WASHINGTON — In the immediate aftermath of his team’s loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight on Sunday night, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had zero interest in thinking ahead to next year.
And understandably so. Zion Williamson and college’s version of the Golden State Warriors saw their season come to an end short of the Final Four. This Duke team that captured the nation’s imagination will never play together again. The next time Williamson and his fellow freshmen play organized games will be in the NBA.
“I’d rather not talk about the future right now,” Coach K said after his team’s 68-67 loss to the Spartans. “Like Zion said, let’s deal with the moment, and also give respect to the moment, the moment of their victory and the moment of our season ending. And I’d rather just deal with that.”
With Duke and Kentucky both losing on Sunday, another flood of one-and-done players from those programs will head to the NBA draft, while new recruiting classes will roll in to replace them.
Zion: ‘There’s obviously a high chance that I’m going to enter the draft’ pic.twitter.com/UaSGRwOZRJ— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 31, 2019
Duke and Kentucky are responsible for eight of the top 41 projected picks in the upcoming draft, according to ESPN. Seven of those are freshmen, including Williamson and R.J. Barrett, the projected top two picks. Kentucky sophomore P.J. Washington is only non-freshman in the group.
Meantime, Kentucky has a four-man recruiting class ranked No. 2 nationally behind Arizona by 247Sports.com, while Duke’s three-man class is rated No. 10.
Both programs remain in the hunt for Matthew Hurt, the 6-8 forward from Minnesota, who will announce April 19 and is also considering Kansas, North Carolina, Memphis, and Minnesota. Hurt figures to make an immediate impact on whichever program he picks.
Duke is also recruiting 6-8 forward Trendon Watford from Alabama, but has yet to offer him. Watford is also considering Alabama, Indiana, LSU, and Memphis. He is set to announce April 20 at the Jordan Brand Classic.
Jaden McDaniels, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft per ESPN, also remains uncommitted and is considering Kentucky along with home-state Washington, Texas, UCLA, and San Diego State.
“I’m out here trying to recruit Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt,” Kentucky-bound wing Kahlil Whitney said last week at the McDonald’s All-American Game. “I feel like those two guys are pretty quiet, so I just throw a couple jokes at them, telling them we can win a national championship next year. They just told me they’ll be making a decision soon and we’ll definitely be one of the top options.”
Duke figures to lose four freshmen to the first round of the draft in Williamson, Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones and will have a lot of holes to fill.
“I mean, it’s obviously a high chance that I’m obviously going to enter the draft,” Williamson said at his locker after going for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks in his final college game.
“I’m not going to make it official because it’s something I have to talk to my parents about,” he added. “We got seniors and other players that could potentially go pro, so each year, especially coming to Duke, you gotta enjoy being with that group because it changes almost every year.”
The Blue Devils bring in point guard Boogie Ellis, wing Wendell Moore, and big man Vernon Carey Jr., a group that will have the unenviable task of following Zion and the current freshmen. Carey says he’s not worried about anyone trying to replace Zion, though.
“We have similar stuff in our games, but I feel like overall we’re different players,” the 6-10, 250-pound Carey said. “I feel like I bring a high versatility.”
Kentucky, meantime, has four players projected in the draft in freshmen Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, and Ashton Hagans, along with Washington. They also lose grad transfer Reid Travis. All told, Kentucky figures to lose its top five scorers.
Kentucky brings in athletic wings Whitney, Keion Brooks, and Dontaie Allen, along with guard Tyrese Maxey.
Asked what he’ll bring next year, the 6-7 Whitney said at the McDonald’s Game “defense and scoring.”
“I feel like I’m going to be a dominant defender and I’m going to have a knack for the ball,” he said.
As for what he and Maxey can do together, Whitney said, “Being very versatile, pick-and-roll, playing a one-two game. Tyrese is a very fast guard, can get to the rim, he can make plays for others, so I’m looking forward to playing on the next level.”
As both Duke and Kentucky close the door on one group of one-and-dones, the next awaits.
Whitney is the projected No. 11 pick in 2020 per ESPN, with the uncommitted Hurt at No. 16 and the Duke-bound Carey at 24.
As for this year’s departing college players, Kentucky coach John Calipari summed it up for Kentucky (and unintentionally for Duke as well) when he tweeted, “Each and every player isn’t the same version he was at the beginning of the season. Every player grew, and as they improved, our team got better and put us in the mix again.”