Basketball recruiting: Justise Winslow signs, makes Duke No. 1 class

lkeeley@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2013 

Duke entered national signing day last week with one solid commitment and high hopes for others.

Eight days later, the Blue Devils have emerged with the top recruiting class in the nation.

Justise Winslow chose Duke on Thursday, the fourth 5-star recruit to sign with the Blue Devils.

Winslow, a 6-foot-5 wing and Scout.com’s No. 10 player overall, joined center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 overall prospect, point guard Tyus Jones, No. 4 overall, and shooting guard Grayson Allen, No. 24. Okafor and Jones picked Duke last Friday. Allen started the surge on signing day.

The Blue Devils’ No. 1 class will be hard to top, said Evan Daniels, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com. (Keep an eye on center Myles Turner, ranked No. 2 overall, as the Blue Devils have been in contact with him and could keep pursuing him, along with Kansas and others.) The Recruiting Service Consensus Index, which combines the ranking efforts of several national recruiting analysts, projects Duke’s class to finish No. 1, which would mark the third time since its began in 1998 that Duke took the top spot.

“We’re ecstatic about the four young men that are coming to Duke,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Grayson Allen committed to us very early. We believe he’s an explosive wing. Terrific offensive and defensive player. We consider Jahlil Okafor as good a big man as there is in the country, but not just a big man, we think he’s a great basketball player. He’s had an amazing amount of experience playing for the United States and for a great high school program. In Tyus Jones, I think we have the best point guard in the country. Someone who has won state championships, USA championships and is the consummate leader on the court. Justise Winslow is a great wing player. He is a guy that can guard every position and is an amazing rebounder and scorer.”

A factor that can’t be overlooked in Duke’s recruiting recruiting success, Daniels said, is the impact of assistant coach Jeff Capel, who joined the staff prior to the 2011-12 seasons. Capel was the point man, Daniels said, for recent Duke recruits Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Okafor, Jones and Winslow.

“He’s played a major role,” Daniels said of Capel. “He’s established relationships with a lot of these elite kids. Obviously Coach K is the one that has to go in and seal the deal, but Jeff Capel does a lot of the groundwork. He’s a tremendous asset, and I think he’ll be getting a head job in the near future.”

The 1999 class with Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Jay Williams and Casey Sanders, all McDonald’s All-Americans, finished No. 1 overall in the RSCI (Andre Buckner and Nick Horvath were also recruited that year). That class scored a combined 5,694 points at Duke and brought home the 2001 national championship.

The 2002 class was the other that finished ranked No. 1, with three 5-stars and 4-stars apiece (J.J. Redick, Shavlik Randolph, Shelden Williams, Lee Melchionni, Sean Dockery and Michael Thompson – who transferred to Northwestern in his sophomore year). That group scored a combined 6,471 points on campus, the second highest scoring class in Duke history.

There are two other classes that are in contention for Duke’s best class ever – 1982 and 1997. McDonald’s All-American Johnny Dawkins, along with Jay Bilas, Mark Alarie and David Henderson, ushered in the modern era of Duke basketball, gave Krzyzewski his first Final Four appearance in 1986 and scored a combined 7,324 points, the highest scoring class in Duke history. And the 1997 class of Shane Battier, Elton Brand, William Avery and Chris Burgess (who transferred to Utah) scored 4,200 points and produced three first-round picks.

With Jones, Okafor, Winslow and Allen, the Blue Devils becomes the early front-runner for the 2014 national championship. And that’s ultimately how classes are judged at Duke.

Winslow, Duke’s latest commit, can guard multiple positions thanks to his lateral quickness. His athleticism extends above the rim, as he first dunked in eighth grade, his high school coach, Harold Baber, said at his announcement.

This summer, Winslow was a part of the United States U19 team that won the FIBA World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, along with Okafor and current Blue Devil Rasheed Sulaimon. Winslow and Okafor were the only rising high school seniors on the squad.

“The thing about Justise is he can impact the game in so many ways,” Daniels said. “He’s not necessarily a great scorer, but he does everything else. He rebounds, he defends, he’s a good passer. Most importantly, he wins. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s got this well-balanced all-around game.

“Like I said, he’s never going to be accused of being a big-time scorer, but he does pretty much everything else on the basketball floor at a pretty high level.”

With Winslow joining Duke’s previous three commits in this class, the Blue Devils will be in position to continue to compete for national championships.

“He’s gearing up to make another run,” Daniels said of Krzyzewski. “When you’re able to secure commitments like this, it gives you a pretty good advantage. He’s arguably one of the best, if not the best, coach in college basketball, and you give him this type of talent, it’s going to make it a lot easier on him.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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