Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
LINDEN, N.J. — While Duke was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a popular pick to win the NCAA Tournament last season, North Carolina will take over that role in many people’s eyes this year.
Count Coach K in that group.
“Coming back, they’re loaded,” Mike Krzyzewski said of the Tar Heels on Monday after making an appearance at Myles J. McManus Middle School to promote the Ticket to Reading Rewards (TTRR) program.
North Carolina brings back Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, all of whom opted to remain in school instead of heading into the NBA Draft.
Those three players are now projected as the No. 2, 11 and 15 picks in the 2012 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com.
Krzyzewski is also high on another team with several key returning players.
“I would think Kentucky’s pretty good, too,” Coach K said.
The Wildcats bring back Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and will add the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, a class that features four McDonald’s All-Americans in Anthony Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.
DraftExpress.com projects Davis as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft, with Gilchrist at No. 7 and Jones at No. 13.
Duke, meantime, loses Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith to this year’s NBA Draft, with Irving projected as the No. 1 pick by DraftExpress.
Coach K said Irving, the former Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick star, planned to remain in school over the summer and could continue to use the facilities if there’s an NBA lockout.
“We’re totally supportive of him,” he said. “It’s too bad he was hurt this year. People will see just how gifted a player he is and what a great kid.”
Duke returns rising senior Miles Plumlee, juniors Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly as well as sophomores Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston.
“We change a lot because we don’t have one guy who’s come back like Singler or Nolan Smith,” Coach K said. “We don’t have a guy who’s done it. We got a bunch of guys who might do it.”
Their 2011 recruiting class includes point guard Quinn Cook, who will have big shoes to fill, shooting guard Austin Rivers, small forwards Alex Murphy and Michael Gbinije and center Marshall Plumlee, Miles’ and Mason’s younger brother.
Rivers, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is projected as the No. 10 pick in the 2012 Draft.
Coach K hopes to learn more about his team in August, when the Blue Devils travel to China and Dubai for games. The team departs for China Aug. 14 and will wrap up the tour in Dubai Aug. 26.
“We’re going to China this summer on a foreign trip, which I hope will better define who we’re going to be,” Coach K said. “But we have good talent.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.