Sports

Class of 2019 recruit Joey Baker says he's heading to Duke a year early

Trinity’s Joey Baker, right, shoots over Cape Fear Christian’s Henry Odunze during the NCISAA 1A boys championship basketball game in 2016.
Trinity’s Joey Baker, right, shoots over Cape Fear Christian’s Henry Odunze during the NCISAA 1A boys championship basketball game in 2016. newsobserver.com

Joey Baker of Fayetteville, who had committed to play basketball at Duke in 2019, is reclassifying to the Class of 2018, he said Wednesday.

“After talking with staff and stuff like that we figured it would be best for my development,” Baker said. “I’ll get up there and work with the players there and develop and get a whole lot better.”

The 6-7 Baker, a power forward who played at Trinity Christian School last season and with Team Felton in AAU summer leagues, is a five-star recruit rated No. 27 in the Class of 2019 by 247sports.com.

He will join the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, and one that's stacked with talent.

The Blue Devils have signed the three of the top players in the Class of 2018 in 6-7 shooting guard R.J. Barrett, 6-7 small forward Cam Reddish and 6-6 power forward Zion Williamson. Duke has also signed Tre Jones, a 6-2 point guard who the No. 12 player in the class and the younger brother of former Duke guard Tyus Jones.

Baker said all that talent didn’t give him pause about joining Duke this season.

“Not really,” he said. “Those are really great players. The only thing I’m going to do is get better myself.”

Fred Cannon, who coached Baker with Team Felton, sees Baker helping Duke immediately on the perimeter.

"The size is there and the shooting ability is there," Cannon said. "The key thing for his decision to go early is with the athletes they have coming in, I think he has a chance to contribute early as a shooter. There are so many people to guard, he's going to get open looks. He can help them. He can stretch the floor to give them room to drive to the lane."

With Barrett, Reddish and Williamson expected to be one-and-done players, Baker said he’ll be better prepared to contribute even more during his sophomore season in 2019-20.

“I’ll be able to step in and be a little better that I would have been if I didn’t come early,” Baker said.

Baker gives the Blue Devils five incoming freshmen to help replace the five starters from last season’s 29-8 team that departed. Four of them — Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent, Jr., and Trevon Duval — were freshmen. The fifth starter was senior guard Grayson Allen.

Duke is unable to comment on Baker until the school receives his signed scholarship papers.

This is the third time in the last four seasons that Duke has added a recruit a year early through reclassification. The results have been mixed.

Bagley completed his high school work last summer before committing to the Blue Devils and enrolling last August. The 6-11 Bagley was a first-team all-American and the team’s most valuable player when he led Duke in scoring (21 points) and rebounding (11.1).

In 2015, point guard Derryck Thornton joined Duke a year early. He averaged 7.5 points and 2.5 assists in 26 minutes per game as a freshman in 2015-16 for the Blue Devils before transferring to Southern California.

Baker said he hadn’t thought about reclassifying before the last few weeks when he talked about it with Duke’s staff.

“It kind of worked out,” Baker said. “We hadn’t discussed it until recently. I was in a good spot with my classes. I’ll finish those and graduate early.”

Duke’s incoming freshmen normally enroll for the second summer school session, which begins in early July. That allows them to work together through the summer before the fall semester starts in August.

Baker said he’s not yet sure if he’ll be able to enroll for that summer session.

“We’ll figure that out,” Baker said.

Duke is the planning stages for a summer trip to Canada to play exhibition games in August in Montreal and the Toronto area. Barrett is from Mississauga, Ontario, just outside Toronto, and the Blue Devils would like to play two games in his hometown.



Baker said he hopes to be enrolled in time to participate in that trip if it happens.



Either way, Baker is convinced his game will develop faster and better by being at Duke beginning this season. He’s so sure he was even willing to give up his senior year of high school.

“Giving up senior year,” Baker said, “that’s sacrifice but that’s what it takes. But I’ll get a whole lot better over the next year.”



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