Duke Lands a Recruiting Coup and a Critical Need for 2019 in Five-Star Vernon Carey Jr.

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In a major recruiting coup for a program accustomed to such things, five-star big man Vernon Carey Jr. committed to Duke on Thursday. Announcing from his NSU University School in Fort Lauderdale, Carey retrieved a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, emblazoned with Duke’s insignia, and flashed it for ESPN’s cameras and those in attendance. Entering the day, Carey was generally believed to have whittled things down to Duke and Michigan State, with North Carolina his third choice. He told reporters he officially decided Thursday morning. Carey rated as the No. 2 player by a hair in the summer RSCI composite (which aggregates the rankings of major online recruiting websites) and will be an instant-impact player for the Blue Devils irrespective of where his final rank lies.

Listed at 6’10”, 275, Carey is an overwhelming cover for most high school competition, built thickly through the shoulders and utilizing nimble feet to face up and attack the basket. The son of the former Dolphins offensive tackle, Carey’s natural physicality and basketball instincts made the younger Carey better suited for the hardwood. His size, agility and inside-out game will make him a difficult cover at the college level, he should be an impactful rebounder, and if he continues working on his body, conditioning and consistency, he could be capable of anchoring Duke’s offense.

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“They see me as a positionless player, and said I can play anywhere on the court,” Carey explained of Duke’s recruiting pitch. Based on the heavy turnover ahead for the current roster, Mike Krzyzewski will need every ounce of his incoming star’s versatility: expect Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish to depart for the NBA draft, where all three will likely be among the first handful of selections. It’s possible Tre Jones leaves with them. The Blue Devils’ role players should return and improve, but Carey helps fill their critical need for offensive firepower. Carey joins two other highly rated players, 6’5” wing Wendell Moore and combo guard Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

It’s not fair to speculate too far ahead, but at this juncture, Carey can also be penciled into next year’s one-and-done conversation—the relative maturity of his skills and his athletic potential should lead to production and lottery-level consideration. His hands and footwork are impressive, and he can play on the block or step out and shoot from outside. He does have a tendency to linger on the perimeter a bit too often, and NBA teams will nitpick his lack of immense length and defensive upside, but Carey has a good amount to offer. It will be curious to see how Duke decides to utilize him, a question that can’t be fully answered until the rest of the roster fills out.

The Blue Devils have landed four elite prospects (relative to the rankings) in each of their last five classes, and are still working on next season’s group. Krzyzewski remains in the hunt for a handful of top talents, including recently reclassified guard Anthony Edwards and big men Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt. Given the availability of minutes and the fact that this is Duke, expect another big fish or two to follow Carey to Durham as the recruiting cycle moves forward. To nobody’s surprise, the Blue Devils remain on a roll with top recruits.

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