Could 2019 Duke Possibly Be The Last Great Freshmen-Led Team Of The One-And-Done Era?

Years from now when we look back and reminisce about the 2018-19 men’s college basketball season, there’s no doubt that Duke and Zion Williamson will be the two main storylines that will flash in our minds. It was one that was all about those two behemoths joining together to cause a nuclear explosion that sent the college hoops scene into a state of pandemonium every time they played.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s superteam came a point short of the Final Four, but it was a group that I believe can go down as a historically impactful squad. Potentially, this iteration of the Blue Devils is the last of its kind. What if this was the last great freshmen-led team of the "one-and-done" era?

From the moment Coach K landed this incredible recruiting class in 2018 by becoming the first school ever to sign the top three ranked players in the country from the same class (R.J. Barrett at No. 1; Zion Williamson at No. 2; Cam Reddish at No. 3), Duke became a team that the college basketball universe couldn’t get enough of.

It all started with their three-game basketball exhibition showcase in Canada last summer that gave the sports world a taste of what was to come. Then, on the national stage in their very first game of the regular season, in a highly-anticipated contest with big, bad Kentucky, they unleashed a breathtaking display of dominance in a convincing win.

This entire season for the Blue Devils has truly felt like a lengthy ballyhooed worldwide tour. The likes of former President Barack Obama, Jay-Z, LeBron James, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Spike Lee all attended games to see first-hand the greatest show in college basketball. In a way, Duke was redolent of legendary musical acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and U2 - massive sellout attractions in their heydays.

Barrett and Williamson (the two best players in college basketball in my opinion) were mostly responsible for the spectacle due to the highlight-reels they produced on a game-to-game basis. Barrett, the Canadian with a game that was already suited for the pros, and Williamson, the high school thunderous dunking viral sensation from South Carolina, were so enthralling that they have even stolen attentiveness from the NBA.

However, I strongly feel this group of Dukies could be the last of its breed in this age.

Off the court, the constant chatter surrounding the state of college basketball has been how the NCAA amateurism system is broken to the core due to how powerful of a monopoly it holds over the premier high school and college prospects.

The topic of student-athletes being paid has been at the forefront of discussions ever since former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon challenged the NCAA’s amateurism rules in 2009 by filing an antitrust class action lawsuit demanding that student-athletes are entitled to financial compensation for the NCAA’s commercial uses of their images.

Compensating collegiate athletes beyond the value of their scholarships is something the NCAA will probably never abide to while coaches, administrators and schools generate billions of dollars in revenue off of them. Well, there lies a viable solution for players looking to forego college altogether (especially the academic side of it) and get paid for their efforts.

Last October, the NBA’s G League announced that it was creating a new route for elite high school basketball prospects by giving them the option to skip college potentially for a $125,000 contract right out of prep school. Young pups will get to play in a league where they can develop their skills in preparation for the pro level while getting paid doing so. That’s an alternative that many 18-year-old kids are not going to pass up.

If this truly comes to pass, then this could be the last season where college basketball obtains the best prep school ballers. Perhaps the G League will deliver a blow to the college game, mainly killing the talk concentrated around "diaper dandies." Programs normally featuring future lottery picks of mostly one-and-done players, such as this Duke team, will be extinct in the future.

Because of the pressing issue of compensation, you see the ripple effect in the ongoing FBI corruption scandal. Assistant coaches at several schools - including Final Four entrant Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and USC - were arrested for arranging six-figure payments for players through Adidas.

(You best believe that NBA commissioner Adam Silver took notes of what was occurring in the college game and announced that the NBA would be open to lowering the draft-eligible age for American-born players from 19 to 18.)

Truth be told, the NCAA has shown no willingness to offer student-athlete compensation as college coaches’ salaries skyrocket, and FBI investigators expose the recruiting process and shady side of the game. Unless the NCAA takes action, scandals of this nature are going to occur over and over again.

It'll be less likely that coaches and shoe companies will be trying to distribute money behind the scenes to top recruits and their families to influence their college decision, because the majority of them (or maybe all) will be jumping at the chance to get paid six figures in the G League or even the pros right out of high school.

With all the one-and-done studs gone, a more level playing field is created. It would eliminate any Brian Bowen, Jr. type situations. You won’t hear any dialogue from talking heads when a potential lottery pick gets injured and is being hindered by the rule that mandates kids out of high school to go to college for one year.

That’s why years later this Duke team might hold major significance in the annuals of college basketball history.

I think they can have the level of cultural relevance in the same way as memorable teams like the Louisville Cardinals Doctors of Dunk, Houston Cougars Phi Slamma Jamma, Georgetown’s Hoya Paranoia, 1990-91 UNLV Runnin Rebels, Michigan’s Fab Five and the early ‘90s Duke teams led by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley did.

In some way, each one of those teams represented the anti-establishment and characterized the counter-culture movement.

The Doctors of Dunk popularized the dunk.

Phi Slamma Jamma injected entertainment into college basketball like never before by redefining the “above the rim” game.

Georgetown’s Hoya Paranoia had an intimidating, physical and fearful presence about them that no other team in history rivaled, while encapsulating the strength and pride of Black America in the ‘80s.

Jerry Tarkanian’s polarizing UNLV teams were painted as villains. They were the first team to embody the youth and the essence of hip-hop (the first team to wear black shoes in the 1990s; Larry Johnson had a gold front and a part up the middle of his hair; Anderson Hunt wore a high-top fade). All at a time when the genre was coming into the fold in the early ‘90s with groups like N.W.A., Public Enemy, Geto Boys, Naughty by Nature, Digital Underground and A Tribe Called Quest materializing into forces in the music industry.

Michigan’s brash Fab Five bucked the trend by starting five freshmen, wore black socks, rocked baggy shorts, made bald heads look cool (along with Michael Jordan at the time), were an ode to the one-and-only Muhammad Ali and were the epitome of swagger.

Coach K’s early ‘90s Duke squads were known for their many monikers such as “pretty boys,” “uppity, preppy, entitled scholar kids,” “America’s Sweethearts” and without a doubt the ultimate love or hate team in college basketball history.

I think there’s room for this year’s Duke team to be mentioned with those game-changing teams.

Look, Duke has been in the national spotlight all season dominating the headlines and conversation like no other team since 2015 Kentucky was trying to leave their stamp in history by finishing 40-0. They have arguably the top three picks in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft on the roster. It's like they start the game with an ace and two kings in a Texas Hold'em contest.

They have arguably one of the top five point guards in the nation and projected first round pick in Tre Jones. Based on talent, pure athleticism and overall skill, no team in the land can match what the Blue Devils have. They finished the regular season in the top 10 in the Kenpom Rankings in offensive efficiency (No. 6) and defensive efficiency (No. 6).

On the defensive side of the ball – which has been an Achilles heel for Duke the last two seasons – they have been rock-solid currently leading the nation in blocks per game (7.0) and tied for third in steals per game (9.5). This group is a terror in the open-court where it’s dunks galore and possibly have the best offensive team in the country (only Gonzaga and North Carolina can make a case to that title) and won the ACC Conference Tournament.

More importantly, they have compiled the most accomplished resume (beat Virginia twice, Florida State twice, North Carolina, Auburn, Texas Tech, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville) of any team this season. However, Duke fell short against Michigan State in hopes of advancing to the Final Four, proving to be the last prominent freshmen-led team of the one-and-done generation.

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