College Sports

Vernon Carey, the No. 1 basketball prospect in South Florida, makes his college choice

Vernon Carey, perhaps the greatest basketball prospect South Florida has ever produced, is joining the Duke Blue Devils.

The five-star center from University School made his college choice Thursday in a ceremony televised live on ESPN from Davie. The senior picked Duke over the North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans, his other two finalists.

Carey made his announcement sitting behind a row of hats from the three schools. He pulled a Blue Devils handkerchief out from a chest pocket inside his jacket and declared he would be, “joining the brotherhood” with coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke.

“I just felt like Duke is the best fit for me,” Carey said after making his announcement Thursday. “Just Coach K and just the guys they’re bringing in. Hopefully, other players in the class will join me.”

Carey’s commitment is another major win for the Blue Devils, which landed three top-five prospects in the Class of 2018. Carey is the No. 2 player in the composite rankings for the Class of 2019. He joins four-star small forward Wendell Moore and four-star combo guard Boogie Ellis as top-50 prospects already committed to Duke this cycle.

Carey said he didn’t make his decision until the morning of his announcement, which came at about 12:40 p.m. He set Thursday as a commitment date as a way to honor his maternal grandfather. Vincent Banks, who played basketball at Carol City and with the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, introduced Carey to basketball and died a year ago Thursday.

The athletic lineage in the Carey family, however, comes from football. Vernon Carey Sr., the prospect’s father, was a standout offensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins. Carey Jr. committed himself to basketball instead after being introduced to the sport by his grandfather. He chose to commit Thursday because it is the one-year anniversary of his grandfather’s death.

“Before we knew this was going to be the day, we were dreading this day,” said LaTavia Carey, the prospect’s mother, “but when he decided, ‘Mom, I’m going to commit on Dec. 6,’ it gives us something to look forward to every year now.”

Jimmy Carr, Carey’s high school coach, said he knew the decision would come down to the Blue Devils and Michigan State, although he didn’t know until Carey made the announcement.

It doesn’t surprise Carr, however, to see Carey pick Duke, which is the subject of “Earn Everything,” a documentary series produced by ESPN and streamed on ESPN+. The Blue Devils have already spent time this year as the No. 1 team in the nation and currently sit at No. 3. Freshmen Zion Williams, RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish could be the top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

“I think right now the overwhelming factor with Duke,” Carr said after the announcement, “is they’re must-watch TV. They’re the hottest thing. When they had Vernon on the ticker today, that he was announcing his decision, the next thing was a promo on the documentary.

“Right now, it’s a Blue Devil world, and hopefully Vern goes there and keeps that stuff going.”

Williamson’s presence is a particularly important factor, Carr said. The power forward arrived as the No. 5 player in the 2018 recruiting class and now looks like the future No. 1 pick. Krzyzewski has allowed the forward to frequently bring the ball up, and Williamson’s unique skill set has captivated the nation. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound athlete is averaging 20.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.1 blocks and 2.1 steals per game early this season.

The Sharks try to use Carey in a similar manner. The 6-10, 275-pound athlete was the Miami Herald’s Class 5A-2A Player of the Year for boys’ basketball last season after leading University School to an appearance in the GEICO Nationals championship.

“I would be doing that kid a discredit if I was making him a back-to-the-basket post player the way the game’s changing,” Carr said. “It’s just how things come together in recruiting. If Zion’s not there, Vernon’s not going there and that’s just the way it is.”

While Carey wasn’t so explicit about the comparisons to Williamson, the freshman’s monster campaign is further proof of how Krzyzewski’s system works so well for elite prospects. Carey had to turn down two Hall of Fame coaches to make this decision, but turning down Mike Krzyzewski would have been particularly difficult, Carey said.

“They see me as a positionless player, so they’ll use me all over, which means, for me, bringing the ball up sometimes, and running the pick-and-roll,” Carey said. “I’m a unique player and he said he works well with unique players, so just being able to be under his belt will just help me in the long run.”

When Carey trimmed his list to this final three, one school was conspicuously absent. The Miami Hurricanes had been a persistent presence in Carey’s recruitment, even hosting the post player for a visit in October. Carey grew up a Miami fan and Vernon Carey Sr., the prospect’s father, was a standout offensive lineman for Miami and the Miami Dolphins.

Had the past year unfolded a little different, the Hurricanes might have landed their biggest recruit ever.

Carr said he feels Miami’s chances faded when the Hurricanes were tied to the ongoing corruption scandal. The Hurricanes were redacted from the initial court case regarding the scandal, although star center Dewan Hernandez is currently serving an indefinite suspension because he was named in an email suggesting he received payment from Adidas employee Christian Dawkins, who was found guilty in the initial court case

“If they didn’t get dinged up last year — wrongly — in that scandal with the wrong innuendos, I think they’d be right there today, too,” Carr said, “so I really felt badly for them.”

Sports Pass for $30 per year

Get unlimited access to all Miami Herald sports stories and videos for $30


Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer