Duke’s Class of 2010 has verbal commitments from two rising high school seniors, Joshua Hairston and Tyler Thornton. In addition, 2010 will be the first year transfer Seth Curry will be eligible to play. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at three top 2010 prospects – the cream of the crop – that the coaching staff is targeting.
On June 24th, yours truly (along with Crazie Talk colleague Amogh) was shocked to see Harrison Barnes and his family dining at the Loop, a popular West Campus eatery, with several Duke assistant coaches. The unexpected sighting made certain one thing: Duke is very much in the running for Barnes, one of the most promising high school prospects in many years. Although Barnes isn’t as hyped as Lebron James or Kobe Bryant were as prepsters, he has created a formidable buzz among basketball enthusiasts. Whichever fortunate school receives Barnes’ commitment will be happy to know that he is a modern basketball aberration—an outstanding player who actively shuns the idea of being “one and done.” On that note, Barnes is serious about receiving a college education while preparing to play in the NBA, and his academic acumen backs him up. His 12th grade schedule consists entirely of Advanced Placement courses, and one of his main criteria for his college choice is a solid economics and business program. An articulate, grounded, and humble young man, Barnes is able to handle the hype (unlike, let’s say, Josh McRoberts) of being one of the nation’s top prospects.
Barnes hails from the small town of Ames, Iowa (pop. 56,510) in the Midwest, whose greatest claim to fame is this New York Times bestseller. Other than Duke, he is being wooed by such programs as North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky. Even the strong academics of Stanford, whose basketball program (led by Duke great Johnny Dawkins) has a ways to go to entice Barnes. Although recruited by some of the top programs in the country, Barnes is in no rush to make a decision. He says he will cut his list down to five schools in the fall.
Barnes would be the most talented wing Duke has had since Grant Hill. He excels at attacking the basket and can finish strong at the rim as well as get to the free throw line. His midrange and outside shooting are works in progress, but he is a willing listener with impeccable work ethic. His athleticism, while not world-class, is very good. He makes good decisions on the court and most importantly, Barnes has a good idea of what he can do and what needs to be improved. Although it will be several months before Barnes makes a final choice, he will be worth the wait. Harrison Barnes is a born leader, and if he chooses Duke, it would set the tone for another decade of greatness.
New Jersey has produced many college basketball stars, including Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams, the two point guards who ran the show for Duke’s three NCAA championship teams. Yet Kevin Boyle, Kyrie Irving’s high school coach, believes Irving, one of the top point guards in the class of 2010, “will arguably be as good as any guard who’s played in New Jersey.” Now that’s hype. Irving has everything you want in a point guard. He can get to the rim and finish, has good shooting range that extends to 22 feet, and possesses a decent mid-range game that is all-too-rare in point guards today. While he is an adept scorer, Irving also runs an offense with poise. He makes great decisions and shows the ability to read defenses in the half-court as well as in transition. Like most high schoolers, Irving will need to put on weight to adjust to the college game, but that should never sacrifice his excellent quickness and athleticism.
Like Barnes, Irving says academics will play a role in his decision. An aspiring journalist, Irving puts Indiana University as a leader because of IU’s strong journalism program. (It should noted that Duke has produced several great sports journalists without a specific major, including Al Featherston and Jay Bilas) Never one to be outworked, Coach K spoke to Irving on the phone in late May before the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, which was co-hosted at Cameron Indoor. Most recently, Coach K and his staff were at the AAU Nationals in Orlando on July 31st to watch Irving play. If he matriculates to Durham, Irving could push incumbent Nolan Smith for the starting spot a year from now, or team with Smith in a quick backcourt. In any event, Irving and Tyler Thornton would be an excellent 1-2 tandem to run Duke’s 2011-12 squad. Irving plans to cut down his list of schools in late August after the Elite 24 event at Rucker Park, but he has recently stated that he will certainly take official visits to Duke and Indiana. This begs the question: will Kyrie Irving be the next great Duke point guard from the Garden State?
Prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy has produced countless college basketball players, including our very own Nolan Smith. The Oak Hill pipeline is responsible for Duke’s final major target for 2010—small forward Roscoe Smith. Although Smith isn’t as complete a player as Barnes or Irving, his pure scoring ability will make him a solid college player. His length and touch give him unlimited shooting range. His shot selection is sometimes questionable, but when he is on, he can fill up the basket in a hurry. His body type and scoring ability are comparable to Tracy McGrady. Smith can get to the rim, but his thin frame detracts from his finishing and rebounding prowess. Once Smith’s body catches up to his game, he will be a star.
Smith believes the college coach is a very important factor for recruits. As a result, Duke has only recently emerged as a frontrunner in his recruiting because of Coach K. Smith has the potential to become an excellent defender because of his length, and he is committed to improving that part of his game. Coach K was recently in attendance at the AAU Nationals in Las Vegas in late July to watch Smith play for his Baltimore Assault AAU team. Duke will have to beat out Connecticut, Louisville and Maryland, among others, for him. Coupling Smith and 2010 commit Hairston would stabilize Duke’s forward position for years to come.
The Bottom Line
Coach K is looking for a dynamite class to dispel the notion that his recruiting (Greg Monroe?) has suffered since he signed on with Team USA. Getting all three of these guys would be an absolute coup for him and would easily make the 2010 group our best recruiting class this decade. I think, however, Duke fans should temper our expectations and still be ecstatic if one or two of the three come to Duke.