In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com has introduced you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball, including breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We end our series with the No. 1 overall recruit, Duke’s R.J. Barrett. To view the entire completed 2018 series of profiles, click here.
What he means for Duke’s recruiting class
R.J. Barrett is the crown jewel of Coach K’s top-ranked recruits. The best player in the class of 2018, Barrett is the consensus No. 1 recruit. The five-star small forward out of Ontario, Canada, is the last of Duke’s four five-star, top-25 recruits. The fearsome four of Barrett, Cam Reddish (No. 2 in the RSCI rankings), Zion Williamson (No. 4), and Tre Jones (No. 13) are joined by four-star small forward Joey Baker (No. 37) on one of the most highly anticipated teams in college basketball history. Barrett has already impressed Blue Devils fans in his debut during the team’s summer tour in his home country of Canada, but the best is yet to come for Coach K’s top-ranked recruiting class.
How he fits
Barrett will be a rotational mainstay from the start for this year’s young Blue Devils. A highly decorated player coming out of high school, he was the MVP of the U-19 World Cup and won a national championship with Montverde (Fla.) Academy. In April, Barrett led the World Team to a victory over the United States at the Nike Hoop Summit in front of dozens of NBA scouts. Then in Duke's summer Canada exhibitions, the talented two-three averaged 31 points, six rebounds and five assists while handling primary ball-handling duties with both Tre Jones and Cam Reddish out of the lineup due to injury. Barrett will fit in a flexible role at the wing, transitioning between the small forward and shooting guard spots as needed. With his NBA wing-size at 6’7”, 202-pounds and his impressive athleticism, Barrett is a threat to any team at the rim, putting tremendous pressure on defenders and finding quick success in doing so. He’s one of the best slashers in the game right now but is equally as talented across the floor with his ever expanding and improving scoring repertoire. He’s as competitive as they come and won’t hesitate to create his own shot, which makes him the perfect complement to fellow freshman Cam Reddish at the wing. Reddish is more of a pass-first wing than Barrett, but both can play through contact and make quick use of their feet to escape defenders. The score-first small forward is not necessarily known for his ball-handling abilities, but Barrett’s success running point over the summer shows that he’s still capable of handling that role as well. His handles just happen to be overshadowed by his ability to get buckets. His versatility allows him to play basically positionless basketball, a skill that most of Coach K’s freshmen feature.
Duke has a wing-heavy roster this season with Reddish and Barrett in the lineup. Williamson will be able to slide between the four and the five while Tre Jones runs the one. Freshman Joey Baker and sophomore guard Alex O’Connell should draw defenders out with their perimeter play, opening up the lane for Barrett do to his thing and dominate in the paint and in transition. Williamson will pose the most physical threat on the court, and Tre Jones will continue Duke’s legacy of running a highly efficient offense with plenty of more-than-capable scorers starting alongside him, with Barrett likely leading the team in points this season.
Importance to Duke's success/team outlook
Duke’s 2018 recruits are arguably the most talked about incoming class in college hoops history. Barrett is a guaranteed one-and-done, likely alongside Reddish, Williamson and even Jones, set to be top NBA prospects in 2019. With a little Coach K refining, the team is poised for a big season. They’re young but talented and will be incredibly fun to watch, especially against tough ACC opponents. Duke is set to open its season in the Champions Classic against Kentucky, which has the No. 2 ranked recruiting class. The young faces of 2018 will face off in what’s sure to be a thrilling start to the season. The Blue Devils will be a national title contender with their monster roster this season. They’ve got too much talent to post anything but a spectacular season in 2018–19.