Great season. So close. Now scrap everything.
Going forward, at least for the foreseeable future, that will be the Duke basketball mantra.
The Blue Devils’ overtime loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight cost the team a chance at the Final Four, but it also ended an era in Duke basketball. While coach Mike Krzyzewski has embraced one-and-done players for the past decade, this year’s team featured perhaps the last of his era — a senior star.
As Kansas cut down the nets in Omaha, Grayson Allen’s Duke career ended. Allen departs with a national championship, nearly 2,000 career points and All-ACC and All-American honors.
“Look, I love that kid,” Krzyzewski said. “For the rest of the time I coach here, for however long that is, I’m not going to have a senior like that because they’re going to be too good and they’re going to leave.”
Just look at some of the players Allen called teammates during his four years at Duke, and it underscores just how transient the Blue Devils’ players have been: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones are all in their third NBA seasons. Brandon Ingram is in his second. Jayson Tatum is a rookie. All were one-and-done teammates of Allen, as are the stars of this year’s team — Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.
All of which means that Duke will look very different next year. In all likelihood, the entire starting lineup will be gone. In addition to Allen, Bagley and Carter, point guard Trevon Duval and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. are likely to depart. Neither is slated to be a lottery pick in early mock drafts, but it’s doubtful either can improve their draft stock by returning, especially considering that Krzyzewski has already recruited behind them.
Even with all the losses, there’s a good chance Duke will open next season as the top team in the nation, on the strength of the latest recruiting class — a group that includes the top three seniors in the nation in forwards R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson. Point guard Tre Jones is the ninth-best senior. Williamson won the dunk contest at the McDonald’s High School All American Game, and Reddish shared the honors in the event’s 3-point contest.
Barring any transfers, Duke’s bench should provide depth to next year’s team. Without a big-man recruit in the mix, Marques Bolden should get the chance to prove his NBA readiness, provided he can stay healthy for a season — the primary reason he’s still a Blue Devil heading into his third season. Javin DeLaurier is also a valuable dirty-work player who provides a rebounding spark. Alex O’Connell could develop into a slashing scorer from the guard position. One of those three will likely take the fifth starting spot, alongside the four freshmen.
While Bolden, DeLaurier and O’Connell received fairly consistent playing time this season, forwards Jack White and Justin Robinson and point guard Jordan Goldwire were hot and cold. All three, but particularly Goldwire, could see expanded roles next season.
Just as substantial as the on-court changes may be the Blue Devils’ look on the bench next season. The Pitt vacancy could end up attracting one of Krzyzewski’s top assistants. Last week, it was rumored that Coach K was pushing Jon Scheyer, the junior member of the staff, for the head job at Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, however, Jeff Capel wound up landing the job.
The loss of Capel is a major blow to the Duke program. He has been the driving force behind Duke’s one-and-done recruiting success, doing much of the heavy lifting of relationship building before Krzyzewski closed the deal with the nation’s top talent. Furthermore, Capel was considered the heir apparent, waiting to step in when the 71-year-old Krzyzewski retires. Capel turned down overtures from Arizona State and Georgia Tech in recent years, presumably because the Duke job was in his crosshairs. Jumping to a Pitt team that was winless in the ACC last season and stands to lose most of the current roster to transfer seems like an odd choice for Capel.
At the very least, it seems to imply that Krzyzewski will remain at Duke for the next few years, even if the prospect of competing with either of his assistants on a regular basis seems like something he’d want to avoid.
Assuming Capel doesn’t take any current Duke staffers with him to Pitt, the departure would likely earn Nolan Smith a full-time assistant job. He was a special assistant this year. Greg Paulus, who spent last season on the Louisville staff, is also an option.