When the 2009-10 men’s college basketball season ended, no two programs seemed more opposites than Kentucky and Duke.
In John Calipari’s first season as UK coach, freshman stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe turbocharged what had been a stagnant Kentucky program. The Wildcats soared through a 35-3 year that ended with an upset loss to West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
After that one season in Lexington, the talented trio turned pro.
That launched the one-and-done era of UK basketball. From that start, Calipari and UK have sent 23 one-and-done players (not counting the none-and-done Enes Kanter) into NBA drafts.
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Conversely, in 2009-10, a veteran-laden Duke roster gave Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski his fourth NCAA championship. The Duke team that staved off Butler’s Cinderella bid for the 2010 NCAA crown started three seniors and two juniors.
At that moment, no program more represented the old-school approach to college hoops than Duke.
That’s why, if one had time traveled from the end of the 2009-10 season to the start of the 2018-19 campaign, the world would seem turned upside down.
When No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Duke tips off in the Champions Classic late Tuesday night in Indianapolis, it is a showdown between a team with a veteran core and one built around transcendent, young talent.
The twist is that Kentucky has the experience and Duke the presumed elite one-and-doners.
UK also boasts one of the best seniors in college basketball. Double-double machine Reid Travis used the graduate transfer rule to move from Stanford to Kentucky for his final season.
Meanwhile, the organizing theory of the 2018-19 Duke roster is that elite talent, no matter how young, is preferable to more experienced players with lower ceilings.
Against Kentucky, Krzyzewski is expected to start four freshmen. Those four were ranked No. 1 (wing RJ Barrett), No. 3 (wing Cam Reddish), No. 5 (power forward Zion Williamson) and No. 14 (point guard Tre Jones) in the 2018 Rivals 150.
Your 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils are as pure a play on one-and-done talent as college basketball has ever seen.
That is the culmination of a trend.
One season after winning the 2010 national title with his upperclassmen-dominated team, Krzyzewski dipped his toe into the one-and-done pool the following season with Kyrie Irving.
Starting with Irving in the 2011 draft, Duke has had at least one, one-and-done player chosen in every subsequent NBA Draft except for 2013.
The Blue Devils won the 2015 NCAA title with a team built around three one-year freshmen — Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. Duke has had seven one-and-done players chosen in the past three drafts (2016-18).
For Calipari and Kentucky, Coach K’s all-out embrace of the one-and-done has cut two ways.
Traditionalists used to chide Kentucky and its head coach for undermining the academic ideal of college athletics. Once Krzyzewski, with his reputation for probity, went all in on one-and-done, that criticism of UK ceased.
On the debit side, Kentucky previously was all but the default choice for many top one-and-done aspirants.
In Calipari’s first six UK signing classes, there was at least one top-six prospect (as ranked by Rivals) in every class. In 2009 (two), 2011 (three) and 2013 (two), Kentucky inked multiple top-six players.
After Coach K and his now-former lead recruiter Jeff Capel entered the one-and-done market, however, Duke has become the place where the most highly touted players congregate.
In their last six signing classes, the Blue Devils have gotten at least one top-five prospect in each.
In 2016, Duke signed the No. 2 (Harry Giles) and No. 3 (Jayson Tatum) players in the Rivals 150. For 2017, the Blue Devils got No. 2 (Marvin Bagley III), No. 5 (Trevon Duvall) and No. 7 (Wendell Carter).
That set the stage for 2018’s Duke recruiting bonanza of Barrett, Reddish, Williamson and Jones.
Over its 2016-18 recruiting classes, Kentucky signed no top-five prospects and only one top-10 — 2017 forward Kevin Knox, who was No. 10. (The Cats have two top-10 commitments, No. 7 Khalil Whitney and No. 9 Tyrese Maxey, for 2019).
And that’s how we reached the 2018-19 season opener — with UK relying on experience and Duke on elite, young talent.
As college hoops role reversals go, they don’t get much more intriguing than this.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory