With Zion Williamson, Duke Now Has Greatest Modern-Day Recruiting Class

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 24, 2018

Zion Williamson
Zion WilliamsonGregory Payan/Associated Press

Zion Williamson surprised a lot of people by committing to Duke in a live ceremony on ESPN2 on Saturday evening. Though he never officially posted a list of finalists, everyone seemed to believe the phenom from Spartanburg, South Carolina, would choose between Clemson and Kentucky.

Instead, he decided on "joining the brotherhood of Duke University," giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils a group of freshmen unlike anything we've seen before.

(And Kentucky head coach John Calipari was none too pleased about Williamson's decision.)

247Sports' composite rankings list the living, breathing highlight reel as the No. 3 overall player in the 2018 class. This makes him the No. 3 player in Duke's class, as No. 1 R.J. Barrett and No. 2 Cameron Reddish have also committed to the Blue Devils. Let's not forget about Tre Jones either. The younger brother of Tyus is the No. 1 point guard and No. 8 overall recruit in the 2018 class, giving Duke quite the quartet of incoming studs.  

It's possible this is the greatest recruiting class ever assembled in the history of college basketball. However, recruiting rankings weren't really a thing until 2003, making an "all-time best" classification impossible to defend.

There are McDonald's All-American rosters dating back to 1977, but without rankings to go along with them, there's no telling whether a team with three McDonald's AAs was getting a trio of top-five high school players or merely three of the top 25.

Plus, 1977 isn't far back enough to cover any portion of John Wooden's coaching career, and one has to assume UCLA's class with Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes or the one with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lucius Allen and Lynn Shackelford would rank quite well in the 247Sports database.

With the information we have from the past 15 years, though, it's safe to say Duke's 2018 class is already the greatest in the modern era of college basketball recruiting.

R.J. Barrett
R.J. BarrettGregory Payan/Associated Press

Oh, there have been some great classes during that window.

Though no school had previously signed the top three recruits in the nation, there have been three instances of one getting two of the top three: 2009 Kentucky (John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins), 2011 Kentucky (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and 2012 UCLA (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson).

On five occasions, a school has landed at least three of the top 10 players in a recruiting cycle. Kentucky did it three times in 2010, 2011 and 2013, North Carolina did it in 2006 and Duke's current freshmen fit that bill.

Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 8, though, put Duke's 2018 class in a category of its own.

The only one that can even hold a candle to this was Kentucky's aforementioned 2013 class. That year, Calipari signed No. 2 Julius Randle, No. 5 Andrew Harrison, No. 6 Aaron Harrison, No. 9 James Young, No. 10 Dakari Johnson and No. 18 Marcus Lee. Duke has 50 percent of the top eight players for next season, but Kentucky had 50 percent of the top 10 players that year, plus a sixth 5-star guy the Wildcats never figured out how to properly utilize.

Yet, it's hard to argue that Kentucky's 2013 class is better than what Duke has on tap, since it only included one of the top four players and whiffed on the two "can't-miss talents" from that year: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

The only case for ranking that Kentucky class ahead of this Duke class is volume. Maybe the players weren't quite as highly rated, but last time I checked, six 5-star recruits is more than four 5-star recruits. But that segues nicely into what might be the scariest part about this new batch of Blue Devils:

Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel aren't done recruiting.

Cameron Reddish
Cameron ReddishAdam Glanzman/Getty Images

Jordan Tucker transferred to Butler a little over a week ago. Grayson Allen is graduating. And it's hardly unreasonable to assume Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. will all declare for the 2018 NBA draft in June. That would mean six scholarships opening up for a class that is four players deep.

Ignoring the scholarship equation to look at it from a rotation perspective, Duke desperately needs a few more bodies in its backcourt if Allen, Duval and Trent are gone after this season.

As of now, that would leave the Blue Devils with Jones, Alex O'Connell and Jordan Goldwire as their only legitimate options to play the 1 or the 2. Considering O'Connell and Goldwire have averaged a combined total of eight minutes in Duke's last six games decided by fewer than 16 points, that could be one heck of a way to squander this stockpile of frontcourt talent.

Per 247Sports, Duke has offered Romeo Langford (No. 5 overall, No. 1 shooting guard) and Emmitt Williams (No. 24 overall, No. 8 power forward), and it is at least in the running for E.J. Montgomery (No. 15 overall, No. 3 power forward) and Jahvon Quinerly (No. 23 overall, No. 5 point guard).

There's a good chance Coach K and Coach Capel back off from pursuing Williams and Montgomery now that they have three forwards committed, as well as the presumed returns of both Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. But that means Duke has likely started focusing all of its recruiting energy on Langford. And if he becomes the fifth top-eight recruit to choose the Blue Devils, there won't even be words to describe the strength of this class.

Let's assume, however, that this four-man class is what Duke will bring to the table next season. Will that make the Blue Devils the prohibitive favorites to win the national championship?

College Basketball Hall of Fame writer Dick Weiss seems to think so:

Dick Weiss @HoopsWeiss

duke has to be early favorite for 2019 national championship

With six uncommitted top-25 recruits to go along with dozens of NBA draft decisions and hundreds of transfers, it's far too early to say who will sit atop the mountain when all the dust settles. However, a spot in the Top Five of the preseason AP poll should be a foregone conclusion for the Blue Devils.

As far as Duke's competition for that spot is concerned, Villanova is arguably the best team in the country right now, and the Wildcats haven't had a single point scored by a senior. They also have a pair of top-60 recruits committed in next year's class. Odds are Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson both declare for the draft, but if they were to come back, there would be a lot of preseason 40-0 talk in Pennsylvania.

Kentucky should be loaded as well. Maybe Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo declare for the draft, but the bulk of that roster ought to return for another season, joined by three of the top 15 guards in next year's class. Give this team an extra year of experience and a player or two who can reliably make a three-pointer, and it's a serious threat to win the title.

Speaking of Kentucky, the difficulty the Wildcats have had in living up to the potential of their collective talent this season may dissuade people from trusting that Duke's crop of freshmen will jell immediately and become the team to beat.

But that's an argument we can save until late May. Until then, let's just marvel at the recruiting masterpiece Duke has put together and keep an ear to the ground for potential additions to what is already the greatest collection of high school talent in at least 15 years.


Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.     


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