June 28, 2004
DURHAM When you bring the topic up for discussion, most college basketball coaches just shake their head or roll their eyes.
Why don't more programs chose to recruit like Duke? The most common answer: Because only the Blue Devils can get away with it.
The playful debate on the recruiting trail this spring had nothing to do with Duke's admissions standards tougher than most, by the way, but nothing like Stanford's or anything similarly murky. It's the offseason, so most coaches don't like to get too serious.
Instead, many in the profession simply continued to marvel at the way Mike Krzyzewski approaches the team-building process and, specifically, the modern recruiting experience. In late June, at a time when some major programs had 20 or more outstanding scholarship offers and still found reason to chew their fingernails, Coach K had none, and yet he didn't seem to have a worry in the world.
The is the same man, of course, who once targeted five prospects in a single class and ended up signing all five. Five for five. Perfection. A baseball hitter can pull that off once in a while. A good dart thrower can find the bulls-eye five times in a row. But it simply doesn't happen in recruiting, at least not to anyone not named Krzyzewski.
"I'll never forget that," one non-ACC head coach said this spring. "Five for five. That's not recruiting; that's drafting. Coach K is like Red Auerbach, the coach and the general manager. If a coach is honest, he'll tell you he doesn't get half the kids he wants. If you counted the kids who weren't interested in you long enough for you to really recruit them in the first place, I'd bet most coaches don't get 25 percent of the kids they want. But there's Coach K. Five for five. That's amazing to me. Impressive. Unbelievable."
Krzyzewski won't go five-for-five on the recruiting trail this year. In fact, he's already missed two prospects from the Class of 2005. Top-20 Washington forward Micah Downs picked Kansas over a scholarship offer from Duke in the spring. Top-10 Missouri forward Tyler Hansbrough, who eliminated the Blue Devils early in the process despite an offer to play in Durham, will choose from among Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Nevertheless, of course, Duke remains poised to have stop us if you've heard this before one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Entering July, the Blue Devils were one of only two teams (along with Kansas) that had early commitments from two top-25 rising seniors. Before they're finished, there's a very good chance the Devils will have four of the top 25 players in the nation.
No. 1 Class Remains Possible
Indiana power forward Josh McRoberts, who is rated the No. 21 senior in the nation by PrepStars.com, already is in the Duke fold. So is New York point guard Greg Paulus, who is ranked No. 23 by PrepStars.com. Last year, they were the Blue Devils' favorite juniors in America. They received extremely early offers from the Duke staff, and they fairly quickly committed to the Devils, basically before their individualized circuses had begun. They've been able to spend the entire 2004 calendar year in peace, or at least away from the hectic nature of the recruiting process.
"(Committing early) was one of the smartest things I've ever done," McRoberts said. "I look at some of these guys (at summer events), and I feel sorry for them. They're being pulled in 1,000 different directions, and they're being hit with too many opinions at one time. I got to go at my own pace, and it became obvious to me very quickly that Duke was the right place for me. When they offered (a scholarship), I was basically ready."
Other coaches certainly weren't surprised at the early commitments of Paulus and McRoberts to Duke, but some were wondering about Krzyzewski's heartbeat in late June. At that point, commitments were flowing from top prospects on a daily basis, and Duke already had missed out on Downs and Hansbrough, but the Blue Devils didn't have a single scholarship offer out to another member of the rising senior class.
"My heart wouldn't be able to take it," the non-ACC head coach said. "My staff has eight firm scholarship offers out right now, and there's probably another three or four kids where we would take a commitment if they were ready, and I'm still nervous. He's sitting there with two commitments, he doesn't have any scholarship offers out, he just lost two kids (Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston) to the NBA, and he doesn't look even a little bit concerned about anything. I don't know how he does it."
Indeed, the Devils have enough open scholarships to sign six prospects from the Class of 2005. Yet there they were in late June, with two commitments and no other outstanding offers, taking the extra time they felt they needed to further observe some potential targets and to wait for academic information on some others. And everyone knows how chaotic everything gets during and after the shoe camps in early July.
Finally, during the last week of June, Coach K was ready to make his move. One offer went out to Michigan guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. Another reportedly went out to Delaware center Eric Boateng. Both prospects are rated among the top 20 rising seniors in the nation. Both have surprise indicated very strong interest in the Blue Devils.
Of course, nobody will be surprised if Krzyzewski gets commitments from Douglas-Roberts and Boateng and continues on to the top-ranked class in the nation. Again. Just in case, though, Duke is keeping in touch with Texas swingman C.J. Miles, Illinois forward Julian Wright, California forward Jamal Boykin, New Jersey power forward Tyrell Biggs, Washington power forward Jon Brockman and perhaps others. They're all ranked among the nation's top 40 seniors, too, by the way.
That's the way Coach K does it. Why does he do it that way? Because he's about the only one who can get away with it. That's why.