There is not a team in college basketball that is adapting to the changing college landscape better than the Duke Blue Devils, unfortunately.
Following the retirement of Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is looking to minimize the transition. The Blue Devils have the No. 1 recruiting class coming in next season and currently have the No. 1 for 2023, which Kentucky could challenge for. In addition, Duke hired away Kentucky Wildcats recruiting coordinator Jai Lucas, and they just made a new pioneer hire as well.
On Tuesday, Duke announced that they hired Rachel Baker in the unique role of general manager for the program. Duke described her position as follows: “In this exclusive position, Baker will specialize in helping players enhance their personal and professional skill sets, capitalize on strategic partnerships, including NIL opportunities, and work to support players in navigating the opportunities and challenges that come with being a student-athlete at the highest level.”
Prior to her new position, Baker worked for several years at Nike, where she led the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) event strategy and worked with Kevin Durant’s signature series. Baker also worked briefly with the NBA, helping with WNBA and NBA athlete integration.
In addition, Baker allegedly has experience “carrying large amounts of cash through airport security”, which is fitting for her new NIL job duties. This was included in a motion filed in 2019, which claimed under-the-table payouts to elite high school players within Nike’s EYBL division.
While the hire is revealing of what may have occurred behind the scenes at Duke in recent years - and a potential ‘mooning’ to the NCAA - it is also an innovative hire, indicative of the direction college basketball is headed.
John Calipari has always been about having an NBA-like program and developing players like pros, and now, that looks to be trending towards also having an NBA-like staff; hiring positions for sports psychologist(s), analytics, scouting, GM/Player Development.
(DeWayne Peevy would have been perfect in such a role.)
Fortunately, Kyle Tucker of The Athletic - who looks to be the most connected person to the program right now - did say that this has been “discussed”.
Today, Duke hired a GM.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) June 7, 2022
(This kind of structure has at least been discussed at UK. It is the way of the future.) https://t.co/Lz3Pa05zc7
Ultimately, this also falls on Mitch Barnhart, who has fought change related to NIL, alcohol sales, and even checkerboard uniforms. While Barnhart has done an excellent job, he may not be cut out for the new age of college athletics, admittedly not agreeing with Calipari nor Stoops.
With the landscape changing against his beliefs and being in his 60s, could we be nearing Barnhart’s retirement, and a potential return of Peevy?
While pushing for better facilities - and deservedly so - Calipari must also push for program changes that will soon become necessities for top programs going into the future.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments as well.