- The Duke Blue Devils have boasted the country’s top recruiting class in four of the past five seasons.
- Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have yet to secure a single recruit in the class of 2019.
- With two seniors on this year’s roster and at least three players expected to depart early for the NBA draft, the Blue Devils are getting desperate for commitments for next season.
- Do recruits know something about Coach K’s future that nobody else knows?
The Duke Blue Devils have dominated the college basketball recruiting competition ever since legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski started embracing the increasingly popular one-and-done mentality. Duke has secured the top recruiting class in the country in four of the past five years and seen 11 players depart early for the NBA in that span.
So why has the legendary Coach K and his staff failed to secure a single recruit for the 2019 season?
There are a couple of different explanations swirling through the college basketball universe, but the most probable reason why the Blue Devils are suddenly struggling in the recruiting arena is the departure of assistant coach Jeff Capel. The former Duke guard spent nine years as head coach at VCU and Oklahoma, where he recruited the likes of Eric Maynor and Blake Griffin to join his program. Capel returned to his alma mater in 2011 and earned the title of best college basketball recruiter from ESPN in 2016.
In March 2018, the Pittsburgh Panthers hired Capel as their new head coach after going 0-18 in the ACC through the 2017-18 season. Just two months later, Capel had already lured in the program’s best recruiting class in five years.
Losing a firepower like Capel would diminish any program’s recruiting arsenal, and the Blue Devils are no exception. But given the fact that Duke has advanced to the Sweet 16 in three of the past four years and is second only to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in the number of players currently in the NBA, it seems odd that they have yet to secure a single commitment from the class of 2019.
Another possible explanation: Krzyzewski’s future in Durham is uncertain.
Coach K has had six surgeries in the past two years. He’s 71 years old, and he has just brought in a particularly strong recruiting class, which includes 2018’s top three prospects. If the Blue Devils live up to the hype surrounding them this season, it’s possible that the former head coach of Team USA could step away from the court once and for all. If Krzyzewski’s recruiting staff has been transparent with recruits about the Hall of Fame coach’s retirement timeline, it would certainly explain why so many top recruits have decided to pass on Duke for next season.
When I floated this theory past some of the most committed fans on Duke’s campus, many rightly questioned why this news has not yet leaked. If Coach K does indeed plan to retire, I suspect that the program would force recruits to sign non-disclosure agreements before disclosing this information.
All of this is based on a hunch, and I have no concrete information to confirm this hypothesis. However, there is one more piece of the puzzle that lends itself to the Krzyzewski retirement theory: the Blue Devils’ lone commitment in the class of 2019—five-star forward Joey Baker—reclassified to join this season’s squad in May.
Perhaps this is merely the nature of college basketball recruiting in the modern era. Top recruits are more likely than ever to wait until the last possible moment before choosing where to play. Duke’s Marvin Bagley III did not officially commit to the Blue Devils until just two weeks before last year’s fall semester classes began. Still, Duke has missed out on five of its five-star prospects this month alone.