Duke heads local contingent of NBA Draft hopefuls

Five Blue Devils, two Deacons and a Wolfpack player all hope to hear their names called

Duke forward Paolo Banchero is expected to be one of the first three players selected during Thursday's NBA Draft. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

Turns out there’s one more stop on the Coach K retirement tour.

While Mike Krzyzewski has officially retired as Duke’s head coach and swears he won’t be attending any games next season, he will get one more moment in the sun as five players from his final team are expected to hear their names called at Thursday’s NBA Draft.


Whether or not Coach K makes the trip to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to watch the draft in person, he’ll be at top of mind as the first former Blue Devil is expected to be taken within the top three picks. Even the most optimistic mock drafts don’t project that all five Duke players will be taken in the first round, but all should get selected at some point during the two-round event.

Two Demon Deacons, an NC State Wolfpack standout and a former Tar Heel should round out the North Carolina contingent expected to be taken by NBA teams on Thursday night. Here’s a look at the local players to watch.

Paolo Banchero, Duke: The freshman superstar struggled with cramps early in the season and was involved in a traffic stop, receiving a minor charge as a passenger while a teammate was cited for drunk driving. Those are about the only question marks for the near 7-footer who can handle like an off guard. The Houston Rockets worked him out and immediately traded their current starting power forward, clearing a spot to take Banchero with the third pick. Most mocks have him there, although CBSSports.com has him at No. 1, based on his NBA career projection.

AJ Griffin, Duke: Another one-and-done freshman, Griffin is a consensus lottery pick with most mocks slotting him to the Knicks at No. 11, where he would join former Blue Devil RJ Barrett. He has spent the pre-draft process showing teams that he didn’t get to show all his skills while at Duke.

“For us, he had to play a role where his shooting was a weapon,” Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell said. “So we told him, just be the best shooter in the country. But as these guys are seeing on the next level, he can go off the bounce.”

Mark Williams, Duke: The sophomore big man is likely to be the first non-freshman from Duke to be drafted in the first round since Grayson Allen in 2018. Like Griffin, he didn’t get to demonstrate his full game with the Blue Devils and spent the last few months showcasing his talents for NBA teams.

“You know these guys all want to shoot 3s and be Steph Currys,” said Carrawell, “and we told him that’s not going to happen. … He was able to show that he could make jump shots, which I think a lot of NBA teams don’t know because he didn’t get to shoot a lot of them, but his potential is incredible.”

Williams is mocked as high as 13th to Charlotte and as low as 18th to Chicago.

Walker Kessler, Auburn: While he played this past year for the Tigers, Kessler’s name raises eyebrows in the area based on his freshman year at UNC. He entered the transfer portal, and despite Hubert Davis name-dropping him in his introductory press conference, he held firm in his decision to leave. The big man is expected to go in the first round, as high as 23rd (Philadelphia) and as low as 29th (Memphis).

Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons’ junior is the only other consensus first-rounder from a North Carolina school. He has captured teams’ attention with his shooting ability and has been compared to Gordon Hayward. The Athletic has him going as high as 24th to Milwaukee. Yahoo has him going to an impressive group of shooters in Golden State at No. 28. Sporting News has him dropping to the second pick in Round 2.

Trevor Keels, Duke: The third Duke freshman and fourth Blue Devil to go will likely be Keels, who came close to returning to school for another year. “He was torn, man,” said Carrawell. “He was really torn.”

Sporting News thinks his risk will be rewarded with a first-round selection, sending him to Miami at No. 27. Most other mocks have him going in the late 30s in the second round.

Wendell Moore, Duke: The old man of the Duke draft class, Moore left after his junior year and is expected to go in the late 30s as well. CBSSports.com, which ranked players based on their NBA potential not in a true mock draft, had him as the No. 23 prospect in the draft.

“He’s worked out well for the draft,” said Carrawell. “GMs and scouts are hitting me like, ‘Yo. This guy, he’s good.’”

Dereon Seabron, NC State: The Wolfpack sophomore is a likely second-rounder, with mocks slotting him between 49th and 54th.

Alondes Williams, Wake Forest: The ACC Player of the Year is also expected to go in the second round, slotted around 51st or 52nd.