While North Carolina got a clearer picture of what its roster will look like in 2013, with the early exit of three underclassmen to the NBA on Thursday, Duke and N.C. State are still waiting.
The Blue Devils (forward Mason Plumlee), and the Wolfpack (forward C.J. Leslie), are both waiting for their respective pro prospects to make a decision about the NBA draft. The two Triangle teams are also waiting on Kentucky and the fate of a few key recruits. The Wildcats, the prohibitive favorite to win the 2012 NCAA title, are holding all the recruiting cards with the class of 2012.
Kentucky faces Louisville tonight in the Final Four in New Orleans and, with a win, would get either Ohio State or Kansas on Monday for the national championship. The way the NCAA’s confusing deadlines work for the NBA draft, Kentucky’s raft of potential pros – led by freshman forward Anthony Davis, the AP player of the year – would have only 24 hours to decided to submit their names for the draft.
The Wildcats could lose as many as five underclassmen, with likely a minimum of three – Davis, freshman wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sophomore forward Terrence Jones.
UK coach John Calipari lost four underclassmen to the draft in 2010, including Raleigh prep star John Wall, but reloaded to make the Final Four in 2011 and 2012.
"The flood gates have yet to open at Kentucky," said ESPN analyst and former Duke great Jay Williams. "The way the revolving door has worked there the past four years, they’ve had the best recruiting class and they could do it again."
Williams worked the McDonald’s All-American game on Wednesday and spent as much time talking about the players in the game who have already committed, including two top 20 players to Kentucky, as he did the undecided players. Three of ESPN’s top 10 players in the class of 2012 remain uncommitted, and five of the top 21, including forward Amile Jefferson, who is being pursued by N.C. State, Duke and Kentucky.
Duke is also in the running for small forward Shabazz Muhammad, who was the MVP of the McDonald’s game with 21 points in the West’s 106-102 win in Chicago on Wednesday. Muhammad, 6-10 forward Nerlens Noel, the No. 1-rated prospect in the class by ESPN, forward Anthony Bennett and Jefferson are all being wooed by Kentucky.
"No other program is in line to possibly lose any many players but replace them with elite talent," ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. "It’s a safe bet that they will gain a pledge from one of the following three: Noel, Shabazz or Bennett. Two would be amazing, three would be illegal."
Telep, who lives in Wake Forest, believes Jefferson, the 6-7 power forward from Philadelphia and 18th-rated prospect in his top 100, will be in the ACC next season.
"From a Tobacco Road perspective, I think he leans to the area but he is having trouble saying no at this point," Telep said.
Both Duke and N.C. State have an available scholarship for Jefferson, even if both Plumlee and Leslie return. Plumlee, a junior, has submitted his name for the draft but has not hired an agent. Leslie, a sophomore, is still in the process of making a decision.
The timetable for the draft, which is June 28, is different this year, and more confusing. The NCAA, under a new rule implemented at the behest of the ACC coaches, has set Tuesday, April 10 as the withdrawal date, in order to give coaches a better idea of who’ll be on the roster. The NBA has set its own deadline, Sunday, April 29. There is no penalty for a player to commit to stay on April 10 and then change his mind by the NBA deadline.
"The NCAA deadline is pointless," said Williams, who turned pro after his junior season at Duke in 2002. "You can just wait until April 29 and then decide to go."
N.C. State, which won 24 games and made the Sweet 16 in coach Mark Gottfried’s first season, has already signed three McDonald’s All-Americans in guard Tyler Lewis, guard Rodney Purvis and forward T.J. Warren. Jefferson, who had eight points and two steals in 14 minutes in Wednesday’s McDonald’s game, would give them front-court depth, if Leslie stays, or a starting option to go with returning forwards Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter, who’ll both be seniors.
The Wolfpack is also recruiting Andrew Young, a 6-9 power forward from Monterey Peninsula College in California. Young is scheduled to make an official visit to Raleigh on April 14.
Williams thinks N.C. State would be considered the preseason favorite in the ACC, with North Carolina, if Leslie returns. He also expects Duke, which went 13-3 in ACC play before an opening-round loss to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament, to contend for the conference title, despite the personnel losses.
Williams compared guard Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke’s only signee, to guard Nolan Smith, who led Duke to the 2010 NCAA title. Sulaimon had 18 points and four assists in the McDonald’s game.
"Sulaimon will help them a lot," Williams said. "He can attack off the dribble, and create shots for others, and that’s what they’re going to need. Of course, the addition of Muhammad or Jefferson would change the complexion of the team in a heartbeat, but there’s still some talent and experience in the program."
All Duke and N.C. State can do now is wait, on their own players, on the recruits and on Kentucky.