Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — The No. 1 recruiting class in the nation officially has a nickname.
The Duke Blue Devils much-heralded quartet of center Jahlil Okafor (No. 1 on ESPN Top 100), point guard Tyus Jones (No. 4), small forward Justise Winslow (No. 15), and shooting guard Grayson Allen (No. 21) —all of whom are in New York for Friday’s Jordan Brand Classic — have taken to calling themselves the “Four Quarters.” And they say they are ready to prove why there is all this hype mounting around them.
“I know right after the championship game ended all these polls came out with really early preseason ranking for next year and we were either 1 or 2 or 3,” Allen said after practice Wednesday afternoon at Basketball City in downtown Manhattan. “So I know the expectations are really high and I think that us as a class we can definitely live up to that.”
“We have a good group of guys going there, us four, and I think we can do something special,” Jones said. “But it’s just motivation to work. We know we have to work hard and we know it’s not going to be easy. We’re going in there ready to learn, willing to learn, and just trying to improve every day.”
The four incoming freshmen do not yet know if they will be sharing floor space with All-American Jabari Parker next season. Parker is still mulling the decision on whether to enter the NBA draft. And while Allen said that if Parker comes back Duke will have the “most talented team” in the country, he also said that Parker’s presence would not alter his expectations for the team.
“Expectations with or without [Parker] is definitely to win a national championship,” Allen said “I know that’s really high for us with four freshman coming in but I think it’s definitely achievable.”
Jones echoed a similar sentiment.
“Obviously with him, that adds a big piece. Jabari was one of the best players in the country this year, but without him our expectations are the same,” Jones said. “I’m just as curious to find out [if he’s coming back] as all the media people.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to assemble this acclaimed class in large part because Jones and Okafor have long been labeled as a “package deal.” Throughout their recruiting processes, the two friends — who became close the summer before their freshman year of high school while attending the USA Basketball Developmental mini-camp — have maintained that they were going to attend college together, although many doubted their ability to do that.
“It feels great [to have pulled it off],” Jones said. “Me and Jahlil knew we were going to make it work and a lot of people doubted that we were going to do it but…We knew we were going to make it work, and that’s what we did at the end of the day.”
Add Winslow, the fifth-ranked small forward in the country, and Allen, the sixth-ranked shooting guard and recent McDonald’s All-American dunk contest winner, and the Blue Devils have themselves a formidable four. Allen won the dunk contest after completing a through-the-legs dunk, a windmill slam, and then leaping over Okafor while donning a No. 22 Jay Williams Duke jersey. Allen’s prodigious leaping ability was on display during practice on Wednesday, as the guard finished an impressive alley-oop in traffic during an intra-team scrimmage.
Allen, Okafor and Jones will be playing for the East Team in Friday’s Jordan Brand Classic, while Winslow will be representing the West squad.
Blue Devil fans will be hoping that this incoming group will be able to end the season on a more satisfying note than last year’s squad was able to, as Duke lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 14 seed Mercer. The “Four Quarters” are already using the upset as an unlikely source of inspiration heading into the season.
“Obviously I was upset [about the loss] and it’s definitely motivation because you never want to end the season not as the champions,” Jones said.
“I think [the Mercer loss] definitely gives us a little bit of motivation,” he said, “definitely fuels the fire a little bit coming in next year to just kind of bring that [championship] back to Duke.”