Saga of Wendell Carter and Coach K is, and should be, business as usual

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This thing with Wendell Carter’s parents and Coach K has reached a fever pitch, and it is all just so ridiculous.

Yes, both Wendell and his parents are justified in being upset about the way things played out with Marvin Bagley III’s recruitment. Yes, the Duke coaching staff likely went back on promises that were made, but that does not necessarily mean that lies were told. Yes, Coach K was working in the best interest of his program. Yes, this worked out well for all involved.

Before I get into the explanation, a timeline: Carter committed to Duke in November of 2016, his senior year in high school. Bagley, at the time, was still a junior and the top ranked player in the Class of 2018. At some point in the spring of 2017 — I’ve been told it was as early as April — Bagley began the process of graduating early so that he would be able to reclassify, and it’s my understanding that Duke was at the forefront of that push. By that July, the secret was out, and in August of 2017, ten months after Carter committed to Duke, Bagley announced officially that he would be enrolling at Duke that fall.

The reason that has become ‘a thing’? My colleague over at NBC Sports Chicago, Vincent Goodwill, wrote a story that included quotes from both of Carter’s parents insinuating their displeasure with how it played out. Kylia Carter, Wendell’s mom, said she was “pissed” because she felt the staff his that recruitment from her, while Wendell Sr. said, “I felt like we were lied to. ‘Oh, Wendell’s gonna be the man’ and then the rug was pulled from under us.”

The Carters are totally justified in feeling blindsided by this. In fact, this is not the first that I’ve heard about there being tension in that relationship. There were rumblings about this dating all the way back to the fall.

Part of the recruiting pitch to get Carter to Duke was that not only would he be the anchor for the team’s offense, but that he would be allowed to play the four, a role that showcased his skill on the offensive end. The moment that Bagley committed, that chance was gone. Duke had just added potential No. 1 pick and a first-team all-american that was much more of a four that Carter was. The role that he had been promised would be played by Bagley.

I get it.

I’d be upset, too.

The Duke staff gave their word on something and did not deliver.

But that does not necessarily mean that the Carters were lied to. I’m not privy to the private conversations that were had between the family and the coaching staff during Bagley’s recruitment, and it’s certainly possible that the Duke coaches told Carter up until the day that Bagley committed that they weren’t recruiting him.

That said, telling Carter one thing in November of 2016 and then having to back track six months later is not a lie, not when a player of Bagley’s ilk becomes available and attainable.

And frankly, going out and getting a player like Bagley is, quite literally, Coach K’s job. Duke was a better basketball team for going out and getting the player that averaged 21 points and 11 boards before becoming the second pick in the NBA draft. They were arguably the best team in the country not named Villanova for the final two months of the season, and that certainly would not have been the case without Bagley in the fold.

Here’s the most important part: This worked out well for everyone involved!

Duke would have made the Final Four if this shot had rolled in. Bagley went No. 2 in the draft after an all-american season. Carter went 7th, and I can make a case that playing with Bagley actually helped his draft stock.

Here it is:

There is not a single NBA scout or evaluator that is worried about what Carter can provide offensively. He may not have dominated Duke’s post touches, but everyone that watched him play saw his shooting touch and saw his ability to pass and was able to appreciate the way he gets to the glass and scores in the post.

Furthermore, if he averages 20 points per game, who is he actually getting drafted over? Not Deandre Ayton or Bagley. Probably not Luka Doncic or Trae Young. Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba were drafted because of what they can be defensively. You might be able to convince me that Carter would go above Bamba, but not Jackson.

On the other hand, I’d argue Bagley’s presence helped hide some of Carter’s flaws defensively. Duke took off last season when they switched to zone full-time, and the reason that zone was so effective was because Carter thrived in front of the rim, blocking shots and rebounding, while Bagley had the athleticism to play on a wing. If Bagley isn’t there, Duke’s issues in man-to-man are still just as bad, but it would have been Carter on the wing in that zone instead of Bagley.

He didn’t need the concerns people already had about his slow-footedness and issues as a ball-screen defender to be exacerbated.

This worked out well for everyone involved, even if it meant that Carter got fewer shots and played a different role than he had signed up for.

If there is anything to take away from this entire mess, it’s this: No matter how good you are, if there is a player out there that is better than you, college basketball coaches are going to bring them in, and they should.