The first time Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski texted class-of-2016 commit Frank Jackson, the 5-star point guard from Utah believed that his teammates were playing a prank on him. Even though Jackson, a former BYU commit, had heard from powerhouse college programs from all over the country throughout high school, Coach K getting in touch was different.
"You don't want to boast about it but you're like, 'Hey, I just got off the phone with Coach K,'" Jackson said.
Duke got involved later than many other programs for Jackson, but the Blue Devils were able to close ground quickly, thanks in part to Coach K's Hall of Fame track record and tremendous pedigree with putting recent 5-star prospects into the NBA.
The only program that can match Duke's recent success on the court (and on the recruiting trail) is Kentucky, which, similar to Duke, can come in later than many for an elite 5-star prospect and still land a commitment.
The two titans of college basketball matched up once again in the Champions Classic at the United Center on Tuesday, as Kentucky's group of highly touted recruits earned a 74-63 victory in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
"When a kid you're recruiting tells you that Duke or Kentucky reached out, you start to get a little anxious about landing the commitment," one Big Ten assistant coach told Bleacher Report.
Duke and Kentucky are the top two schools in the country when it comes to recruiting elite college basketball prospects. Both juggernauts are coached by Hall of Famers and own national titles in the last five seasons. At one point last season, Duke and Kentucky had nine McDonald's All-Americans—each. If you don't think recruiting Burger Boys matters, realize that Maryland's 2002 team and UConn's 2014 team are the only two national title winners without a McDonald's All-American since the game's inception in 1978.
Neither school has had worse than the No. 3 recruiting class in the country in each of the last three seasons, according to the 247 Sports composite rankings. The last two years, they've finished No. 1 and No. 2. When an elite prospect hears from Duke or Kentucky, it tends to mean something a bit more right now.
"You've just seen [Coach K] play for a national championship," 5-star 2017 guard Gary Trent Jr. said of being recruited by both storied programs. "You've seen [Kentucky] on ESPN, so you can say that it's surreal in a sense."
That surreal feeling seems to apply to many of the 5-star prospects who start to get recruited by Duke and Kentucky. Even though Duke commit Jayson Tatum comes from a basketball family and his godfather is former NBA veteran Larry Hughes, it was still unforgettable to hear from his future coach for the first time.
"Growing up, I never thought I would be good enough for Coach K to call me and want me to come to that school," Tatum said. "At first I was just in shock. But I love Coach K and the coaching staff and just the environment, and I just can't wait to be there."
|Duke and Kentucky's recruiting domination since 2013|
|5-star prospects||McDonald's All-Americans|
Elite prospects are used to hearing from blue-blood college basketball programs and dealing with coaches who are annually in the NCAA tournament. The extensive NBA connections of Krzyzewski and John Calipari separate them from their college basketball-coaching peers. Five-star prospects are interested to learn from NBA players, and Calipari and Coach K have the best connections to those players.
Just look at Calipari bringing all of his NBA players on stage with him during the Hall of Fame induction in September. That kind of tweetable moment plays well in recruiting. Calipari can easily sell potential recruits on putting so many recent Kentucky players in the NBA.
"It's proven: They get guys to where they want to go and help people reach their dreams," 2016 5-star center Marques Bolden said of Kentucky. "I see how hard they work. I think they separate themselves just by the way they handle themselves as professionals. Just the way they work. You have no options but to succeed at Kentucky."
Krzyzewski has put plenty of players in the NBA himself. Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 pick in 2011, and three more one-and-done Duke players were selected in the first round of this year's NBA draft. And it certainly doesn't hurt Coach K that he is a trusted adviser to the NBA's best, such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, thanks to his gold-medal-winning stint as USA Basketball's head coach.
"It's the greatest source of knowledge there is. The stories he tells, the examples he has," Jackson said of Coach K. "He was in my house a couple of weeks ago. He met my family and we had dinner and there was a part where we just sat and talked about basketball and what I'm going to do this season. I can listen to him talk basketball for hours."
The list of accomplishments achieved by Coach K and Calipari speak for themselves, but they're also tireless workers on the recruiting trail. Krzyzewski flying all over the country for in-home visits and open gyms is one example. Another can be found in the amount of time Calipari and his staff spent watching 2016 5-star commit Sacha Killeya-Jones during the July live-evaluation period.
Killeya-Jones was previously committed to Virginia before opening things up in his recruitment this summer. When being interviewed about schools during the July live-evaluation period, the first thing Killeya-Jones mentioned to Bleacher Report was how Kentucky had been to every one of his games. Calipari and his assistants constantly tracking Killeya-Jones clearly made a strong impression on him.
Eventually the Wildcats won out for Killeya-Jones over North Carolina, NC State, Kansas, Florida and others.
While American basketball fans are very familiar with the success of Duke and Kentucky, both programs have also drawn worldwide attention. Calipari, in particular, has started to recruit international players hard the past few classes.
Coach K has the USA Basketball card to play, but Calipari has generated a lot of interest among international players. Karl-Anthony Towns played for Calipari as a 15-year-old on the Dominican Republic's senior national team when he was the head coach. The future No. 1 pick eventually decided to keep playing for Coach Cal at Kentucky. In the past few classes, other decorated players with international backgrounds have committed to Kentucky as well.
In the Kentucky class of 2015 and class of 2016 alone, Skal Labissiere (Haiti), Isaac Humphries (Australia), Tai Wynyard (New Zealand), Mychal Mulder and Jamal Murray (Canada) hail from outside America. The Kentucky brand has become international thanks to television exposure and the number of prominent NBA players the program has produced.
"The first thing Isaac [Humphries] ever watched when he started his recruitment was UK All-Access. He immediately was interested. The facilities, the crowd, it's a big sell," Fox Sports Australia's Olgun Uluc told Bleacher Report. "Going to somewhere like Duke or Kentucky has a superiority factor. Everyone knows they're great programs."
As long as Duke and Kentucky continue to land top-three classes, the current cycle of national title contenders using copious numbers of All-Americans will continue. In the last three classes, Duke and Kentucky have dominated the recruiting trail, and both schools are in strong position for this year's loaded 2016 class.
In the class of 2016, Jackson and Tatum are joined by 5-star in-state forward Harry Giles and 4-star forward Javin DeLaurier in Duke's class. Kentucky counters with Killeya-Jones, 5-star point guard De'Aaron Fox, 5-star power forward Edrice "Bam" Adebayo and 5-star big man Wenyen Gabriel. Both programs are still in the mix for a handful of 5-star 2016 prospects. It's not out of the question that Duke and Kentucky finish No. 1 and No. 2 in team recruiting rankings for the third straight year.
It's hard to say how long this current Duke and Kentucky recruiting domination will continue—especially as Coach K approaches his final years of coaching—but they don't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Recruiting ratings via 247Sports.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information were obtained firsthand.