Last Friday the college basketball world was still reeling from one of the biggest recruiting scandals since the turn of the century when a significant piece of news dropped involving the No. 1 prospect in the rising senior class. In an image posted to his Twitter account, R.J. Barrett revealed that he has narrowed his list of schools to three: Duke, Kentucky and Oregon.
That trio became public about six weeks after Barrett released a top five that also included Michigan and Arizona. The Wildcats, however, were ensnared in the FBI’s widespread investigation into college basketball: Assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson was one of four assistants arrested and hit with federal fraud and bribery charges that could carry an 80-year prison sentence.
Arizona currently has the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite, but the Wildcats’ elimination from Barrett’s recruitment opens the door for the pair of schools that have finished atop that same ranking in some order the past four years, Duke and Kentucky, as well as Oregon, a Pac-12 contender coming off its first Final Four appearance since 1939.
Barrett may not be as famous as the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2018, Spartanburg Day (S.C.) School small forward/viral sensation Zion Williamson, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the best prospects on the planet. Technically, however, he’s been a member of that class for only a couple of months, having announced his decision to jump to ’18 from ’19 in late July.
Barrett is a 6'6", 180-pound small forward renowned for his playmaking ability, scoring arsenal and defensive tools. He’s the son of former St. John’s and Canadian national team forward Rowan Barrett and attends Montverde Academy, the same Florida private school that produced 6'10" Australian point guard Ben Simmons, whom the Philadelphia 76ers selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Barrett led the most competitive youth circuit, Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, in scoring this year at 28.0 points per game and was named Most Valuable Player at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Cairo after averaging 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists. In a semifinal bout against a United States team loaded with elite prospects and coached by Kentucky’s John Calipari, Barrett dropped 38 points in a 99–87 win.
Calipari would no doubt love to add Barrett to his roster for the 2018–19 season before sending him off to be picked first in the 2019 draft, but he’s facing stiff competition from both the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski and the Ducks’ Dana Altman. Below is a quick breakdown of each of Barrett’s three finalists, with an eye toward how he’d fit at each program.
The Blue Devils are considered the favorite to sign Barrett, who was in Durham for his official visit in September and reportedly met with Krzyzewski and associate head coach Jeff Capel at Montverde last week. If Duke prevails in the Barrett sweepstakes, it would complete the most important step in rebuilding a roster that might have no equal in Division I but that is expected to lose a handful of major contributors next offseason. Senior guard Grayson Allen is entering his final year of eligibility, and four members of the Blue Devils’ seven-strong haul of incoming freshmen could go one-and-done: Sierra Canyon (Calif.) School power forward Marvin Bagley, IMG (Fla.) Academy point guard Trevon Duval, Pace (Ga.) Academy power forward Wendell Carter and Prolific (Calif.) Prep shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. (Based purely on early draft buzz, Trent Jr. seems like the most likely member of that group to come back for a sophomore campaign).
Barrett could become Duke’s primary offensive option on the wing right away, and he’ll be joined by two top class of 2018 prospects who have already issued verbal commitments to the program: Apple Valley (Minn.) High point guard Tre Jones, the brother of 2015 national championship-winning Blue Devil Tyus Jones; and Westtown (Pa.) School small forward Cameron Reddish. The Blue Devils also should bring back two four-star freshmen who could supplement Barrett’s perimeter scoring in Milton (Ga.) High shooting guard Alex O’Connell and Wheeler (Ga.) High small forward Jordan Tucker.
The Wildcats’ 2018 draft outlook is less clear than Duke’s. While the Blue Devils will have three players entering this season projected to be selected in the lottery (Bagley, Carter and Duval), Kentucky might not have more than one picked in that range. The Wildcats have rolled out freshmen-heavy rosters for most of Calipari’s eight-year tenure in Lexington, but his team will be atypically inexperienced this season. It returns only one rotation player from 2016–17, sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel, and he was a low-usage contributor who logged only 17.7 minutes per game.
Kentucky probably won’t be so unseasoned in a year’s time. It’s a safe bet the Wildcats will lose at least one freshmen to the NBA, but there’s a chance they’ll bring back a significant chunk of their 2017 recruiting class, including multiple guys who could spend time playing off the ball on the perimeter with Barrett, like forwards P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt, the latter of whom isn’t expected to suit up until January because of a foot injury. Kevin Knox conceivably could return for his sophomore season, but it’d be difficult for him to pass up the possibility of being a top-10 pick.
This is probably all academic, since Barrett could well be Kentucky’s best player the moment he steps on campus; Calipari saw first-hand in Cairo what Barrett can do to unhinge an opposing defense. Washington, Gabriel, Vanderbilt and Knox would be able to shift up or down a position to accommodate him in lineups that may also include John Carroll (Md.) School point guard Immanuel Quickley, the only class of 2018 prospect currently committed to the Wildcats.
The Ducks picked up a verbal commitment from one of the most esteemed small forwards in the class of 2018 late last month, Hudson Catholic Regional (N.J.) School product Louis King, but Barrett would represent a recruiting victory of a different magnitude. It was only a couple of years ago, mind you, that Oregon came close to reeling in a different Canadian prep standout who reclassified, guard Jamal Murray, but he wound up spurning the Ducks in favor of a blueblood (Kentucky). A similar scenario could play out with Barrett.
Oregon had Barrett on campus last month, and he’s reportedly close with Ducks freshman forward Abu Kigab, a teammate of Barrett’s on Canada’s squad at the U19 World Cup this summer. (Assistant coach Mike Mennenga is credited with helping Oregon make major inroads with highly touted players north of the border.) The Ducks raised their hoops profile by getting to the Final Four this spring, but their top five scorers from that team left during the offseason, including shooting guard Tyler Dorsey and combo forward Dillon Brooks. Oregon reloaded by tapping the transfer market for Illinois State forward MiKyle McIntosh, New Mexico guard Elijah Brown and Georgetown forward Paul White, but only the latter has eligibility beyond the upcoming season.
The Ducks would rest easy knowing another player likely to spend only one season in Eugene, Barrett, could fill in capably for the imports, with White, King and possibly guard/forward Troy Brown complementing him on the wing. That is, if Brown decides to return for a second season of college basketball rather than entering the draft.