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UCLA

Sierra Canyon’s Cassius Stanley is the latest top recruit to commit to Duke

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Cassius Stanley announces that he will attend Duke during a ceremony at Sierra Canyon High on April 22.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s struggles helped one of college basketball’s richest programs get even richer.

Cassius Stanley announced his commitment to the Duke Blue Devils on Monday afternoon in a ceremony at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High’s gymnasium. The No. 3 shooting guard and No. 29 overall prospect in the 2019 class, per 247Sports composite rankings, is headed across the country to play for Mike Krzyzewski.

Stanley’s commitment boosts the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and makes it likely that Duke will finish with the top class for the fourth year in a row and fifth time in six years. UCLA’s two-man class of Jaime Jaquez and Jake Kyman is ranked No. 61.

The Blue Devils seemingly came out of nowhere. They were not being mentioned when Stanley narrowed his focus to six schools last May or when he chopped that list in half in September. But UCLA’s decision to fire Steve Alford opened the door for the Atlantic Coast Conference power.

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“Initially I had three schools. I had UCLA, Kansas and Oregon,” Stanley said. “UCLA, their coach got fired and it was down to two. I just felt like if I slid in Duke, it’d just be back to three, so it wouldn’t be that hectic. I think that was the easiest part.”

Getting in the conversation was half the battle. Duke had to overcome the established relationships Stanley had with the Oregon and Kansas coaching staffs. Stanley was skeptical of the Blue Devils becoming a valid contender for his commitment. He wanted to stay loyal to the schools that had recognized his talent sooner and spent the time and energy to recruit him longer.

Krzyzewski’s track record helped narrow the gap and made up for lost time. He sold Stanley on his team’s offensive system and how he could follow in the footsteps of RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson.

“Just Coach K telling me that he really saw me thriving in the system and that every time he has a really high-level athlete, the athleticism will show and it’ll prevail. I think that really stuck with me,” Stanley said. “I think what he had to offer on the court and then just being taught by the best was very intriguing.”

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Stanley found the Durham, N.C., community very welcoming and felt comfortable when he took his official visit to Duke this month. The trip made a strong impression, but he said his final decision didn’t come until a couple of hours before his ceremony at school. He went back and forth, looking over his options before he heeded the advice of his sports agent father, Jerome.

“He told me at the end of the day, you’ve got to go somewhere that will help you maximize on the court and off the court because you know basketball, the ball is going to stop bouncing,” Cassius said. “I think Duke gave me the best opportunity to really expand myself after basketball and have a second career.”

Ready for the ACC

The athleticism of the 6-foot-5 Stanley should enable him to transition easily to any college conference, even one as deep and as talented as the ACC. But Stanley thinks it’s his basketball smarts that will allow him to fit in right away.

“You got to think the game a lot in the ACC,” Stanley said. “I think … I’m a really smart basketball player. I can play the right way, so my athleticism will prevail, so I think I’ll be very fine.”

Following the path

Stanley becomes the second Sierra Canyon player to commit to Duke in three years, following Marvin Bagley III, who was taken second in the NBA draft last season by the Sacramento Kings.

Stanley said he didn’t get a chance to talk to Bagley during the recruiting process but said he would be reaching out. The two were only a year apart scholastically before Bagley reclassified to skip his senior year and join Duke in 2017.

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