As fans and supporters of the Duke basketball program can attest, seeing highly touted recruits commit to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils has become an annual expectation. In retrospect, it's also likely for Duke fans to witness at least one talented player either jumping to the NBA or graduating from the university at the end of each season.
While most college basketball powerhouses may have trouble adjusting to different lineups and strategies, as well as losing significant players each season, the task of building a successful team year in and year out has become a trademark of Duke basketball.
The statement, "Duke doesn't rebuild, they reload," pretty much sums up the atmosphere around the Blue Devils faithful—although good players may depart, there's never a minimum of talent coming in that will look to contribute immediately.
That certainly seems to be the case for the upcoming recruiting class.
In the absence of last year's stars—Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler—the incoming freshmen are going to be looked upon much more frequently in Durham than the past few seasons. With players like Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee, Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy earning spots on the roster, however, that minor setback could become a major advantage.
What exactly makes each of this year's freshmen stand out amongst others in the ACC? What standard must each player uphold to become potential Duke greats?
The following slideshow analyzes each of the five recruits heading to Durham next season and what sets them apart as future Blue Devils.
Height/Weight: 6'5", 180 lbs.
Primary Position: SG
As I have previously stated, Austin Rivers has the potential to become the face of the Duke basketball program. While this role would garner national attention, it would also bring about unwanted pressure and critiques concerning his level of play each contest.
Although most freshmen couldn't handle this role, Rivers is the perfect example of a young player who could succeed in the spotlight.
Averaging 28.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his final year, Rivers led Winter Park High School to its second consecutive state championship during his senior season, and was named the Gatorade Florida Player of the Year.
In addition to being named an All-American by several publications, Rivers also competed in the Jordan Brand Classic, the Nike Hoop Summit and a number of other events. After being named either the No. 1 or No. 2 freshman by virtually every national recruiting service, Rivers is said to be the "star" of the 2011 class.
As for his playing style, Rivers is a lethal shooter and a natural-born scorer.
Rivers likes to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line and doesn't hesitate to take the game-winning shot. Standing at 6'5", he is destined to cause matchup problems for almost every guard in the ACC next season—especially if he is playing at the point.
The chances of Austin being named next year's point guard are slim to none, considering he loves to score and rarely thinks to distribute first. However, if Coach K is looking for a playmaking, high-profile guard to lead the team, Rivers is definitely the guy for the job.
If Rivers can develop his defensive skills, as well as learn to drive to the basket from both sides, he could become one of the best—if not the best—freshmen in the country next season.
Height/Weight: 6'0", 160 lbs.
Primary Position: PG
Quinn Cook is definitely the most intriguing player in Duke's upcoming freshman class.
While you pretty much know what you're going to get with Rivers, Cook is the complete opposite. He could end up being a major role player, or he could eventually become the go-to player as he develops into a collegiate athlete.
During his senior season at Oak Hill Academy, Cook averaged 19.1 points, 10.9 assists and 2.5 steals a game while leading his team to a 30-4 overall record. Whether it was finding an open player or scoring the winning basket, Cook was an established high school veteran who improved every season.
As a basketball player, Cook especially flourishes when the ball is in his hands as he looks for open teammates first, then his shots second. While it is a major advantage that he is quite fast and can make accurate passes, the downfall for Cook may come down to his shooting.
Sure, he can score in a variety of different ways—including on the fast break, driving in the paint and from mid-range—but when it comes to knocking down shots from the outside, don't always expect Cook to drain his three-pointers.
Another glaring weakness is his size. While point guards aren't always looked upon to be the tallest players on the court, standing at just 6'0", Cook may have trouble holding his own against the stronger guards the ACC has to offer.
While shooting is not his forte, and his height and size may give him issues, Cook is a four-year point guard who will cause havoc on offense and develop into a great defender on the perimeter.
It's also hard not to overlook another recent Oak Hill and Duke graduate who excelled beyond his "predicted" potential (Nolan Smith).
Height/Weight: 6'11", 225 lbs.
Primary Position: C
The third edition of the Plumlee family has arrived in Durham and will help form a triple-threat of brothers in the paint for the Blue Devils next season. And while older siblings Miles and Mason may have more experience than Marshall, that doesn't necessarily mean the youngest brother won't receive much playing time.
Averaging 11.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game as a senior for Christ School, Marshall became a force to be reckoned with on defense. He also worked on his conditioning and speed, as well as developing his offensive skill set during his final year.
Although the majority of the shots he takes are from very close range, just as Mason attempted last season, Marshall is beginning to work on his mid-range shooting. While that may not be a major addition to his already-talented style of play, it will make him a very difficult player to guard as a center or power forward.
In a matter of three seasons, Duke fans have witnessed the inability by both Miles and Mason to play consistently from game to game. While they both can put up decent numbers over a short span of time, neither has been able to live up to his potential over the long haul since stepping on to campus.
Now it's up to Marshall to truly show his brothers what playing consistently well on both the offensive and defensive side of the court can do for players of their caliber. It is uncertain, however, if he can propel his game to different heights than we have already seen from his brothers.
Possessing athleticism greater than that of Mason and better rebounding ability than that of Miles, Marshall will certainly be the best Plumlee brother of the group—but can he put his brothers' pasts behind him and live up to his potential?
Height/Weight: 6'7", 205 lbs.
Primary Position: SF
Michael Gbinije is a perfect fit for Duke University. As he is almost certain to stick around all four years, Gbinije will look to become an important role player who could see a lot of early time as a freshman—especially after Kyle Singler's graduation.
Gbinije, a 2011 product out of Richmond, Va.'s Benedictine School, had offers from more than a dozen schools, including Georgetown, Connecticut and Villanova, before committing to the Blue Devils before the start of his senior season.
In verbally committing to Duke, Gbinije said:
"I think I'm a good fit because they're perimeter-oriented. They use a whole bunch of guards, and they're versatile. Coach K gives them a lot of freedom on the court." (Source: Associated Press)
As a senior in high school, Gbinije has been compared to former Blue Devil Kyle Singler, both because of his attitude and his playing style. The comparison is fairly accurate; Gbinije is a player who allows the game to come to him, never looks to do too much with the ball and has a sweet shooting motion.
He also has a solid (yet not massive) frame, is an outstanding athlete and is definitely equipped with a college-ready playing style.
While he may not be the fastest player driving to the basket, as well as the greatest defender at this point in his career, Gbinije is no doubt a player who is willing to put in the time and effort to take his game to the next level.
Gbinije will, as previously stated, fit perfectly into Duke's system, and after working on his defense and speed when driving to the basket, will become a major role player for the Blue Devils.
Height/Weight: 6'8", 220 lbs.
Primary Position: SF
Alex Murphy, just as Gbinije, has often been compared to former Blue Devil Kyle Singler. Murphy is also following in the footsteps of future teammate Andre Dawkins, as he has decided to graduate high school and attend college one year early—much like Dawkins did just two years ago.
The decision also gives Duke five recruits in its freshman class for the 2011-2012 season.
Murphy, speaking to FOXSports.com’s Jeff Goodman on enrolling into Duke early, said, "It was a difficult decision, but I felt it was best for me. It’s a great opportunity."
Murphy, who is a skilled and versatile forward, has the size and athleticism to play at either forward position while he's at Duke. He will most likely spend the majority his time at small forward, however, filling the void left by Singler.
Murphy is regarded as a constant mismatch problem, and because of his size and ability to handle the ball, is considered to be a "hopeful" upgrade to Singler. It will also be interesting to see how his game translates to college, although he will have to be more aggressive on the boards if he wants to receive ample playing time.
While he has the skill set to be just as good as Singler, Murphy must work on getting stronger physically in order to hang down low with the big and talented forwards of the ACC. He must also work on his lateral quickness and athleticism, as he could be nearly unstoppable on the fast break.
Murphy could potentially be just as good or better than Singler, and if he makes the necessary adjustments to his game, Murphy could become one of the hardest players to guard in the country.