The chair where R.J. Barrett had been sitting for his first interview session as a Duke player was still warm when Mike Krzyzewski took the same seat, minutes later Friday morning. Those are the two poles around which this Duke team will spin: the foremost star of the trio of freshman stars that already have reached supernova status before playing a college game and the veteran coach that put the group together, in many ways starting from scratch. Again.
Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson would all be the top recruit at any program they chose, but they all chose Duke in the kind of incoming constellation of starpower that has become the routine rather than the exception in recent years, whether it was the championship team of 2015 or the first-weekend exit of 2017 or last year’s team that missed the Final Four by less than the width of the rim.
This is likely to be one of Duke’s last teams like that. The package of NCAA basketball reforms announced this week as a result of the Rice Commission’s investigation into the sport was lacking something everyone knows is coming: the end of one-and-done and the ability of elite 18-year-old players -- like Barrett -- to go straight into the NBA draft.
Krzyzewski, knowing he would be asked to react to the reforms, came equipped with props to issue his response. The intent was good, Krzyzewski said, the process lacking cooperation with stakeholders, which is why he brought a group photo from the 2005 USA Basketball summit that included NCAA, NBA and other basketball organizations – and given Krzyzewski’s close relationship to current USA Basketball chairman Martin Dempsey, this is more than likely a reflection of how that organization feels.
He was particularly unhappy that Rice Commission proposals to expand skill-development time in the summer and to allow more coaches to work with players were left behind by the NCAA decision-makers – “big mistake,” Krzyzewski said – and pointed out how limited the opportunity will be for undrafted players to return to school. (Many, as Duke’s Trevon Duval tweeted Friday, would not even if given the chance.)
Because allowing 18-year-olds to enter the draft straight out of high school as the Rice Commission recommended requires the cooperation and support of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, it was not included in the current package of reforms.
The clock is ticking nevertheless. Condoleezza Rice and her panel encouraged it. NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts have all but said that change is coming. ACC commissioner John Swofford expects it. The NBA’s labor agreement expires in 2024, but there’s a possibility the draft-age provisions could be altered as soon as the 2021 draft class, this season’s high-school juniors.
Krzyzewski isn’t as certain. It appears he will believe it when he sees it. And he’s not ready to start changing the way he recruits yet.
“We’ll be able to adjust,” Krzyzewski said. “We will adjust just like we have over the years. I think there are a lot of questions now from kids, especially younger kids that you’re recruiting, the juniors and that.”
There will still be one-and-done players who turn pro after their freshman years, but the opportunity to go straight into the draft will be attractive to the truly elite prospects. Like Barrett. Or Marvin Bagley III. Or Jayson Tatum. Or Jahlil Okafor. They won’t be available to Duke the way they have been. Something will have to give.
For now, Duke has at least two more hacks at doing it this way, by assembling a massive collection of 18-year-old talent, hoping it comes together in time and starting over again the next summer. This team has a few things going for it its predecessors did not: The sheer volume of ability, even if it’s hard to see now how there will be enough shots for all of Barrett and Reddish and Williamson; a true point guard in Tre Jones, younger brother of Tyus; a fully healthy Krzyzewski a year removed from knee replacement surgery, his sixth operation in 17 months.
He was in good spirits Friday, arriving fully prepared to issue his rebuttal to the Rice Commission reforms, excited about Duke’s Toronto trip even if Reddish and Jones will sit out because of injuries. College basketball is changing, but some parts of it haven’t changed yet.