- Landing the best prospect in the country just a few weeks before the fall semester just ... doesn't ... happen. But that's what Duke just did with the commitment of Marvin Bagley III.
By mid-August of any given year, your college basketball team tends to be set. You can still lose pieces—someone’s knee buckles in practice, someone fails to get academically eligible, someone sees how the rotation is shaping up and decides to transfer—but you don’t add solutions. The weaknesses in your roster are the weaknesses you’ll be dealing with all season. Unless, that is, you’re Duke in 2017, and 14 days before your fall semester classes begin, you receive a commitment from not just a solution but a national-title-race-altering star: Marvin Bagley III, a Phoenix-area power forward who chose to reclassify to the Class of 2017 and pick the Blue Devils during Monday’s 11 p.m. SportsCenter, immediately vaulting himself to the top of this year’s recruiting rankings and 2018 NBA draft boards, and likely pushing Duke to the No. 1 spot in preseason polls.
The 6' 11" Bagley had been the consensus top prospect in the Class of 2018 and is now viewed, by various recruiting services, as either the top prospect in the Class of 2017, slightly ahead of Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, or as an equal of those two players. And we are not used to No. 1 prospects making decisions—and boosting teams that are already top-10 caliber—this late in the game.
I’ve been keeping data on decisions made by top-100 recruits (commits, decommits and high school and college transfers) for a decade, and the previous latest commit date by a Recruiting Services Consensus Index No. 1 prospect was May 14, 2013, when Andrew Wiggins picked Kansas. That was 110 days before Sept. 1 of his freshman season. Last year's top recruit, Josh Jackson, committed to Kansas 143 days prior to Sept. 1, and in the class before that, top prospect Ben Simmons—the last oversized lefty (or at least sort of lefty), before Bagley, to take college hoops by storm—committed to LSU a whopping 687 days before Sept. 1 of his freshman season. The timeline below charts the past 10 No. 1-ranked recruits’ commitment dates.
Bagley’s commitment is a special case due to his late reclassification—a process that still requires him to get enrolled at Duke in the coming weeks and cleared by the NCAA by November. (Given that Bagley transferred between three different high schools in Arizona and California and took online courses in the offseason, his transcripts will be subject to some scrutiny.) In my database, there are only two other examples, from the Class of 2008 to the present, of top-100 players reclassifying and committing in August or later of their freshman season:
• The more recent move was Maverick Rowan to NC State in 2015-16. Rowan was a 6' 7" shooting wing who committed to Pitt early in his high school career; after decommitting from the Panthers, he reclassified to the Class of ’15, chose NC State on Aug. 2 and enrolled later that month. Scout.com ranked Rowan as the No. 37 player in his freshman class, and he seized a decent-sized role with the Wolfpack, averaging 12.5 points and 31.9 minutes per game over his first two seasons—both of which saw NC State finish with sub-.500 records. Rowan turned pro after his sophomore campaign and, as was expected, went undrafted.
• The higher-profile move was Andre Drummond to UConn in 2011-12. Drummond was a five-star frontcourt prospect but not a true No. 1 recruit. When he was considered part of the Class of ’12, Drummond ranked No. 2 behind Shabazz Muhammad in the RSCI. After Drummond’s surprise reclassification-and-commitment to UConn on Aug. 26, 2011, he was still considered to be less of a prospect than Kentucky-bound Anthony Davis, the king of the Class of ’11.
Still, Drummond was expected to make a monster impact for the defending national champion Huskies, who leapt to No. 4 in the preseason AP poll despite the loss of star Kemba Walker to the NBA. Drummond’s actual impact was underwhelming: He averaged 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds for a UConn team that went 20–14 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Drummond’s NBA stock slipped as a result, and he was taken by the Pistons with the ninth pick in the 2012 draft.
There are ways, I suppose, that 2017-18 Duke could follow the path of 2011-12 UConn, and underwhelm: an overabundance of youth, unclear shot distribution, non-elite defense and failure to maximize the value of a late-arriving blue-chipper. But I suspect these Blue Devils will make good on their projection as one of the top two title contenders (along with Arizona). Duke now has first-round talent across its entire likely starting five in point guard Trevon Duval, shooting guards Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen, and bigs Wendell Carter and Bagley. And Bagley is, unlike Drummond, ready to be a star from Day 1; he’s capable of making a college impact on par with that of recent dominant lefty power forwards like Michael Beasley or Julius Randle, and he’s a much more coveted NBA prospect. Even at elite blueblood schools, recruits like that only come around once or twice a decade, and never—until now—could you add one in August.