The small slice of Syracuse basketball fans who follow every twist and turn of off-season recruiting were already on edge. Trevon Duval, a 5-star point guard and the coaching staff’s top priority in the 2017 class, had unexpectedly missed Syracuse’s elite camp a few days before.
Duval was planning to transfer high schools for his junior season, and he was expected to announce the decision soon. As suspense built, rumors began to circulate through Twitter that Duval would transfer out of New Jersey where he had previously attended St. Benedict’s Prep. A school outside of the Orange’s prime recruiting territory in the Northeast would be a significant blow to its chance of landing the top recruit.
On September 7, the news hit the Syracuse fan base like a ton of bricks. Duval had selected a prep school in Texas, closer to other top suitors like Arizona and across the country from the recruiting footprint Syracuse has had in recent years. Days later, Duval had booked visits to Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Maryland and TCU.
Twitter declared that all was lost. Boeheim will not pursue a top recruit when the going gets tough, the thinking goes. He’ll settle for a back-up option with fewer big-time offers who plays closer to New York. He hasn’t brought in a top recruit from across the country since the 90s.
That may well be true. Quade Green, a 4-star point guard who did attend SU’s elite camp, received a visit and offer just a few days later. Was that SU moving to a back-up plan? He’s no Duval, but he’s no slouch, either. He’s ranked No. 44 in ESPN’s latest rankings.
Regardless of whether the Orange staff have truly moved on from Duval, Orange fans should step back and take a deep breath. Recruits decide where they will attend college for all sorts of reasons that are unknown to everyone outside their closest family members. And yet each year, Syracuse fans convince themselves that the latest top recruit will inevitably dawn an Orange jersey.
Less than two weeks ago, many of the diehards had visions of a 2017 class consisting of Duval; Michael Porter, Jr.; either Mohammad Bamba or Nic Richards; and possibly Hamidou Daillo, if SU can find a scholarship. Those are players ranked No. 4, 3, 8, 13, and 11, respectively, by ESPN in 2017. That would be quite a haul.
But how quickly we forget that this happens every year. Remember Tobias Harris? Nerlens Noel? Isaiah Whitehead? Most recently Thomas Bryant?
Recruits come and go. They make choices for reasons you will never know, nor should you. And, when they swing and miss, the Syracuse staff moves on to the next one. Despite “settling” for lesser recruits, Syracuse has managed to bring in a top-25 recruiting class in each of the last five years with three in the top 10.
Yes, it’s frustrating when Syracuse fails to pursue a top recruit when the going gets tough. It’s possible Syracuse would have landed a few more top recruits had they pursued them more doggedly. But Boeheim, while no longer known for getting out on the recruiting trail, has always had a knack for knowing when he’s beat. He describes it several times in his autobiography. This is an underrated strength, as he wastes far less effort on lost causes than other coaches.
Perhaps Mike Hopkins will be different when he takes over as head coach. He has the reputation of one of the country’s top recruiters and the energy to chase any prep star across the country and back. But there will always be misses. This is part of the process.
So the next time you see five top-15 recruits who have all listed some “interest” in Syracuse, remember that that interest can mean many different things. Even when a recruit calls a school his “dream” school, this often doesn’t mean when you and I think it does. He might be responding to a leading question by a reporter or simply reporting that playing for any storied program would be a dream.
In addition to the frustrating misses, there will be hits. Chris McCullough, Tyler Ennis, Dajuan Coleman, Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas were all 5-star recruits. They might not have been in the top 10, but in many cases that can depend as much on circumstance than anything else. Coleman spent much of his high school career in the top 10 before drifting down his senior year. McCullough’s high school transfers bumped his stock down a bit. Top 2016 recruit Tyus Battle has top-10 potential but has dropped down the high school rankings while nursing injuries.
Duval may or may not be gone for the Orange. Boeheim could still pull out an ace from the hole for his last hurrah. But regardless of who joins the 2017 class for the Orange, remember they’ll be just fine.