Recruiting Roundup: Duke-UNC Brings Out Top High School Talent
College basketball’s greatest rivalry is much more than just a game or a way of life. For Duke and North Carolina, college basketball’s biggest stage also serves as a vital recruiting tool. This season, a number of top recruits were on hand to watch the Blue Devils fall to the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Let’s take a closer look at these high school phenoms and assess their chances of being the next generation of Duke basketball.
Shabazz Muhammad was far and away the top recruit in his class until Tilton’s Nerlens Noel decided to reclassify to the Class of 2012 and graduate this spring. He still possesses an unmistakable talent and has had college programs across the country salivating throughout the year as they await his decision. This man is simply a scorer, using his sizable frame to get to the basket at will against some of the top high school competition in the nation. The lefty was named a McDonald’s All-American and will play for the West on March 28 in Chicago. He could stand to work a bit on his perimeter shooting, but Muhammad is easily the most NBA-ready talent in this year’s recruiting class. Although he has unmistakable offensive prowess, Shabazz possesses great skills on the glass and the defensive end for a man his size. He averaged 25.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in his junior season. Muhammad recently led Bishop Gorman to a state championship, scoring 36 points on 15-of-17 shooting as Bishop Gorman thumped Reno’s Hug High School 96-51. 30 of his 36 points came in the first half, in which he outscored Hug’s team 30-25. This was Bishop Gorman’s third consecutive state title.
Shabazz has narrowed down his top six schools to Duke, Kentucky, UNLV, Kansas, UCLA, and North Carolina. The most major players at this point, however, appear to be Duke, Kentucky, and UNLV. Kansas remains in the mix as a dark horse and UCLA, who was considered to be the outright leaders in the Shabazz sweepstakes earlier in the season, appears to have fallen out of the race. Although UNLV appears to be a black sheep on this list as a school outside of a power-six conference, Muhammad has indicated that he might not mind staying close to home, and the Rebels boast a young and revitalized team under first-year head coach Dave Rice.
Muhammad arrived for his Duke visit late Thursday afternoon last week. It was the last of his official visits- he had made his visit to Kentucky back in October for their Midnight Madness and attended Kansas’s second matchup with Missouri in February. He was hosted for a night by current Duke freshman Alex Murphy. Muhammad attended Thursday’s screening of Christian Laettner and Grant Hill’s documentary “Duke ’91 & ’92: Back To Back” with many current members of the Duke team. He also attended the Duke-UNC managers basketball game later that night and was seen having a good time with many of the Duke players. He was then on hand for the Duke-Carolina game at Cameron on Saturday night. Although the outcome of the game was not what the Blue Devils wanted, it appeared their visit with Muhammad was a very positive one. Although he seems to fit the mold of the stereotypical Kentucky one and done, he really did seem to enjoy Duke. Reports had surfaced earlier that week questioning whether or not Shabazz had received improper benefits and would be eligible to play next season, but it appears at the moment that his family is fully cooperating with the NCAA’s investigation and that he will remain eligible. Duke seems to be a stronger player for Muhammad than most people give them credit for. Although it does not normally serve as a destination for players who don’t expect to stay in college for more than a year, Shabazz is one of the most competitive high school players in the nation, so I’d consider his race to still be wide open.
Amile Jefferson, also a 2012 McDonald’s All-American, has continued the tradition set forth by Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, and Rasheed Wallace of great high school basketball players to come out of Philadelphia. Jefferson recently led Friends Central to its fourth consecutive PAISAA state title, capping off the 2011-2012 season with a 22-5 record. He finished his senior season averaging 19.8 points per game and recorded a double-double in his team’s state championship victory over The Westtown School, outdueling fellow top recruit Daniel Ochefu. Jefferson has the quickness and versatility that will serve him well in college, though he will need to hit the weight room hard this summer to get strong enough to compete at the next level. He has an uncanny ability to drive and get to the hoop, especially for a power forward. One of Jefferson’s biggest draws is the unselfish nature of his play and his extremely high basketball IQ. It would be huge for the Blue Devils to land a big man like Amile in this year’s recruiting class. Their frontcourt could be a bit thin after this season with Miles Plumlee graduating and Mason Plumlee possibly departing for the NBA.
Jefferson’s college decision could be coming any day now. It was originally speculated that he would release his future plans on Wednesday or Thursday of this week, though Rivals.com’s ACC Basketball Recruiting Analyst Clint Jackson tweeted yesterday that according to Amile’s father, Malcolm Musgrove, an announcement should be expected “between Friday and Monday”. Duke entered the mix for Jefferson a bit later than most schools after it appeared they would not be able to land Lithonia, Georgia Center Tony Parker. Duke extended a scholarship offer to Amile in early January, but it appears Jefferson had his sights set on Duke for quite some time as the Blue Devils have quickly become one of the frontrunners to land him. Duke and NC State are the most competitive players vying for Amile, while he has also received scholarship offers from Kentucky, Ohio State, and Villanova.
Jefferson arrived for an unofficial visit last Saturday, just in time to watch Duke take on Carolina. He had already used up all of his official visits earlier in the recruiting season, before Duke was even in the picture for him. It is reasonable to assume that he stayed in Durham for all of Sunday at least. Amile was much harder to read when he was at Duke for his visit, mostly because the only time I saw him was while he was attending the game. Clearly he was not communicating with any of the current players or coaching staff at the time. However, unlike Muhammad, Duke seemed to be a much more clear-cut favorite for Amile prior to his official visit, so the Cameron Crazies could be well served to have a bit more confidence with him. This was believed to be his last official visit. He also made visits to Ohio State, Kentucky, NC State, and UConn in the fall. It is also reasonable to assume that as he lives in Philadelphia, he was able to see Villanova as well.
Sophomore JaQuel Richmond is only 16 years old, but is already catching the eye of many top college programs across the nation. He has reportedly already received interest from numerous Division I programs, and has received scholarship offers from Charlotte, Oklahoma State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. Most of the larger programs will scout players from their sophomore years on but won’t come on stronger with recruiting pitches until he is at least a junior. Richmond has made himself present at Duke quite a bit this year, however, which can’t be a bad sign. His interest in the program is quite apparent. He attended Countdown To Craziness in October in addition to being on hand for the Duke-Carolina game last weekend. Richmond looks as though he would be a great fit at Duke, who has lacked a true point guard this season since the departure of Nolan Smith. Quinn Cook has looked like the point guard of the future at times, but is still developing. Richmond could potentially learn under Cook during Cook’s senior season before taking the reins for the Blue Devils in the future. However, this is still a very young kid we’re talking about, so it appears to be way too early for speculation.
Theo Pinson, a teammate of Richmond’s at Wesleyan Christian Academy, also made the trip with him for the Duke-Carolina game. Pinson is currently the more highly touted of the two, having already received 11 scholarship offers by the end of his sophomore year. Duke, Clemson, Connecticut, Georgetown, Kentucky, Marquette, NC State, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech have reportedly all offered him scholarships, and North Carolina is showing interest as well. Pinson possesses the athletic ability that is rarely ever seen in a high school sophomore. He is a dynamic scorer and his freakish leaping ability lends itself well to many highlight reel dunks in transition. He is a rare talent who played at the 17s level in AAU competition when he himself was only in 8th grade. Keep a watch out for this guy as he should continue to develop into one of the top recruits in the country over the next couple of years. Although it is way too early to speculate, Duke appears to be in a good position early for Pinson. It is the only of his eleven scholarship offers listed by Rivals.com where his interest level is denoted as “high”.
Any thoughts on these recruits? Comment below!