Big news on the recruiting front today, as the nation’s top player in the Class of 2011 according to Rivals.com has committed to Duke. Austin Rivers, a 6’4 whirlwhind of a point guard and the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc, made his decision on Wednesday night and informed coaches Bill Self and Roy Williams at his other two finalists, Kansas and UNC, this morning. Rivers cancelled on-campus official visits with both schools, as UNC was set to welcome him with open arms this coming weekend and Kansas was scheduled for later in October. If Rivers’ ranking holds through his senior season, he will be the first top overall recruit that Duke has inked since 2005 (Josh McRoberts) — let’s hope for Rivers’ sake that he turns out a little better in a Blue Devil uniform than McBob did.
Nobody Should be Surprised at This Decision
It was an open secret that Coach K was considered the favorite to land Rivers, as he regularly was spotted sporting Duke gear in the last year or so (the above photo may or may not be real). Krzyzewski certainly has plenty of success to hang his hat on, but we wonder if his “coolness” factor has translated better with the younger generation of recruits since he took on the reins as the head coach for the US National Team. For better or worse, 16- and 17-year old basketball players are going to be more impressed by stories about coaching LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the Olympics than they are about seemingly-ancient tales regarding Christian Laettner and Grant Hill. Rivers originally committed to home school Florida as a high school freshman when the Gators were still awash in the glow of back-to-back titles, but he re-opened his recruitment a year later and says that he fell in love with Duke during a visit there last fall.
Coach K’s greatest teams always have elite point guards, from Tommy Amaker in the 80s to Bobby Hurley in the early 90s to Jason Williams a decade ago. While last year’s national champion Blue Devils assuredly had stellar point guard play from senior Jon Scheyer, he wasn’t the caliber of player of the others on this list. This year’s incoming lead guard, Kyrie Irving, and presumably next year’s (Rivers), most certainly are. In 1991, Duke won the national title somewhat accidentally; UNLV was far and away the best team (34-0 and defending champs), but the Devils caught the Runnin’ Rebs on the right night and ultimately cut down the nets “a year early.” Their 1992 team was the dominant one, and it’s entirely possible that we could be looking at a similar situation for Coach K in 2011 and 2012. So long as the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly can maintain the paint on defense and the boards, the next two years of Duke backcourts with Irving/Rivers, Nolan Smith (2011), Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins looks phenomenal. Just imagine if Coach K can convince Irving that two seasons in Durham is a good thing — the 2011-12 backcourt of he and Rivers could be one of the most talented the game has ever seen.
Uber-recruiters Thad Matta, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Bill Self and others should be on notice — Coach K never really left the recruiting circuit, but with Irving and now Rivers coming to Durham, the 63-year old coach has once again served notice that he will continue to be reckoned with.