Coach K and Duke Cannot Afford to Fall Behind in Recruiting
Amile Jefferson chose to attend Duke yesterday afternoon and it brought a collective sigh of relief to Blue Devils fans across the country. While it was a major addition to the roster, it shouldn't erase the fact that before Jefferson's decision, the Blue Devils had one incoming recruit for the upcoming season.
Getting kids to come to Duke certainly can't be easy, which is why a ton of credit must be given to Coach K for the program he has built. The academic standards at the university are amongst the toughest in the country and, let's face it, a lot of 5-star recruits with NBA aspirations are probably intimidated by that.
And while Coach K certainly gets the most out of any kid he recruits—the 2010 title run is a prime example—he cannot afford to fall behind in the recruiting game, for his sake and Duke's.
As far back as the Scout.com archives go for team recruiting rankings (2005), the Blue Devils have never amassed a No. 1 class. However, they have ranked second twice—once in 2005 and again with the 2011 class.
The rankings aren't overly concerning. Rating kids coming out of high school is not an exact science. There are plenty of factors that determine whether or not a player lives up to expectations. However, when you look at the Blue Devils, they've had quite a few misses over the last half-decade or so.
Austin Rivers was a miss. I can live with that because he just didn't fit right in Duke's system. Perhaps what's more concerning is the number of big men that have failed to live up to their hype coming out of high school.
This is a big concern. No pun intended.
Duke's inability to land and develop high-profile big men has played a major part in the program's struggle to make it past the Sweet 16 in recent years.
That might sound like nit-picking, but as a Duke fan, I expect more than a mere showing in the Sweet 16. I expect runs to, at the very least, the Elite Eight on a regular basis. Does the lack of development of guys like Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, Josh McRoberts, Eric Boateng, and Shavlik Randolph fall strictly on the shoulders of the coaching staff?
Absolutely not. In Randolph's case, his career was plagued by injury.
However there is a trend there and it's not a good one. Out of the aforementioned names, only Zoubek and Miles Plumlee were not McDonald's High School All-Americans. While some label that honor as meaningless, it's hard to ignore.
By now everyone is aware of the comments Tony Parker made about Duke during his recruitment. In an article for ESPNHS, Parker had the following to say about recent Blue Devils big men:
"Mason was a monster in high school," Parker said. "Don't get me wrong, he's really good now, but I thought he would be much further along."
As if that wasn't enough, Parker decided to pile on:
"Exactly," Parker said. "I really like Duke. I just can't honestly say that I'm 100 percent comfortable with a guard teaching me about the post. Coach [Steve] Wojciechowski is like 5-foot-6."
The second quote from Parker is the most telling and echoes the thoughts of many Duke fans. Wojo has been the big man coach for a little over a decade now and the list of successful big men under the former floor-slapper is lacking.
He deserves credit for motivating Thomas and Zoubek during the 2010 championship push, which is not something to dismiss, but that title run also sweeps the struggles those two men endured during their first three-and-a-half years under the rug.
Coach K's seemingly blind loyalty to Wojo is prohibiting Duke to recruit and develop top-notch big men and that's something he needs to realize. I'm not saying Wojo needs to go, I'm just saying he needs to get away from the big men.
Big men are only half of the story though.
In general, Coach K and staff need to step their game up, not only on the national scale, but within the ACC as well. With the team down Tobacco Road always recruiting well and the resurgence of North Carolina State, the Blue Devils can't afford to fall behind in the recruiting war.
Amile Jefferson salvaged the 2012 class. Jabari Parker would sure look nice next year.
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