With top-five basketball recruit Wendell Carter set to make a decision on a college choice, recently whittling his list to four schools, Harvard was still in the mix as the Ivy League outlier among powerhouses Duke, Georgia Tech, and Georgia.
But while the 6-foot-9-inch, 254-pound big man flirted with the idea of breaking from convention and shifting the college basketball landscape, ultimately he chose one of the perennial powers.
In an elaborate video posted to his Twitter account Wednesday — with a “007” theme and Carter as a slick-suited James Bond — the five-star recruit announced he would be heading to Duke next season.
Carter, ranked as the No. 4 recruit in the country by 247Sports.com and No. 3 by ESPN, averaged 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists on the way to leading Pace Academy (Atlanta) to a state title.
The combination of his 7-4 wingspan and his ball-handling abilities made him an unusual talent. But his 3.8 GPA and interests outside of basketball — he sat out part of the AAU season to participate in a school play — made him the type of person to gravitate to Harvard, even though he would very likely be a one-and-done player.
When he visited Cambridge in May, Carter said going to Harvard would “really be a game changer. That would be doing something that most athletes don’t normally do.”
He made another visit in September, making time for pickup games with close friend and Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who tried to convince him to commit to the Crimson.
Carter came away impressed.
“When you think of Harvard, you think of a bunch of bookworms that are always in the library studying,” he wrote on his official blog for USA Today. “But when I went there and got to hang out with the players, I saw that Harvard is really just like most campuses even though it’s an Ivy League school. It’s really fun!
“Everyone is really laidback and nice, so I really liked that. I got to hang out with the staff and get to know the coaches better and play with the team.”
But the writing was on the wall as recently as two weeks ago, when Carter’s best friend Gary Trent Jr. committed to Duke. They had long discussed going to college as a package.
After committing, Trent wrote on his own USA Today blog, “For a long time, me and my boy Wendell have been talking about playing together in college and now that I’m at Duke I’m going to do whatever I can to make that happen.”
Carter visited Duke in October for its season-opening “Countdown to Craziness” event and fell in love with the atmosphere.
Even though the allure of being a Blue Devil ultimately overmatched the appeal of playing in the Ivy League, the recruitment of Carter is a feather in Harvard’s cap. The Crimson stayed in the running after schools like Kentucky and Arizona dropped out.
Harvard is still heavily recruiting 6-11, 210-pound center Mohamed Bamba, ranked No. 4 by ESPN and No. 6 by 247sports, who visited the campus in September. The Crimson hauled in a top 25 recruiting class this year, led by point guard Bryce Aiken and forward Chris Lewis.
Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.