Has Duke Had a More Surprising Recruiting Win Than Paolo Banchero?


It’s tough to say that things were looking bleak for Duke on the recruiting trail, since the main complaint was that the Blue Devils had only landed one five-star player so far. Still, things were looking decidedly un-Duke-like for the class of 2021. Max Christie, penciled in as the shooter in a 2021 class that looked like it would add a player at every position on the floor for Duke, instead chose to play for Michigan State. Then Jonathan Kuminga reclassified to 2020 and announced he was headed to the G-League instead of college. Finally, point guard Kennedy Chandler chose Tennessee over the Blue Devils, and suddenly, 60 percent of the expected signing class were destined to be playing elsewhere.

Chandler also seemed confident that he could convince power forward Paolo Banchero to join him at Tennessee, which would leave Duke 0-for-4 on its biggest targets for the year.

Instead, Banchero, who has said repeatedly he planned to take his time to decided on a school, made a surprise announcement this week that he would play for Duke. The timing couldn’t have been better for Mike Krzyzewski, who will now focus on Patrick Baldwin, Caleb Houstan, Trevor Keels and Charles Bediako, as he tries to assemble a large class that will be comparable to the one originally planned.

From the outside, Banchero’s announcement was a shock. While it may seem that Duke has gotten everyone it zeroes in on during the one-and-done era, the surprising Duke commitment has actually been fairly common in recent years. Here’s a look at the biggest surprises of the past few recruiting cycles.

Zion Williamson: Jan. 2018

Duke already had two of the top three players in the country signed to letters of intent in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Williamson, an explosive player who had dominated against a questionable level of competition, seemed like an unnecessary luxury. While he was highly sought after by the nation’s best programs, the consensus seemed to be that Williamson would stay home and commit to Clemson. South Carolina and Kentucky held out hope, as did UNC. Duke seemed to be a distant fifth in the recruiting battle. Instead, Williamson announced he was headed to Duke, dropping jaws across the country.

Marvin Bagley: Aug. 2017

The decision itself wasn’t a huge shock. Duke beat out UCLA and USC for Bagley’s services. It was the timing that was a surprise. Duke’s recruiting seemed to be long done for the 2017 cycle, after point guard Trevon Duval decided to join Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. in May. Three months later, however, Bagley decided to reclassify and move to the class of 2017. The announcement drew another gasp of surprise when the school announced it was taking Danny Ferry’s number 35 down from the rafters, where it had been retired years earlier, to allow Bagley to wear it for his year with the Blue Devils.

Brandon Ingram: Apr. 2015

From Jerry Stackhouse to Reggie Bullock, Kinston, NC seemed to be UNC territory. Coach Roy Williams declared that he would go to Kinston faster than New York City if there was a promising player there to recruit. Williams has also said repeatedly that he never worked harder recruiting a player than he did Ingram. NC State, who had the in-state star circled as a program-defining player, was also considered a contender, along with traditional recruiting foes Kansas and Kentucky. Duke was able to move into hostile territory and land the recruit, on the strength of its national title, won earlier that month.

Where does Banchero’s decision rank among the big surprises? From a significance standpoint, it should be near the top. Duke needed a big win in the worst way, and Banchero’s commitment should shift the momentum back in Coach K’s favor with remaining targets. The surprise value was also high, since Banchero appeared to be trending toward joining Chandler with the Vols.

The Williamson decision probably still has the edge as the biggest shocker of them all, based on the combination of how truly unexpected it was and Williamson’s impact during his year at Duke.