2007 began.

When Shaun Livingston picked the NBA over Duke out of Peoria High, the Blue Devils lost the impact player of the class of 2004. The next recruit, Nelson, has spent more than half of his three years in Durham rehabilitating injuries that, coupled with the need of another strong rebounder due to other roster shortcomings, have limited the kind of production you'd expect from California's all-time leading scorer. The same injury story has been true of McClure, who just completed his first full season and put up respectable numbers for a sixth or seventh man. However, due to the lack of an upperclassmen on the roster, the 6'5 third year sophomore was forced into a much bigger role than that.

Similarly the class of 2005 has also struggled since arriving on campus. Loaded with three McDonald's All Americans, the California Player of the Year, and one of the top foreign born players, the current sophomore class had all the promise of the previous large classes. Unfortunately for Duke, 40% of that class (Boykin and Boateng) have already transferred out of the program, while another (Pocius) is the subject of constant departure (Professional career in Europe) rumors. The best player from that class, McRoberts, is widely thought to be already on his way to shake hands with David Stern, leaving Duke's 2005 top rated class consisting solely of Greg Paulus. Hardly the kind of junior crop that will inspire the kind of awe and respect the Blue Devil program used to enjoy.

If McRoberts ends up in the NBA and Pocius also leaves, it will leave Duke back where they started in 2002 and that doesn't begin to address any subsequent attrition of the current group of freshmen.

It's far too early to begin analyzing the class of 2006 at this point, but following their initial season in Durham there is cause to hope for significant improvement following a solid off-season. Especially with the incoming group from the class of 2007.

The best player in the class in the early part of the season was Scheyer - who coincidentally started most of the year. But after torching arch rival North Carolina in Cameron, the 6'5 freshman began to slow down as the high number of minutes and general wear and tear of the season caught up to him, and his production began to slip, though he continued to log more minutes per game than his three classmates combined.

Luckily for Duke, things began to click for Gerald Henderson right around the time Scheyer hit the wall. Unfortunately, that was right around the time Tyler Hansbrough's nose connected with Henderson's forearm - effectively stifling the freshman's momentum. Henderson was arguably Duke's best scoring option during the later part of February, and appears to be the most offensively gifted returning player on next year's roster.

After starting the season with double-doubles in two of his first three games, Zoubek would become a non-factor just as quickly. From January 14th until the season ending loss to Virginia Commonwealth, the 7'1 New Jersey native scored a total of six points, and grabbed just 19 rebounds, while never playing more than 11 minutes.

The fourth member of the class, was also the one with the most interesting recruiting process. After waiting until the 11th hour, Lance Thomas committed to Duke in April of 2006 - a full 10 months after the other three freshmen. Unfortunately for Thomas, that prolonged recruiting session probably over-inflated the expectations of his ability to contribute in year one. Despite starting 18 of 31 games this season, Thomas was never the kind of impact player many fans had hoped for - finishing the season averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds, while having a 43 to 1 turnover to assist ratio. With such a rough season there have certainly been many rumors regarding Thomas' possible departure. Programs such as Louisville, Rutgers, and Seton Hall have all been mentioned as possible destinations - and have reportedly made overtures through various back channels.

If the Blue Devils are able to squash those rumors and retain Thomas' services, things could be looking up in the immediate future. The Blue Devils have addressed their scoring issues by bringing the trio of Singler, Smith, and King. All of whom are adept at filling up the scoring column. And then there's the issue of Patrick Patterson - who enjoyed an audience of Krzyzewski, Johnny Dawkins, and Chris Collins at his Friday night state semi-final game in West Virginia as Duke hopes to add the 6'8, 240 pound bruising big forward to their class. With McRoberts' likely departure, the West Virginia native has become one of the most important recruits in the last 10 years for the Duke program - something Duke will be pressing as the final stretch comes.

Should the Blue Devils come from behind and win the Patrick Patterson sweepstakes, while also retaining Thomas, it would give them a solid foundation for a run at reclaiming the ACC's throne - and to make serious noise nationally in the years to come.

For more on the change in the recruiting landscape around the Duke program, check out the thoughts of TDD's Mike Corey in our NEW Premium Forums. Click here for more.

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