A Coach K first: Duke targets junior college prospect

When Duke assistant coach Nate James showed up at College of Southern Idaho to watch basketball practice earlier this winter, Eagles coach Steve Gosar admits it caught him completely by surprise.

"As a juco coach, you know certain programs don't recruit junior college kids, and Duke's one we know has never taken a junior college kid before," Gosar said by phone on Wednesday morning. "I was surprised and also honored Nate was here. It's a great compliment to our program."

James originally came to watch 7-foot center Aziz Ndiaye conduct an individual workout, but the Duke assistant left raving about slashing 6-foot-6 wing Carrick Felix. After the Blue Devils staff watched game film of Felix, checked on his grades and spoke to his friends, family and former coaches to gauge his character, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Gosar to let him know he was extending a scholarship offer.

Although it's certainly a credit to Felix that he's the first junior college player in Krzyzewski's 30-year tenure to receive a scholarship offer from Duke, his recruitment also raises some intriguing questions.

Is Duke's interest in Felix merely a recruiting anomaly? Or are the Blue Devils altering their recruiting philosophy and casting a wider net in response to five straight years of advancing no further than the Sweet 16?

National recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com said Tuesday that he doesn't expect Duke to make a regular habit of targeting junior college prospects, but that he does believe the Devils are starting to recruit differently. Instead of evaluating prospects for as long as possible without offering and then zeroing in on one player who fits a specific need, Meyer said Duke has learned it must get involved with more kids earlier so it has options if its top target goes elsewhere.

"They've typically put all their eggs in one basket, and lately they've had some bad misses," Meyer said. "The basic trend in college basketball is that tradition and the name on the jersey means less and less and that you have to develop relationships early. They're not going to go the Billy Gillispie route and start offering eighth graders, but you're going to see them get involved with more players earlier."

An athletic wing who had flown mostly under the radar until this season after breaking his wrist three games into last season, Felix has averaged 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds for College of Southern Idaho this season. In addition to Duke, the Arizona native has drawn interest from numerous Division I schools this winter including Arizona State, Idaho, Kent State, New Mexico State, Marquette, Clemson and West Virginia.

Gosar said Felix will not decide on a college until after Southern Idaho's season, but he definitely plans to visit Duke in the spring. Felix will have three years of basketball eligibility remaining after this season as a result of his injury last year.

"Carrick's flattered and a little overwhelmed by the attention, but at the same time he's trying to keep everything in perspective," Gosar said. "He's a very good student and he works his butt off. All of this is a real credit to him."

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