R.J. Barrett could have been mentioned amongst the names John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Instead, the #1 player in the class of 2018 is headed to play for Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.
Duke has been perceived by some analysts as the favorite for Barrett for a long time, but Kentucky was very much a major threat in his recruitment. The Oregon Ducks were also in the running.
After blitzing Cal’s USA U19 team this summer to the tune of 38 points and 13 rebounds, Barrett brought disappointment to the Kentucky coach yet again.
Barrett’s commitment has major implications to the college basketball world. First of all, it means Duke is going to be very, very good in 2018-19. They’re adding three top 10 players in Barrett, forward Cameron Reddish and guard Tre Jones to whoever returns from this year’s team. Barrett and Reddish in particular might form the most talented freshman wing duo that college hoops has ever seen.
Second, there is a lot more added pressure on Cal to finish this recruiting class strong. Top 10 point guard Immanuel Quickley on board, and his commitment should help the Kentucky staff pry Zion Williamson away from Kansas and his home-state suitors.
Additionally Calipari is going to want one of Quentin Grimes or Keldon Johnson, along with seven-footer Bol Bol for this class to end up where he wants it. Kentucky isn't the perceived leader for any of the last three but if anyone can get it done, it’s Cal. Crossing off that checklist will certainly be a tough task.
Look, let’s call it what it is. Barrett’s commitment to Duke is a heart breaker. The kid would have been awesome at Kentucky and is going to be awesome in Durham. Coach K has been seemingly hand-picking top 5 level recruits in the past couple of seasons and has beaten Cal head-on more often than not. He’s probably number one on the recruiting trail right now. Kentucky fans have a lot to say about Coach K and Jeff Capel, but whatever they’re doing on the recruiting trail (negative recruiting or not), it’s working.
Calipari will still get his guys and even if he doesn't land the very best recruiting class in the country, it’ll be one that 349 other Division I teams would beg for. A class of Quickley, Grimes/Johnson, Williamson and Bol would still be awesome to watch. Add that to Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, one of Jarred Vanderbilt/P.J. Washington/Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones and you still have a very scary team next basketball season. It may not be the “super team” that Barrett would have made it, but a top contender nonetheless. That’s the best case scenario right now.
It’s a long time before we ever get to see any of these guys play in college. R.J. Barrett is the safe bet to be the number one NBA draft pick in 2019 and will be an ESPN darling playing for Duke.
The good news is that there’s a beast down in South Carolina who the Kentucky staff feels really good about landing. Your move, Zion.