One of the best players in the rising high school senior class revealed his college decision on Sunday. Following a semifinal game at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., Jayson Tatum announced that he will play at Duke.
Tatum’s announcement comes less than a week after he told SI.com that it would take place “pretty soon.” Though the Blue Devils were viewed as the heavy favorite entering Sunday, Tatum maintained into the weekend that his interest in the Billikens was “strong.” But the five-star wing spurned the hometown school for the reigning national champions, marking the latest in a string of recruiting victories for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
After drawing scholarship offers from a number of high-major powers, Tatum trimmed his list to 10 last September. This April, he eliminated six schools, including Kansas and Missouri, in releasing a top four of Duke, Kentucky North Carolina and St. Louis. The Billikens were an outlier, but Tatum’s father, Justin, attended St. Louis, and Sports Illustrated’s Joan Niesen detailed earlier this year Tatum’s affinity for other aspects of the school and what he could achieve there.
“I know how much it would mean for my family and for the city of St. Louis if someone my caliber of talent were to stay home and play for SLU. It'd be a big deal,” Tatum told KMOV in June.
In the end, Tatum said he chose Duke because of his relationship with the coaches, the manner in which the program is run and the school’s academics. "I love the way the program is run and I love the way the academics are set up," Tatum said, according to ESPN.com. "My relationships with the Duke coaches were the best, and they made me a priority. They did the best job of recruiting me and have been at almost all my games, and that means a lot."
At 6’8,’’ 205 pounds, Tatum has drawn praise for his scoring ability, basketball IQ, and length at his position. There is a certain smoothness with which he operates on the offensive end. Entering Sunday he had averaged 20.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 23 games with the St. Louis Eagles in the Elite Youth Basketball League circuit this year. Many observers feel Tatum and five-star forwards Harry Giles and Josh Jackson are the three top players in the class of 2016.
Tatum is arguably more skilled than the other two. Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi wrote that Tatum is “Probably the most skilled wing player in the class of 2016, Tatum is also highly versatile. He can handle the ball, he is a good shooter, rebounds well and does a great job of earning trips to the free throw line. His bread and butter is setting up shop in the mid to high post where he can spin for jumpers, turn fake and drive or find cutting teammates for easy buckets.”
Tatum joins UCLA-bound point guard Lonzo Ball as the only players ranked in the top 10 of the 2016 Rivals150 to issue a verbal commitment to a school. He’s also the first player in the rising senior class to pledge to Duke.
It’s difficult to project who will surround Tatum in the Blue Devils lineup in 2016-17 because they could lose players to the NBA draft in addition to senior big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee. In 2015-16, after waving farewell to three first-round picks, Duke returns guards Matt Jones and Grayson Allen, adds Rice transfer forward Sean Obi and welcomes in four top-25 recruits: wing Brandon Ingram, point guard Derryck Thornton, shooting guard Luke Kennard and center Chase Jeter.
Tatum could represent one half of a so-called “package deal” with Giles, Rivals.com’s No. 2 player in the class of 2016. While the proposed deal doesn’t appear to be nearly as serious at this stage as the pact that bound Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, Tatum and Giles say they have discussed the concept.
“I don’t want to say 100%, but [it’s] something we talk about a lot. Good friend of mine, great player,” Tatum told SI.com last week. Even if Giles, who attends Wesleyan Christian (N.C.) Academy, chooses another school, with Tatum in the fold Duke is on track to land another stellar class. The Blue Devils topped Rivals.com’s team rankings in 2014 and 2015. Other potential targets in the 2016 class include point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and center Marques Bolden.