When did Coach K begin sliding toward going with one-and-doners? Well, it may have started with a couple of players—Corey Maggette in 1999 and Luol Deng in 2004. He didn’t turn to one-and-dones because he felt they were indispensable to winning a national crown. In 2010 Duke won the NCAA championship against Butler in a nail biter, and the following year Coach signed a recruit he had to know would only attend Duke for one season.
2010-11: Duke signed the best player in the nation in Kyrie Irving. Irving was magic to watch but eight games into the season he went down with a toe injury. He did not play again until the NCAA tourney—where he played portions of three games before Arizona blew Duke away in the sweet sixteen. Some felt his return for the final few games may have adversely affected the team chemistry built in his absence. We can only dream of what kind of season Duke would have had with a healthy Kyrie throughout.
2011-12: Duke again bagged the top recruit in the nation in Austin Rivers. Rivers was indeed a great player but at times he did not seem to mesh perfectly with the team. Duke was shocked by a loss to Lehigh in the first game of the NCAA tournament.
2012-13: The next year, Duke did not have any one-and-doners in the line-up. They ended the regular season with 30 wins and 6 losses. The team reached the Elite 8 before they were beaten handily by a great Louisville team.
2013-14: This year brought two players who would be one-and-done—Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Hood was a very gifted transfer from Mississippi and Parker was ranked number one among college recruits. Sadly, in spite of a strong season, Duke lost to a veteran Mercer team in the first game of the NCAA tourney. Who can forget Parker’s tearful words after the loss, “Incompletion. It was not supposed to end this way.”
2014-15: Coach K began expanding his recruiting for top high school graduates. He was able to attract friends, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, as a twosome as well as Justice Winslow. These three stars assisted the team in a championship season, defeating Wisconsin in the finals 68-63.
2015-16: The following season Brandon Ingram of Kinston, North Carolina decided to attend Duke. He was ranked third overall in the nation. The team had a great year, but were knocked out of the NCAA tournament—a blow-out by Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen.
2016-17: Coach K again attracted a banner class of recruits which included Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. Giles and Tatum were ranked one and two respectively in the nation. Marques was ranked 16 overall. Giles required knee surgery before the season even started and did not play again until he played sparingly in the national tournament. Tatum and Bolden were both injured during the first games of the season. Tatum came back with a vengeance when healthy, and played outstandingly. Bolden was never able to regain his rhythm and did not have a banner season. Giles did not heal well enough to play until the tourney games and even then, fans saw only flashes of his greatness. The team was beaten 88-81 by a defensively tough South Carolina team in the second round of the NCAAs.
2017-18: Next to appear on the Duke campus were four one-and-doners in Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval, and Gary Trent. Bagley was indisputably the top recruit in the nation, with the other three rating very highly also. Duke’s regular season record was a respectable 29-8, and the team was able to advance to the Elite Eight before being defeated in overtime by a fine Kansas team. An image difficult to forget was Wendell Carter’s obvious despair when he didn’t play at his best and was called for his fifth on a questionable blocking foul with three minutes left in overtime.
So, how successful has Coach K’s transition been to recruiting the very top players in the nation every year—virtually assured to only remain for a year? Well, it has resulted in one national championship. Some great programs have yet to ever win it all, so from that standpoint, Duke has done well enough. Perhaps as a talking point for those opposing the NBA conveyer belt, immediately before moving in the one-and-done direction, Duke won it all in 2010. However, Coach K has definitely continued the winning tradition at Duke using this approach.
This coming season Duke will have arguably the most talented group of freshmen he has ever recruited. They feature the first, second, and third ranked players in the nation, as well as the number one point guard in the class. Barring unforeseen problems or injuries, it surely appears that this offers Coach the top class and one of the best opportunities so far of taking an NBA lottery team to a national championship. This season could be a great proving ground for what top one-and-doners can achieve.