The Blue Devils landed five players in the class of 2011 led by the number three overall player and top shooting guard, Austin Rivers. The other four players were considered four star prospects by Scout.com, but all were ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions.
In addition to Rivers the Blue Devils pulled in commitments from a pair of small forwards with the commitments of Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy, the latter of which reclassified from the class of 2012 instead of spending a year at a prep school. Gbinije was rated as the No. 28 overall prospect in the class, while Murphy was ranked 39th.
Always on the lookout for big men, Duke completed the Plumlee trifecta with the commitment of Miles and Mason’s little brother, Marshall - a four star center who was also named a McDonald’s All-American.
In the backcourt Duke landed their heir apparent at the point guard position to be vacated by likely top NBA Draft pick, Kyrie Irving when Quinn Cook committed as the final member of the class. Like Rivers and Plumlee, Cook was named to the McDonald’s game after he finished his season with Oak Hill Academy.
1 Five Star; 4 Four Stars
Ranked 3 (Rivers), 28 (Gbinije), 38 (Cook), 39 (Murphy), and 68 (Plumlee)
This class had a number of interesting situations that could be classified as misses for lack of a better term. For starters Duke lost a commitment early on when Brandon (Miss.) center Tyler Adams backed off his commitment in favor of either Mississippi State or Georgetown. He later chose the Hoyas.
De-commitments were a theme with this class with regard to Duke targets with Adams leaving the Blue Devils and Austin Rivers backing off his Florida pledge before choosing Coach K’s program. Before Cook committed, New Jersey point guard and early Texas commitment Myck Kabongo continually made overtures toward Duke. Eventually the five star lead guard did back off his commitment to Texas, but Cook finally pulled the trigger in a concurrent move and Kabongo quickly re-pledged to the Longhorns.
Late in the recruiting cycle Duke began recruiting power forward DeAndre Daniels, but an offer never did materialize despite Daniels naming the Blue Devils as one of his top choices. Another player recruited, but who never saw the process progress was in-state power forward and top five overall prospect Quincy Miller.
Interestingly enough, the Blue Devils passed on Mississippi small forward Rodney Hood, a five star prospect who was ranked 26th in the class by Scout.com. Eventually, Hood would transfer to Durham where he would play one season before heading to the NBA Draft.
CAREERS TO DATE
Freshman Season, 2011-2012
Rivers always seemed to consider himself as a one and done prospect, following in the steps of Irving the year before. Unlike Irving, however, Rivers experienced a number of growing pains throughout the rigors of his 34 game career in Durham. There were certainly a number of high points including the play that cemented his legacy in Blue Devil lore:
Rivers ended up leading the team in scoring while shooting 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from the perimeter. However, the team never seemed to gel with Rivers as the alpha scorer. Things came apart at the end of the year with Duke losing to Florida State in the second round of the ACC Tournament and then to Lehigh in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
To put the entire season on Rivers’ shoulders is hardly fair, but the reality was the rest of the freshman class was a non-factor through those 34 games. Gbinije appeared in just 19 games and played 5.8 minutes per contest while Cook appeared in 31 contests and averaged 4.1 points and 2.0 assists in 11.7 minutes per night.
Both Murphy and Plumlee redshirted, though the former’s situation seemed odd after Murphy was among the starting five during the preseason tour of China and Dubai.
Sophomore Season, 2012-2013
During the off-season the class lost 40 percent of its personnel as Rivers declared for the NBA Draft and Gbinije transferred to Syracuse. However, the remaining members of the class - Plumlee and Murphy - came off their redshirt season and appeared (according to the preseason interviews) ready to compete for time.
Things started well for the Blue Devils as a team, but not for the youngest Plumlee who suffered a broken bone in his foot after being called “the sixth man” by Krzyzewski in the preseason. With his recovering dragging into the middle of the season, Plumlee saw himself fall out of the rotation and never factored in the rest of the season. For the year he played just 50 minutes and scored a total of two points.
Similarly, Murphy’s impact wasn’t felt in any meaningful way. Despite earning the praise of the coaches in the preseason and throughout his redshirt season, the 6-foot-8 small forward never played more than three minutes over the last month of the season and averaged just 2.1 points and 1.0 rebounds in 31 appearances.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Cook avoided both injury and the sophomore slump, earning a start in 34 of 36 games. He responded by averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game (second in the ACC). The increase in scoring from his freshman to sophomore season was the fifth most among ACC players that season. Cook also took home MVP honors of the Battle for Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas that saw Duke defeat eventual national champion Louisville. The sophomore lead guard ended up being named third team all-ACC for his efforts and led Duke in assists (190) and steals (51).
With Cook running the show Duke won 30 games and advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual champion Louisville. The run came despite an injury to starting power forward Ryan Kelly who missed 13 games with a broken foot, forcing the Blue Devils to adapt on the fly and lose some of the momentum that had vaulted the team to the top of the national rankings with victories over three top five teams.
Junior Season, 2013-2014
For the second straight season the Blue Devils would unexpectedly lose a player from the class of 2011 as Murphy departed the program at the semester break. Prior to his transfer to Florida, Murphy appeared in just five games and played a total of 33 minutes. The transfer left Duke’s five man class with just two original players, though Hood’s transfer in upped the number to three third years.
After a redshirt season and an injury robbed him of his first two seasons, Plumlee began to come into his own as a third year sophomore. As Duke’s only true center he appeared in 30 games and provided energy and size in the paint. The production wasn’t there in terms of numbers, but there were enough positives to keep Plumlee in the rotation for most of the year.
As for Cook, if he avoided the sophomore slump in 2012-2013, it found him as a junior. Cook’s scoring remained steady at 11.6 points per game, but the junior’s management of the team seemed to be erratic as the Blue Devils were up and down throughout the season. Eventually the junior lost the starting point guard position to Tyler Thornton in a move Krzyzewski was very willing to discuss after the season.
"We didn’t have consistency at the point guard this year," Mike Krzyzewski said in his postseason press conference. "That’s how Tyler (Thornton) ended up playing so much even though he was less talented than either Rasheed (Sulaimon) or Quinn (Cook). He had the ability to lead.”
Both Cook and Plumlee will be fighting for minutes against talented newcomers this upcoming season. In the post the Blue Devils welcome Jahlil Okafor who will likely start at center for a season before being picked in the top three selection in next year’s NBA Draft. Still, despite Okafor’s obvious talent, the Blue Devils will need contributions from Plumlee in order to keep Amile Jefferson from playing a second straight season at center.
Meanwhile, Cook will be in a battle for his starting position again this year - something that seemed out of the question after his strong sophomore campaign two years ago. While it’s true that Duke usually defers to senior point guards, there is precedence for Coach K to move a fourth year player out of the starting rotation as he did with Greg Paulus during the 2009 season.
That could happen again with the arrival of Tyus Jones, especially if Cook doesn’t bounce back from a sometimes rocky junior season in which he found himself playing behind Thornton. He’ll be battling against a highly rated freshman who is unproven at the college level, but who seems to have the kind of intangibles championed by Coach K as indicated in the early summer press conference.
“[Tyus] is a pretty good leader”, Krzyzewski said of the point guard he recruited for three years exclusively. “In fact, he’s an outstanding leader."
Whenever you land a five man class in today’s game the expectation has to be for long term production, and for the group to provide a foundation of leadership upon which you can build in their latter seasons. Three years into their careers, the five man group that signed in November of 2011 has provided only one rotation level upperclassman - and that was a roller coaster of a junior year.
There have been pockets of individual success with Rivers leading the team in scoring and providing some great moments during his brief tenure, and Cook earning third team all-conference honors as a sophomore. You can even throw in Hood’s terrific post-transfer season in which he earned second team all-ACC honors - though he wasn’t an original member of the class. Still, the cumulative body of work is lacking relative to great recruiting classes of the past.
Taking a big picture approach to the issue, 2011 is entering their fourth year in the program with a pair of first round NCAA Tournament exits to their credit. In both cases the team’s lack of cohesion and leadership was the catalyst for disappointment. As freshmen it’s hard to assign blame, but as juniors the original five man class provided no starters and only one player in the top seven of the rotation. And, based on preseason prognostications, there is a real chance the original group of five will provide no senior starters. For a program and coach that has spent the last three decades pointing to and championing a culture of success and leadership provided by its upperclassmen, it is fair to say this wasn’t contemplated when the fax machine delivered national letters of intent in November of 2011.
Luckily, there’s one more season for Cook to regain the form he showed so consistently as a sophomore and teased as a junior. Meanwhile, Plumlee is finally healthy and has two more seasons to factor into the rotation as a junior and redshirt senior. Each of his brothers enjoyed a huge upswing in production during their last two years in Durham, and hopefully the youngest can follow suit as the class looks to finish strong.