One-And-Dones Out Of Big Dance, Duke And Kentucky Look At Next Wave

One-And-Dones Out Of Big Dance, Duke And Kentucky Look At Next Wave

With the high expectations of this year's college basketball freshman behind us, Duke & Kentucky get ready for the next class.

Mar 27, 2018 by Adam Zagoria
One-And-Dones Out Of Big Dance, Duke And Kentucky Look At Next Wave

Zion Williamson and a trio of his future Duke teammates were inside the gym at Emory Sports Medicine Complex just north of Atlanta on Sunday night when their future coach, Mike Krzyzewski, and his Blue Devils were defeated by Kansas in an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game in Omaha, Nebraska.

Williamson and the other Duke prospects practicing for Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Game caught glimpses of KU's dramatic victory on a flat-screen TV attached to the wall of the gym.

"Oh, it was very tough but Kansas is a very good team with experience," said Williamson, who won the McDonald's All-American dunk contest on Monday night. "It's sad to see Grayson Allen go out that way, and now some of those freshmen, they're just going to prepare for the NBA Draft and I hope they go top 10."

With the Blue Devils' ouster from the NCAA Tournament, all the teams featuring so-called "one-and-done" players—those expected to spend just one year on campus before declaring for the NBA Draft—have been knocked out. Kentucky and Arizona, both of which habitually feature such players, were bounced out earlier in the tournament. The teams advancing to this weekend's Final Four in San Antonio—Villanova, Kansas, Michigan, and Loyola Chicago—are known more for their high-profile coaches, their veteran leaders, and, in Loyola's case, a colorful 98-year-old nun, than for having any one-and-done players.

But that doesn't mean Duke and Kentucky, the only two teams to win an NCAA Tournament while relying on one-and-done players in the one-and-done era, won't be back next year with a whole new crop of freshmen seeking more March Madness glory before heading off to the NBA.

"I don't think people are going to stop recruiting the best players and I don't begrudge them that," said Craig Esherick, a sports management professor at George Mason who was Georgetown's head coach from 1999-2004, in a phone interview. "I'd do the same thing. And I hope [GU coach Patrick Ewing is] doing the same thing because that's the only way you're going to be to compete is to recruit the best players and Mike Krzyzewski and (Kentucky coach) John Calipari didn't make the rules. They are just going out and trying to find the best players they can for their teams and see what happens from there.

"I mean, Duke was pretty good this year and so was Kentucky. I know they both got beat and didn't make the Final Four, but they were pretty good. I enjoyed watching them."

The top schools aren't going to stop recruiting players like Blue Devils big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., simply because they're projected as one-and-dones. The ideal recipe for winning an NCAA title would seem to be a blend of ultra-talented freshmen and savvy, skilled veterans.

The two teams to win an NCAA title while featuring one-and-done players went this route. When Kentucky won the title in 2012, it had veterans like Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, and Terrence Jones complementing players who ended up going Nos. 1 and 2 in the draft: Anthony Davis and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, respectively.

When Duke cut down the nets in 2015, senior guard Quinn Cook and junior forward Amile Jefferson provided valuable leadership alongside a quartet of freshmen, including three who went into the draft and Allen, who remained all four years.

Esherick, like many others in today's climate, would like to see the NBA abandon the one-and-done rule in favor of Major League Baseball's rule that requires players remain in college until their junior season to get drafted once they elect to enroll.

The Pac-12 Conference recently supported a similar proposal, while the Big East Conference advocated for a "two or none" rule in which players would be locked into at least two years on campus if they didn't go pro straight out of high school.

"I hope they change the rule so it's more in line with the baseball rule," Esherick said. "To me that makes more sense for both parties, for the kids that want to leave right away and play professional basketball right out of high school and that also makes more sense for the business of higher education and the business of basketball to have the baseball rule where the kids, if they commit to going to college, they stay for three years. That, to me, would be a really good rule."

For now, though, there is little chance players like Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish will stay at Duke for anything close to three years after they enroll this year. The trio of McDonald's All-Americans made history when they became the first players ranked Nos. 1, 2, and 3 by recruiting services to commit to the same school.

On top of that, Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson are the projected Nos. 1, 2, and 3 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, according to

Having seen what just happened to a Duke team loaded with one-and-dones, Williamson knows the challenges will be daunting in next year's NCAA Tournament—assuming the Blue Devils qualify yet again.

"It's very tough because March Madness, as you can see, everybody brings their best," said Williamson, who has amassed 1.4 million Instagram followers largely because of his dunking ability. "Those rankings, those power rankings, those don't matter. Look at Loyola Chicago, they're in the Final Four now. Every team's going to bring their best, it's always those few upsets. So I just feel when Coach K is our coach he'll just put us in position to not get caught up in the moment and hopefully we can go far in the tournament."

Rowan Barrett, the father of R.J. Barrett and the assistant general manager and executive vice president of Canada Basketball, says he likes the Blue Devils' chances to compete for another title under Krzyzewski, who has won five.

"I think the NCAA is very competitive," Barrett said. "I think they play in a very competitive league but at the same time, Duke has shown itself to be one of the best teams so you're hoping that they can jell. You know the coaching's going to b great. They've got as good a chance as anyone, I hope."

Williamson agrees that even a team full of freshman studs (like the Blue Devils this year and next) needs some veterans to teach them the ropes. While Duke could lose four freshman one-and-dones as well as the senior Allen this year, it would help next season if at least some of the key reserves like Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden return.

"It will help a lot," Williamson said, "just always having that veteran presence is a good thing for every team."

Adam Zagoria is a basketball insider who runs and contributes to The New York Times. Follow Adam on Twitter.