Is the 2018-2019 Duke ‘Fab 5’ the best recruiting class ever?


In what might seem like an unfair advantage before the 2018-2019 college basketball season even begins, not many are complaining in Cameron, North Carolina.

College basketball fans are used to seeing a few of the nations best high-school basketball players commit to playing for the Blue Devils. However, as good as Coach K has been in the past at gathering top recruiting classes, he has attacked the 2018 class unlike any other.

Three of the nations best high school players, No. 1 recruit R.J Barrett, No. 2 recruit Zion Williamson, and No. 3 recruit Cam Reddish have all joined forces by committing to play for Coach Krzyzewski at Duke University this upcoming season.

This is something that has never been accomplished in the history of college basketball: bringing in the nations top three recruits to play for one program.

You would think that would be enough ammunition next season for Coach K, but he was not finished recruiting. Krzyzewski then got the nations 17th ranked high school recruit (Tre Jones) and the 41st ranked player (Joey Baker) to join this stellar class.

This got me thinking, is this Blue Devils recruiting class the best college basketball has ever seen?

Well…is it?

In order to answer that, it is important to list other recruiting classes that caught a lot of attention before they even played a minute of college basketball. It is only fitting that when discussing college basketball, things get solved by a bracket.

In listing the other recruiting classes, each one will then be given a seed 1-8. Seeding will be determined based on the average ranking of each class in regards to their recruits national high-school ranking. From there, the seeds will be matched-up accordingly and will square off head-to-head. At the end of the tournament, the verdict will be handed down and the winner will be crowned as the best recruiting class in college basketball history.

** Only recruits selected in the ESPN Top 100 up until the year 2007 will be included in their respective class, all recruits before 2007 will use be listed with their ranking from, and finally, all recruits ranking beyond 1999 will be taken off of **

** Each class must have a minimum of five recruits to be included in this list (sorry 2009 Kentucky and 2006 Ohio State). The top five recruits from each program’s class will be listed. **


Jayson Tatum was impressive in his lone season at Duke. Photo via: Getty Images

NUMBER 1 SEED: 2013 Kentucky

Recruits (ranking): Average – 6.4

  • Julius Randle (3rd), Andrew Harrison (5th), Dakari Johnson (7th), James Young (8th), Aaron Harrison (9th)

NUMBER 2 SEED: 2016 Kentucky

Recruits (ranking): Average – 11.6

  • Bam Adebayo (5th), De’Aaron Fox (6th), Malik Monk (9th), Wenyen Gabriel (14th), Sacha Killeya-Jones (24th)

NUMBER 3 SEED: 2017 Duke

Recruits (ranking): Average – 12.2

  • Marvin Bagley III (1st), Wendell Carter (4th), Trevon Duval (6th), Gary Trent Jr. (8th), Jordan Tucker (42nd)

NUMBER 4 SEED: 2018 Duke

Recruits (ranking): Average – 12.8

  • R.J. Barrett (1st), Zion Williamson (2nd), Cam Reddish (3rd), Tre Jones (17th), Joey Baker (41st)

NUMBER 5 SEED: 2016 Duke

Recruits (ranking): Average – 14.8

  • Harry Giles (1st), Jayson Tatum (3rd), Frank Jackson (10th), Marques Bolden (16th), Javin DeLaurier (44th)

NUMBER 6 SEED: 2017 Kentucky

Recruits (ranking): Average – 16.4

  • Kevin Knox (10th), P.J. Washington (12th), Nick Richards (17th), Jarred Vanderbilt (19th), Quade Green (24th)

NUMBER 7 SEED: 1991 Michigan

Recruits (ranking): Average – 20.6

  • Chris Webber (1st), Juwan Howard (3rd), Jalen Rose (6th), Jimmy King (9th), Ray Jackson (84th)

NUMBER 8 SEED: 2006 North Carolina

Recruits (ranking): Average – 23

  • Brandan Wright (3th), Ty Lawson (7th), Wayne Ellington (9th), Alex Stephenson (46th), Deon Thompson (50th)

Round 1: Quarterfinals

N0. 1 2013 Kentucky Wildcats class vs. No. 8 2006 North Carolina Tar Heels class

This game between recruits would come down to the front-court. North Carolina may have better scoring guards in Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, but their forwards in Alex Stephenson and Deon Thompson would not be able to defend the athleticism and motor in which Julius Randle plays with.

The Tar Heels would try and combat Randle’s production with the offense from Wright. The only problem with that is 7’0″ 255-pound Dakari Johnson would be protecting the rim for Kentucky. Wright could find it hard to get going offensively against Johnson. Big Blue Nation advances in dominant fashion.

Winner: 2013 Kentucky Wildcats class

No. 2 2016 Kentucky Wildcats class vs. No. 7 Michigan Wolverines class

Is Michigan’s Fab Five still the greatest recruiting class of all-time? Photo via: Business Insider

The “Fab 5” created match-up nightmares for their opponents in their run at two national championship appearances. Mainly due to the athleticism of Chris Webber. In this game, Kentucky big-man Bam Adebayo would be matched with Webber and as good a post defender that Adebayo is, he would have to be more than that to stop C-Webb. Once an entry pass is entered into Webber, blue and white jerseys would collapse in on him.

If Kentucky were to win this game, they would need scoring from their two athletic and quick guards in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Jalen Rose, as tough a competitor as he was, never saw a guard like Fox, with blazing speed and sneaky athleticism. Jimmy King and Malik Monk would cancel each other’s production out, leaving Juwan Howard to take advantage of his match-up with Wenyen Gabriel. If Howard could do so then it opens up the Kentucky defense so that Webber and Rose can play with more freedom as the game progresses.

In a back-and-forth battle, the toughness of Michigan would see them through.

Winner: 1991 Michigan Wolverines class

No. 3 2017 Duke Blue Devils class vs. No. 6 2017 Kentucky Wildcats class

Facing off in the opening round is two blue-blood programs who built two of the top recruiting classes from the same year. Not only is this a game of top recruits from that year, it also see’s the nation’s top recruiters in Coach Calipari and Coach Krzyzewski squaring off. 

The Wildcats are just outmatched in this game, both physically and in overall talent. Duke guards Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. would hassle Kentucky’s P.J. Washinton and Quade Green all game long. While Kevin Knox would have to take on his role as a leader and scorer for Calipari’s side, a challenge he simply could not overcome.

The sheer force on the interior for Duke would be crippling for the Wildcats. Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley III will take their turns punishing Jarred Vanderbilt and Nick Richards on both offense as well as defense. Go crazy ‘Cameron crazies!’

Winner: 2017 Duke Blue Devils class

No. 4 2018 Duke Blue Devils class vs. N0. 2016 Duke Blue Devils Class

Having two recruiting classes going against one another speaks to the level of consistency and dominance Coach K has had in the world of college basketball recruiting. While each of these squads has their own coming of age talent in Jayson Tatum for the 2016 class and Williamson in the class of 2018, it is the overall talent of the 2018 Duke squad that sees them through.

Simply put there are too many wing scoring and playmaking threats for coach Krzyzewski 2018’s class that his 2016 squad would be unable to contain. While Harry Giles and Marques Bolden would most likely hold down the paint for the 2016 Duke class, it wouldn’t be enough to match the production that is expected to come from Williamson, Reddish, and Barrett. Coach K beats…Coach K?

Winner: 2018 Duke Blue Devils class

Round 2: Semi-Finals

2013 Kentucky Wildcats class vs. 2018 Duke Blue Devils class

This could very well be the final for determining which recruiting class was the best. While both of these classes have at least three of the nations top-10 recruits for their respective teams in that year, the style of play for each side is different. For Duke, their strength lies with their forwards. They will be sending out four forwards, with each being a talented scorer from either the perimeter or from inside the paint.

Kentucky owes their success to their shared defensive ability. The Harrison twins are strong on-ball defenders and Randle and Johnson have no problem banging down low in the post. On offense, it is pretty simple, throw the ball inside and watch Randle punish his opponents.

Julius Randle was a lot to handle during his days as a Wildcat. Photo via: Getty Images

This game would all come down to whether or not Randle and the Harrison twins can defend or limit the scoring from Reddish, Barrett, and Williamson. From an athletic stand-point Randle and Williamson mirror one another. Dakari Johnson would prove to be a difference maker in this game as he’d command the post with nobody on the Blue Devils being able to combat his size on the boards.

In a game of runs that would see each top recruit perform to their level of expectation, even with the defensive capabilities of Kentucky, it would not be enough to stop the onslaught of offense that the Blue Devils will throw at them. The No. 1 seed falls!

Winner: 2018 Duke Blue Devils class

2017 Duke Blue Devils class vs 1991 Michigan Wolverines class

A battle of the bigs no doubt. In one corner you have Bagley III and Carter, and in the other, you have Webber and Howard. the size, style of play and production from both Webber and Bagley III would be evenly shared. Howard and Carter would then have to battle it out at the center position. The game has evolved to favor more physically imposing big men and that is exactly where Carter would have the edge over Howard.

Getting away from the trees and out onto the perimeter, the match-up that is most intriguing is Rose defending Duval. After battling with both Fox and Monk in the opening round, the Michigan guards would be tired and a bit banged up. This would no doubt be exploited from Krzyzewski, commanding his guards to push the pace and make the Wolverines run with them.

Michigan falls to Duke, again.

Winner: 2017 Duke Blue Devils class

Round 3: Finals

2017 Duke Blue Devils class vs. 2018 Duke Blue Devils class

An All-Duke final. Same program, two separate rosters with opposite playing styles. As stated before, having three of the nation’s top forwards in Williamson, Reddish, and Barrett, the 2018 Duke class has the edge over any opponent in terms of playmaking and scoring ability on the wing. What they lack in size, they make up for in skill.

The 2017 Duke squad is buoyed by the play of their two stellar big men who carried them to this final. Much like the 2017 class cannot handle the skill of the 2018 Blue Devils class, the 2018 squad cannot compete with the size and physicality of Krzyzewski’s 2017 squad.

With this 2018 Duke class advancing past the physicality dealt from 2013 Wildcats in the semi-finals, a similar game-plan would have to be installed to combat the two big men who rise above the height and length of both Bagley III and Carter. The 2018 Blue Devils would be able to send out four athletic forwards which could create an advantage in perimeter defense against the 2017 Duke class.

The guard match-up of Duval and Jones leans in the favor of Duval. That match-up, along with the size of the 2017 Blue Devils, would still not be enough to take down the 2018 Duke class.

The game would come down to the final few possessions where Reddish buries a deep-three, followed by a Barrett pull-up jumper, and then topped off with an emphatic Williamson dunk off a Jones alley-oop. Krzyzewski’s 2017 squad fails to answer and the nations top three recruits embrace one another as the confetti rains down.

Winner: 2018 Duke Blue Devils class

Final word:

Cameron Reddish looks to do big things for the Blue Devils this season. Photo via: Getty Images

Nobody knows what kind of real-life success this 2018 Duke class will produce. If all can stay healthy and they are able to live up to their national ranking, the sky is the limit. Whether or not they achieve success like the 2013 Kentucky Wildcats next season or not, getting to see them to all play together for a season should raise the level of excitement in any college basketball fan. Even if it is for Duke.

This Duke squad will be followed closely and they will be scrutinized if they do not achieve immediate success. The skepticism may seem unfair because they are so young, but in agreeing to join forces, each recruit knows what they signed up for, and that is to compete for a shot at a National Championship.

The NCAA basketball season will tip-off a few days earlier this season, now scheduled for November 6th. On that Tuesday, Duke will send out their freshman phenoms to face Kentucky in Indianapolis. In this game, there will be eight of the nation’s top 25 recruits featured.

So, mark your calendars and make sure your cable subscription is paid for. You don’t want to miss that showdown. 


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