Believe it or not, there was actually a time when college basketball players stayed in college for three, or — get this — the full four years. Yet, somewhat ironically, when I began following the sport back in 1999, the team I rooted for religiously — Duke University — was led by sophomore forward Elton Brand, freshmen guards Corey Maggette and William Avery, and the lethal senior shooting guard that was Trajan Langdon.
That was arguably the most talented Duke team I had seen up to that point, as they inevitably finished the season 37-2, with its only two losses coming to Cincinnati (in The Great Alaska Shootout) and UConn, which came in the national championship game.
After the season ended, head coach Mike Krzyzewski got scorned by his young talent. Elton Brand was the top pick in the NBA draft, and Maggette and Avery were each selected in the 1st round as well. And that was where Coach K’s recruiting philosophy altered: No longer was he interested in the typical one-and-done-types; he wanted players he could build a program around.
Two years later, Duke again found themselves playing in the national championship. This time it was led by senior Shane Battier — the player of the year in 2001 — as well as sophomores Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr., and freshman Chris Duhon. Aside Williams, whom the Bulls made their #2 overall pick in 2003, all of the rest of those players are still in the NBA right now.
Oh yeah, and that magical 2001 Duke team won it all that year.
If I’m not mistaken, between 1999 and 2011, only one Duke player went to the NBA after only one season in college. That was Luol Deng. Kyrie Irving was, of course, a one-and-done player as well, but that happened in 2012, after Mike Krzyzewski’s recruiting philosophy shifted. Again.
In the current climate of the NCAA as it pertains to basketball, playing in college is analogous to being part of a farm system in baseball: The professional franchise can scout and track progress without really having to dig too deeply into their pockets. (In baseball, minor league players are paid roughly $40,000 a year, which is peanuts. In college, athletes don’t get paid a dime.)
However, the end-all is winning. Coaches are paid to win games, so they will do some shady things to get themselves and their program the necessary recognition to help provide revenue to the university. That’s what it comes down to.
When Duke had J.J. Redick, Sheldon Williams, Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts, that was a damn good team. Loaded with talent. But it was “program talent,” not future NBA talent, and future NBA talent is what wins in college. When Duke again won the national championship in 2010 — Coach K’s 4th — it was a team led by Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Brian Zoubek. It may also be the last of a dying breed of program players who stuck it out for four years to win a national title. You just don’t see that shit anymore.
The best players in college stay for one year, get drafted highly to go to the NBA, and the players who remain in college are program guys. That has kind of turned into the model of success as far as college basketball is concerned: Integrate a couple star one-and-done-types into a roster of seasoned program guys. And that’s exactly what Duke has turned themselves into.
Today was one of the landmark recruiting days in the history of the Duke program, as both the #1 player in the country — Jahlil Okafor — and the #1 point guard in America, Tyus Jones, committed to play at the start of the 2014 season.
This is the depth chart they will be joining according to class in 2014:
Assuming Jabari Parker leaves for the NBA after this year, and with the better-likely-than-not chance Rodney Hood opts to travel the same route, it remains a loaded roster capable of going 10 deep. Tyus Jones will be an instant impact contributor from the point guard spot, likely moving the scoring-first Quinn Cook off the ball into more of a playmaker role.
The lineup might look like this:
Of course, who knows? Maybe Jabari Parker is a program guy after all.