Jabari Parker, a talented 6-8 forward out of Chicago, chooses the Blue Devils over Michigan St. and UF. (US Presswire)
Not that there was ever much debate, but now you can mark Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski for at least another year.
After landing one of the top high school players in the country, next season’s Duke team will be more talented than this year’s group, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Jabari Parker, a skilled and talented 6-foot-8 forward out of Chicago, chose the Blue Devils over Michigan State and Florida on Thursday afternoon. Parker will team with Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who is sitting out this year, to form one of the top forward tandems in the nation next season. Duke will also return a third possible first-round draft pick in versatile shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon — as well as emerging point guard Quinn Cook, who has made significant strides this season as a reliable floor leader.
Obviously, the losses of three seniors — Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly (OK, four since I can’t forget about one of my favorite walk-ons, Todd Zafirovski) — will be significant. However, the Blue Devils will feature more depth. Parker joins Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye in the freshman class. Jones is a big-time shooter out of Texas and while I have only seen Ojeleye play once, the word is that he’s an athletic wing who can shoot it and also brings toughness to the table. Marshall Plumlee won’t have to do much more than bring energy, rebound, run the court and block shots — areas in which he’s more than capable. Fellow sophomores Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy will both have to fight for minutes — and it won’t be easy with the duo of Parker and Hood coming into Durham next season.
Coach K should also possess upperclassmen leadership and toughness from a couple of role players in Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston.
There was a time a couple years ago when a few of those close to Krzyzewski weren’t certain he’d still be coaching in 2014, especially if the Blue Devils weren’t getting it done at the highest level in recruiting circles. However, Duke was fortunate to add Hood this past offseason, Jones has turned into more than just a one-dimensional shooter and Ojeleye is considered a consensus top-50 player.
Duke will be loaded next year. Seth Davis of CBSSports/SI.com fame said his alma mater will be the preseason No. 1 team in the land next season and while that could be the case, the Blue Devils will have some competition for that spot. It’s still unclear who John Calipari will retain from this year’s group at Kentucky — and he could add a freshman class with four of maybe even five top-10 players. He already has commitments from the Harrison Twins and James Young — is considered the co-favorite for the No. 1 player, Andrew Wiggins, and is among the leaders for power forward Julius Randle.
I know it’s premature (but still fun). Here are seven more teams that could have a case for the spot (if things fall into place):
Kentucky – An educated guess as to who returns from this year’s team is Kyle Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow and maybe Willie Cauley-Stein. I’d be shocked if Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress or Archie Goodwin were back as all will likely be top-10 picks. Add in Andrew and Aaron Harrison, wing James Young and maybe Andrew Wiggins — the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Arizona – The Wildcats should bring back all of their freshmen big men, add a true point guard in T.J. McConnell, also return Nick Johnson and Gabe York — and add a top wing recruit in Rondae Jefferson. The key here is whether they can get uncommitted big man Aaron Gordon, and also whether Jefferson can step in and replace the Solomon Hill/Kevin Parrom wing combo.
Florida – The Gators lose Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton, but should bring back Patric Young, have Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete and add a couple of elite frosh in point guard Kasey Hill and long and athletic big man Chris Walker. Billy Donovan also has two transfers — Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris — sitting out and freshman Michael Frazier should have an expanded role.
Syracuse – Likely depends whether Michael Carter-Williams decided to return. Cuse should have bigs Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman back, along with C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney, Baye Moussa Keita and Jerami Grant. Jim Boeheim adds Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, along with freshmen Tyler Roberson and Tyler Ennis.
Indiana – The big if here is obviously Cody Zeller. I don’t expect him back, but he is a different type of kid and it could happen. Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell with a year under his belt would have to be in the mix. Hoosiers also add a stud in long wing Noah Vonleh — who will make people in Bloomington quickly forget about Christian Watford.
Michigan – Will Trey Burke return for one more year? Tim Hardaway Jr. is only a junior (that’s confusing), Glenn Robinson’s kid is a terrific player and fellow frosh Nik Stauskas is one of the best shooters in America. John Beilein also brings back all of his big men: Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford — and brings in a player I loved last summer in small forward Zak Irvin.
Louisville – The Cards will definitely lose Peyton Siva — and could potentially lose Gorgui Dieng and even Russ Smith. If Dieng and Smith return, though, along with Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell, that’s a team that truly only needs a point guard. Enter Chris Jones, the top junior college point guard in the nation. Rick Pitino also adds Terry Rozier and Anton Gill — who would provide depth in the backcourt.