Does Duke’s recruiting success scare you? Well, it shouldn’t.
A friend texted me the other day and said she was scared to death about all these great high school basketball players Duke continues to sign. The Blue Devils, by my last count, have seven freshmen coming in this season, all of whom hope to be one-and-done first-round NBA draft choices.
I told her not to worry, because Duke’s recruiting philosophy over the last seven years works for the players – who indeed get drafted in the first round – but it doesn’t work as well for the Duke team. The Blue Devils have been to one Final Four since 2010, and their record in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t compare to Carolina’s.
You don’t believe that? Well, the Tar Heels have been in the Final Four the last two seasons and matched Duke’s 2015 national championship in Phoenix last April. Over the last seven years, Duke is 14-6 in the NCAA Tournament, including first-round losses in 2012 to Lehigh and 2014 to Mercer. Those teams had one-and-dones Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker. Carolina is 21-6 in NCAA play over the same span, winning at least one game each year.
Besides Rivers and Parker, Duke had Kyrie Irving, Rodney Hood, Ryan Kelly, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Jahil Okafor, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum drafted in the first round. UNC had Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson aand Tony Bradley as first rounders.
Duke fans can say their team had a better head-to-head record against Carolina and won two ACC tournament championships compared to one for UNC in this decade. But the Tar Heels earned more ACC regular season titles than their arch rivals, and they came with fewer highly touted recruits due, in large part, to uncertainty over the NCAA investigation.
So Duke’s one-and-done philosophy does send a lot of kids to the NBA after one year. But, that system doesn’t work out for the Blue Devils quite as well. The recruiting hype will tell you one story, the facts another. No matter how talented, high school stars need time to adjust to college basketball, and for most, that time is more than one season.