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. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. 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. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 5 overall recruit, Duke's Vernon Carey. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Duke’s Recruiting Class
The closest thing Coach K could get to a Zion Williamson Jr. is, well, Vernon Carey Jr., the five-star big man who sits atop Duke’s incoming class as the No. 5 player nationally. The top-ranked prospect from the state of Florida, Carey joins fellow five-star forward Matthew Hurt (No. 12), four-star wing Wendell Moore (No. 29) and four-star shooting guard Cassius Stanley (No. 33) in Durham as the Blue Devils reload after last season’s star-studded departures by bringing in the No. 3 ranked recruiting class. The four freshmen fill holes at four different positions for Duke and, as is typical for places where NBA-ready talent perennially plays, will need to make an immediate impact in light of the team’s losses. Big expectations rest on the shoulders of all the newcomers, but especially Hurt and Carey in the frontcourt. All eyes will be on the Blue Devils as the world waits to see what shape they take without Zion, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, and the incoming talent bodes well for the ACC’s chief oligopolist.
How He Fits
Duke’s backcourt will be led by Tre Jones, who returns for his sophomore season, but Carey Jr. will be the anchor that locks down the frontcourt and tries to fill some of the Zion-void. Jones will be joined by juniors Alex O’Connell or Jordan Goldwire or newcomer Stanley—who figures to get his share of starting assignments as a freakishly athletic shooting guard—in the backcourt and Moore should see immediate minutes at the three. The team’s two incoming five-star big men will anchor the Blue Devils’ frontcourt with Hurt at the four and Carey Jr. at center. Veteran forwards Jack White and Javin DeLaurier (who is back after testing the NBA draft waters) will help off the bench, as will sophomore forward Joey Baker.
The son of former Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey Sr., Carey Jr. is a 6’10,” 270 pound center who averaged 21.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game his senior season. Carey comes to Durham with plenty of size and an NBA-ready body and should be an immediate impact low-post presence on both sides of the floor for Duke. A strong rebounder with plenty of offensive potential, Carey can do some serious damage in the paint and has added a jump shot to his arsenal that extends out to the three-point stripe. He’s got a soft touch around the basket and the strength to bully his way to the rim if needed. The latter is unsurprising given his physically imposing stature, but the former is a unique skill for a player of his size.
Carey brings a distinctive combination of power and skill to the court with his ability to dominate down low while also being effective with his face-up game. He’s also quick to pursue the ball off the rim for a few put-back points and boxes out well. His range needs to continue to develop but his upside is evident. With quick feet and a big body, it’s also easy to see what he brings defensively. The biggest points of concern surround his stamina and ability to stay in shape, which he’ll need to work on to maximize his potential. While he’s doesn’t bring the same star power Williamson did, Carey is still a talented replacement for the 2019 No. 1 draft pick. His elite résumé goes beyond just his high school season accomplishments, having claimed two gold medals with Team USA, including earning tournament MVP at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 championship. He’ll likely have Hurt on the floor alongside him, who is an extremely skilled forward and can help stretch the floor and do some serious damage scoring as one of the best shooters and offensive assets in the class (not just relative to his position). Those two should form a dangerous duo up front. With Hurt, Carey and Moore and Stanley on the wing, Duke’s freshmen should lead this season’s frontcourt with a slew of veteran reserves to help as needed.
Importance to Duke's Success/Team Outlook
With Jones returning to run the offense and the likes of Baker, Goldwire, White and more back to bring an element of experience to the team when Coach K needs it, Duke should be set up for another successful season. Duke needs scoring and it needs rim protection, both of which Hurt and Carey should be able to help with as they try to make up for Zion’s departed offensive and defensive presence in the paint. The five-star duo should bring enough two-way potential to form a formidable frontcourt, while the rest of Duke’s incoming recruits bring talent at every position needed—filling out a five-man rotation around Jones at point. With a mixture of young talent and experienced leaders, the Blue Devils should be set up for another successful season.