Duke receiver Brandon Braxton has made the switch to safety this spring

Brandon Braxton updates BDN on his transition to safety

Duke receiver Brandon Braxton has made the switch to safety this spring

The goal this offseason has been on finding the “best 22″ players to put on the field for the Blue Devils. Inevitably, this forces the Duke coaching staff to make some creative and difficult decisions to realize this goal. One of the most prominent changes this spring has involved Brandon Braxton, a once promising wide receiver who has selflessly made the switch to safety. Braxton’s strong play on special teams the past two seasons exemplified some of his potential as a defender and tackler, but the learning curve for Coach Knowles’ defense is steep. BDN caught up with Brandon after spring practice last week to get an update on his transition.

BDN: How did the decision to switch positions come about?

I had originally heard through the grapevine that they were switching me to defense. I gave Coach Cut a call and went and met with him, and it wasn’t for sure or anything at that point, and he said that they had been thinking about it. I told him I would be willing to switch if they thought that would improve our team, and I ended up switching and so far I like it a lot. 

BDN: How do you feel your skill set fits on the defensive side of the ball?

I like the defensive side of the ball because it allows me to react instead of having a set play, so I definitely like that about defense. I also just like flying around and reading, so that’s probably my favorite part about defense.

BDN: You’ve played quite a bit on special teams over the past two seasons, so you’ve had some experience with tackling, but what have you found to be the hardest adjustment to playing defense so far this spring?

There really hasn’t been any really hard thing to pick up, but just learning the defense and knowing checks and seeing different things. Just being comfortable at safety is definitely a huge change from what I have been doing and what I’m used to. I feel like I’m a freshman all over again, learning a whole new system and getting back in the swing of things of college football. I haven’t played defense since junior year of high school, but so far I’m picking it up really fast and feel like every day I’m progressing.

BDN: Now that you’re on the other side of the ball, who’s the toughest receiver to matchup with in practice?

All of them are really good, honestly. Blair Holliday has been playing great. Jamison [Crowder] has been playing really good. Conner [Vernon], everyone already knows that Conner is a stud. Nick Hill is a new and upcoming redshirt-freshman and he’s been playing really good. All of them, really, there isn’t one that I can pinpoint that’s super difficult, they all have different attributes and different things that they bring to the wide receiver.

BDN: You may feel like a freshman all over again, but you’re actually entering your third year with the program. What’s your assessment of the team this spring, compared to when you first arrived at Duke?

This spring, well I’ve only been through two springs, but there was such a period when losing was acceptable, and I think that that whole air and people that were here when that was happening is gone. My teammates now don’t accept losing as an option. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen. We’ve all been working really hard and the coaches have been pushing us, and we’re all up to the challenge.

BDN: The secondary is obviously a key to Coach Knowles’ defense. Can you talk a little about some of the players that have impressed you and helped you make your transition?

All of them – Walt [Canty], Jordon [Byas], Anthony Young-Wiseman, they’re all veterans and they’ve all been here awhile. Ross Cockrell, we’re usually on the same side, and he’s been helping me a lot and he’s progressed immensely at the corner position. He’s turned into one heck of a cornerback. They’ve all done their part in helping me pick it up faster and teaching me tricks of the trade and making sure I do well.

BDN: Thanks a lot, Brandon, and best of luck this spring.

Alright, Patrick, thank you so much.

Lance King Images

Austin Rivers officially enters the NBA Draft

 

Lance King Images

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers will enter the 2012 NBA Draft with plans to hire an agent, head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced on Monday. Rivers, the 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year, joins Corey Maggette (1999), Luol Deng (2004) and Kyrie Irving (2011) as Blue Devils to enter the NBA Draft after just one year of college basketball. The three previous freshmen early entrees were each selected among the first 13 players in their respective drafts, including Irving, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

“Austin [Rivers] had a terrific year as a freshman and has put himself in a position to pursue his dream of being a great player in the NBA,” said Krzyzewski. “He is an outstanding young man with an even more impressive family. We are in total support of Austin, his family and his decision. We look forward to watching him continue to develop and excel at the next level.”

Rivers averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game to join Johnny Dawkins (1983) and Bill Sapp (1945) as the only players to lead the Blue Devils in scoring as freshmen. The Winter Park, Fla., native scored in double-figures 30 times, with eight games with 20 or more points scored. He also averaged 3.4 rebounds, while finishing second on the team in assists (71) and steals (33) and third in three-point field goals (58).
In the Duke freshman record books, Rivers ranks among the all-time leaders in points (3rd – 527), points per game (3rd – 15.5), field goals (6th – 174), three-point field goals (5th – 58), free throws (1st – 121), free throw attempts (1st – 184), games started (t-6th – 33), minutes played (7th – 1,129), double-figure scoring games (t-3rd – 30) and 20-point games (t-5th – eight).
Rivers earned NABC third team All-America honors to become the first freshman in Duke history and the 24th player overall (38 honors) under Coach K to earn All-America accolades. He also became just the seventh freshman in ACC history to collect first team all-conference recognition.

“I would like to thank the coaches, my teammates and the fans for helping make this past year at Duke so special,” said Rivers. “Coach K and the rest of the staff really helped me develop and improve in all areas of the game. It was a difficult decision to leave Duke, but I am excited about chasing my dream of playing in the NBA.”
He had his best scoring performances of the year on the biggest stage on Feb. 8 at North Carolina. Rivers posted a season-high 29 points and nailed a three-point field goal at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils an 85-84 win over the fifth-ranked Tar Heels. He went 9-of-16 from the field, including 6-of-10 from three-point range, and added five rebounds in the victory.
Rivers reached double-figures in each of the final 17 games of the season averaging a team-best 17.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in that span.

“Duke has prepared me for the challenges that are ahead both on and off the court,” added Rivers. “I have learned so much from the coaching staff and my teammates that will help me succeed at the next level.”

Tyrone Outlaw gets a call from Duke “It’s like a dream come true”

 

Tyrone Outlaw - Photo-Person County Life

There is a young prospect in the class of 2013 by the name of Tyrone Outlaw and he resides about a 27 minute drive north of Cameron Indoor Stadium in a small southern town named Roxboro, North Carolina.  Last season the 6-5 wing led Roxboro Person High deep into the state playoffs,  “We went to the 3rd round of the state playoffs and that’s unheard of around Person,” Outlaw said with a glint in his eyes.

Outlaw participated in the Carolina Challenge event on Saturday where he averaged 9.7 ppg against the best players in the state of North Carolina.  Outlaw told BDN that he was concentrating more on his overall game than his scoring at the event where players play about half of each game for their respective teams.

His Coach at Person, Charles Davis t0ld BDN that Outlaw would [private] be the focal point of this seasons team and last years success brough pride to the school and community.  “He takes academics seriously and has a 3.4 GPA,” stated Davis 

During the summer AAU season, Outlaw will lace them up for Garner Road who most recently produced T.J. Warren who will be at N.C. State next season.  When asked if he had a dream school growing up, Outlaw offered up N.C. State, where his father was to attend but fell short on his SAT’s.  His Godfather James Barnett played football for the Wolfpack.

But it was another Triangle school that had Outlaw excited, that being Duke. “It’s like a dream come true. I was in a workout and my coach called me and told me about a message on the phone which made me smile. It was Coach Capel. They’ve just recently called and want me to come over for a workout,” said Outlaw.

The Blue Devils will have Outlaw in for an unofficial visit which is easy due to his proximity to campus.  When asked which current Blue Devil he could relate to, Outlaw pointed to a picture of  Ryan Kelly, a Carolina Challenge alum, who actually played his high school ball in the gym where the event took place, Ravenscroft

Outlaw was clearly happy that Duke was evaluating him and it remains to be seen if he will become a focal point for the program which currently has a lot of irons in the fire in recruiting.  Outlaw who played center when he was younger and power forward is still adjusting to the perimeter.

When asked what he needed to work on most, Outlaw said without hesitation, “Defense. I’m a great defensive player but you can never stop working on defense,” as if the statement was scripted to impress a certain Hall of Fame Coach.

Murray State called Outlaw this past week but it is Wake Forest that has it’s foot firmly in the door.  “They’ve talked to me and want me to play the two or three guard or a wing player. They want me to work on the little things, like screens, boxing out and keep my grades and character up. I am close with Coach Battle and he tells me what he wants from me and how it will be to be a Wake Forest Demon Deacon.”

Some consider Outlaw a bit of a secret, but schools will start to come in when they learn of his off season improvement, “I’ve improved a lot on my dribbling and on ball defense and moving but offensively I need to get better jab stepping and pump faking.   I can knock down shots when I’m taking them but in a setting like this? I’m just worried about proving I can do all the other things.”

Outlaw likes the local or ACC schools and made it clear he didn’t want to stray too far from the state.  And with his fathers history of falling just short of college he seems to be fighting off those who may compare him. “My coaches and my mom Keep me straight.  She keeps me grounded and if it was up to her she would want me to go to Harvard, Outlaw said in a light moment.

Murray State and Wake Forest have promised to offer if his SAT scores line up according to Outlaw and considering he is currently in his schools honor society he stands a good chance of all coming out well.

“I want to go to a school, stay their four years and take that degree I earned and get a job if I can’t go to the NBA.  Also, I want a chance to win a championship.” [/private]

 

Theo Pinson is firmly on the Duke radar despite his young age.

Duke prospect Theo Pinson continues to improve

Theo Pinson is on the Duke radar.

Swoosh!  That was the sound of the nets heard during the Carolina Challenge as Theo Pinson showed off his three point range knocking down three straight in the first game.  And that was a good sign for many analyst have questioned Pinson and his outside shot.  But Pinson is more than that and it was clear by the end of the Challenge that he was clearly in the top tier of players, many feeling he was the best prospect at the event.  No matter how you cut it, he would have made the all tournament team had one been named.  BDN caught up to Pinson and we first share this video interview with members and will later follow up with another interview and have experts break down his game.  Our Carolina Challenge coverage is just getting started, so enjoy this video and check back in for much more. [private]

More to come …. [/private]

Al Freeman says Duke has showed interest but Kansas and Villanova are his leaders

 

Al Freeman - BDN Photo

The Duke Basketball program puts out a lot of feelers and they are currently evaluating a lot of players.  Al Freeman (6-4 SG, Olympic HS in Charlotte, N.C.) is one of the highest rated guards in the class of 2013 and he said his coach recently heard from Duke Assistant Coach Chris Collins, UCLA and  Ohio State.  He recently trimmed his list to Kansas and Villanova but said he would still entertaina  school that is the right fit.  Freeman scored but a single point in his opening game which caused one veteran analyst to say he was the most disappointing player he viewed in the morning session, but he bounced back with 19 in the next game and averaged 9.0 during the Carolina Challenge event which features the top players in the state of North Carolina.  BDN Premium caught up with Freeman and got his thoughts on the process.

How are you liking the camp thus far?

I love this camp, it’s my third year here.  I got here a little late but just went right in and played in the first game.

If somebody had yet to see you play, how would you describe your game to them if asked?

A big combo guard who looks for his shots as well as teammates and loves to win.

Do you pattern your game or try to emulate [private] anybody on the court?

Deron Williams

What is going on with you and the recruiting process or where do you stand at this time?

I cut it down to Villanova and Kansas.

Is that the only two schools that have come in or that you have settled on?

Ohio State and UCLA jumped in and Duke is starting to show interest.  Collins expressed interest to my AAU coach.

Do you have any interest in Duke?

Yeah, I have interest in Duke.

Villanova develops players and their guards specifically, they have a great coaching staff that really cares about their players.  The same goes from Kansas and they get guys to buy into what they do.

What are you looking for in a program?

Just a program that allows their guards to be guards.  I don’t want to go to a program that makes you a one or two guard.

So are you willing to let other schools in?

Uhm, only if it’s the right fit.

With a program coming in a little late like say Duke, does that have a negative effect?

Naw, everybody has their way of recruiting, each school handles it differently.

Will you take all of your allotted official visits?

I don’t know yet, it’s hard to say.

Is their a timeline for a decision?

No, not really.

Thanks for your time and good luck with the process.

My take - Duke is in with a lot of shooting guards and may feel a late push for Freeman is more time consuming than it is worth.  While he is truly a good prospect, everybody felt he was overrated nationally with concern to guru types except those who gave him such a lofty ranking.  He’s a strong guard who plays aggressive defense and he’s not a great athlete but a pretty good one.  He got past defenders at this level but made a myriad of mistakes in his first outing be it a 5 second count, bad passes or turnover.  However, he bounced back nicely in his second outing where his shot dropped and that energized him a bit.  He needs better shot selection and he is IMO a borderline Top 25 player.  I would be surprised if Duke elects to pursue him with current events but wanted to get to know him as a prospect.   More to come. [/private]

 

TE Issac Blakeney has had a big spring for the Blue Devils

Renfree’s Three Touchdowns Pace Blue Devils

TE Issac Blakeney hauled in a 71-yard TD from Sean Renfree on Saturday.

DURHAM, N.C. – Quarterback Sean Renfree completed 14-of-17 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns to highlight Duke’s 80-play gridiron scrimmage on Saturday morning in the Pascal Field House.

Renfree’s first two scoring strikes of the day went to tight ends David Reeves (30 yards) and Issac Blakeney (71 yards) before he found wideout Blair Holliday for a nine-yard touchdown.  Five of Renfree’s completions went for 15 or more yards as the rising redshirt senior averaged 15.7 yards per completion.

Wideout Corey Gattis led all receivers with six catches for 81 yards including a 42-yard touchdown from quarterback Thomas Sirk.  Holliday finished with five receptions for 65 yards while Reeves had three grabs for 51 yards.  Sirk enjoyed the morning by completing five-of-nine throws for 75 yards, rushing four times for 54 yards and catching a pair of passes for 25 yards.

Quarterback Sean Schroeder hit on five-of-nine passes for 46 yards while rushing three times for 41 yards.  Running back Josh Snead carried the ball seven times for 27 yards while Juwan Thompson contributed a three-yard touchdown run.

Safety Jordon Byas paced the Blue Devil defense with one quarterback sack and one pass break-up.  Nose guard Jamal Bruce, safety Walt Canty and linebacker Austin Gamble each registered one tackle for loss while cornerback Garett Patterson logged two pass break-ups.

Duke will host the program’s annual Spring Game presented by PNC Bank on Saturday, March 31 at Wallace Wade Stadium.  Kick-off is set for 1 p.m., and admission is free of charge.