Duke hoops recruiting mediocre

By Michael Mueller

For many Duke fans, the gloating from the Tar Heel faithful was already oppressive. After all, the defending national champions had only secured Scout.com’s best point guard, shooting guard, and two frontcourt players ranked among the nation’s top 100 prospects in the class of 2006.

Unfortunately, however, that gloating went from oppressive to unbearable when the Nashville Tennessean reported Sunday that power forward Brandan Wright, one of the nation’s top five prospects, shocked the recruiting world and joined the Tar Heels’ already impressive class. Arguably the Blue Devil’s top target, Wright chose the Tar Heels over Kentucky, Vanderbilt and, of course, Duke.

“I was surprised because I thought that North Carolina would have been the fourth school on that four-team list,” said Dave Telep, Scout.com recruiting analyst. “I think the people who knew the Brandan Wright recruitment were generally taken back.”

For head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke coaching staff, it’s back to the drawing board to find an athletic frontcourt player to round out the Blue Devils’ class of 2006.

With Shelden Williams graduating this season and superfrosh Josh McRoberts a possible NBA lottery pick after the season, Krzyzewski will have to act fast to provide the team with future depth in the low post. Should McRoberts leave, Duke would have just three frontcourt scholarship players in 2006 – sophomores Jamal Boykin and Eric Boateng and freshman center Brian Zoubek.

One possibility for Krzyzewski is 6-foot-8 Lance Thomas, a lanky forward from Newark, N.J. Believed to be the only uncommitted player with a Duke scholarship offer in the class of 2006, Thomas fits the mold of previous Duke power forwards – long, versatile, and tenacious.

“They see he has a little bit of that Shane Battier quality about him, both as a player and as a leader,” said Dan Hurley, Thomas’ high school coach. “He’s just a kid that does whatever you need him to do to win.”

Despite listing Duke as one of his top four schools, Thomas had yet to schedule an official visit to Duke as of three weeks ago. Like Wright, Thomas’ recruitment has been enigmatic so far, making his commitment to Duke far from a guarantee.

“He’s been a difficult guy to figure out,” Telep said. “He doesn’t really have any set official visit dates, so it’s hard to tell when this thing is going to come to an end.”

Adding to Krzyzewski’s difficulty is the fact that many of the nation’s top power-forward prospects have either committed elsewhere or have narrowed the focus of their recruitment, leaving Thomas as Duke’s best – and perhaps only – option in the class of 2006, Telep said.

As a result, the pressure will be on to make Duke’s class of 2007 a watershed year. Forwards such as Medford, Ore. native Kyle Singler and Houston’s Gary Johnson will become priority recruits for the Blue Devils. Meanwhile, other five-star forwards such as Julian Vaughn and Gani Lawal will likely remain on Duke’s radar for awhile as Krzyzewski looks to infuse future teams with post depth.

Either way, the miss of Wright is no reason for panic in Durham. Duke still has three commitments – Zoubek, guard Jon Scheyer and forward Gerald Henderson – ranked among the nation’s top 50 players by Scout.com.

Even without Wright, Thomas or even McRoberts, Duke could still field as many as six McDonald’s All-Americans in 2006.

“Last year Duke had a monster recruiting class. This year North Carolina has a monster recruiting class,” Telep said. “These two teams, with the way their personnel is rigged, should basically alternate Final Four appearances.”

Mike Van Pelt contributed to this story.