Taking a Look at the Duke Freshmen

With Amile Jefferson’s announcement he would be attending Duke University, Duke’s recruiting efforts for the 2012-13 season came to a successful end. Jefferson, a power forward, joins combo guard Rasheed Sulaimon in a class that also includes forward Alex Murphy and center Marshall Plumlee, two players who redshirted last season.

While ESPN ranks Duke’s 2012 class at number 11, that ranking only factors in Sulaimon and Jefferson. Including redshirts Murphy and Plumlee, as part of the incoming class, results in a very strong group, which certainly deserves a Top 5 ranking. Duke has been unfairly criticized recently, by certain elements across the recruiting world, as having been left behind. Results certainly outweigh the rhetoric.

Balance is a nice characteristic of this class as it contains a combo guard (1/2), combo forward (3/4), power forward (4) and center (5). Another characteristic is talent. In the final RSCI rankings for 2011, Alex Murphy was ranked 49 with Marshall Plumlee checking in at 61. For 2012, Rasheed Sulaimon is 17 while Amile Jefferson is 20. RSCI has not finalized their 2012 rankings.

Let’s take a look at each incoming player.

Alex Murphy (6’8” 220): Last summer Duke fan site message boards were buzzing about the possibility of Murphy breaking into the starting line-up. Comparisons to Kyle Singler were common place. After suffering a concussion in practice, Murphy fell behind in his preseason development and decided to redshirt. Considering he left high school a year early, the decision passed the common sense test.

The exciting element of the story is Murphy was talented enough to compete for a spot in the starting line-up 12 months ago. With a full year of practice and participation in the strength and conditioning program under his belt, Murphy is the leading candidate to be the Blue Devils starting small forward in 2012-13.

In regard to the redshirt season, associate head coach Chris Collins recently commented, “The biggest gains that we saw with Alex throughout this season were with his confidence and his strength.”

My expectation is Murphy will be in the starting line-up at small forward from day one. Additionally, when Coach Krzyzewski decides to go with a smaller line-up, Murphy is strong enough to slide into the power forward position.

Rasheed Sulaimon (6’4” 180): After winning the 3-point shooting competition at the McDonald’s All American game, Sulaimon proceeded to score 18 points including going four for eight on 3-pointers to help the West beat the East 106-102. At the Jordan Brand Classic, Sulaimon made three of six 3-point shots and scored 13 points as the West beat the East 99-95.

As talented an outside shooter as Sulaimon is, two different skills are what excite me. First, Sulaimon demonstrated significant defensive ability during three All Star games. Additionally, he displayed an ability to run the point. Those two skill sets compel me to compare Sulaimon’s potential to Nolan Smith.

My expectation is Sulaimon will come off the bench in the early season while competing to break into the starting line-up. Whether he eventually starts or spends the entire season as a reserve, he will play starters minutes as a freshman due to his talents on the defensive end of the court.

Amile Jefferson (6’8” 200): In the official press release announcing Jefferson’s decision to attend Duke, Coach Mike Krzyzewski stated, “We are ecstatic about Amile joining us. He is going to be able to help us right away.”

At the McDonald’s All American game, Jefferson recorded eight points, three rebounds and two steals in 14 minutes of action. Moving past the statistics, and just watching the game, Jefferson demonstrated versatility and smoothness on the court. He did not dominate, in fact he did not even standout, but to the seasoned eye, he looked like he belonged.

My expectation is Jefferson will average low double digit minutes per game as a freshman, perhaps as many as 12 to 15 minutes. With his length and low post offensive skills, Amile will be a key contributor in relief of Ryan Kelly. Over the course of his career at Duke, Jefferson has the potential to develop into another in the long list of versatile forwards to succeed as a Blue Devil.

Marshall Plumlee (6’11” 225): The younger brother of Miles and Mason, and McDonald’s All American is reputed to be more of a true low post player than either of his older brothers. Gaining muscle mass should be a major objective for Marshall over the summer and with an entire year already spent in a college level strength and conditioning program he should have plenty of success.

However, from a High School Hoops article I wrote in December 2010, after watching Christ School play Quality Education Academy, the following sentence stands out, “On offense, Plumlee operated mainly out of the high post and delivered a couple of nice passes for assists.” Duke will need Plumlee to operate out of the low post, while Ryan Kelly mans the high post, so hopefully my observation of his tendencies as a high school senior were more a function of his team’s offense and less a function of his comfort zone.

My expectation is Marshall will see consistent but limited minutes in relief of older brother Mason and to a lesser degree Ryan Kelly. His objective over the course of next season should be to gain invaluable game experience to facilitate his moving into a starting role as a sophomore. Marshall projects to be a four year player who will excel as a junior and senior.

Center of Attention: A Jahlil Okafor Update

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

Hailed as the best big man from Chicagoland since Eddy Curry, 6’11″ Jahlil Okafor, the Brobdingnagian sophomore center from Whitney Young, has lived up to the high expectations. Last September, Jahlil was the first player that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to in the 2014 class. It was a particularly early offer from a program that historically has been conservative in both the sheer number and timing of its offers, but clearly the staff felt that Okafor was an exceptional person and player. Jahlil was coming off of a summer where he played a critical role, shooting a remarkably efficient 71.1% from the field and 82.6% from the charity stripe, in leading the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico.

 

At Whitney Young, the Chicago academic magnet school that includes Michelle Obama as an alumna, Jahlil, a 3.4 GPA student, took on much more of a substantial role this season, while the team travelled all over the country playing challenging contests in California, the Carolinas, and St. Louis against nationally ranked teams like Bishop Gorman and Gonzaga as well as Chicago powers Simeon and Curie. After starting three games on a 20-10 team as a freshman for the Dolphins of Whitney Young, Okafor stepped up his game and made second-team All-State as a sophomore and MaxPreps named him to their Sophomore All-American team. Blessed with a 7’3″ wingspan, Jahlil averaged nearly thirteen rebounds, twenty-five points, five blocks, and four steals, while shooting nearly seventy percent from the field this high school season.

 

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

In early December, Jahlil, a pure low-post player who isn’t afraid to bang inside, visited the Triangle and took an unofficial visit to Duke University, touring the facilities and also watching the team practice. Twice this high school season, Coach K of Duke University returned the favor, coming to watch the sophomore big man play in person. In the initial viewing at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Coach K observed Jahlil score ten points and grab a dozen rebounds in a 46-44 buzzer-beating win over Prestonwood (TX) and 6’9″ force Julius Randle, one of the top players in the 2013 class and a Duke recruit. At the second viewing, Coach K watched Jahlil battle his Mac Irvin friend and fellow Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the Gatorade Player of the Year, in the state 4A Sectionals in Summit, Illinois. Although Jahlil had nine first-half points and helped the Dolphins take a 24-21 halftime lead, eventually the depth and experience of Simeon proved too much on that day, as the eventual state champion Wolverines won 52-42 ending Whitney Young’s season with a record of 16-10 against one of this year’s most challenging schedules in high school basketball.

 

After splitting his time between the Mac Irvin 17s and 16s last summer, the sociable center is anchoring the paint for the Mac Irvin Fire 17U team full-time this AAU season. This weekend in Dallas, the sophomore Okafor stepped up and had his best AAU weekend to date, leading the Fire to a 5-0 session and averaging over sixteen points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in twenty-one minutes at the third leg of Nike’s EYBL. This EYBL season, Jahlil, now 16, has been Mac Irvin’s leading overall scorer (165 points in 260 minutes) and has shot an eye-catching 71.7% from the field, helping the Fire to eleven wins in fourteen games. During the early live period, the Duke staff was a constant presence at his Mac Irvin games, including a memorable one at the Boo Williams Complex in Virginia, where the 275 lb strong young man tore down the rim.

 

After an EYBL game, the bass-voiced Jahlil spoke with me about Mac Irvin’s passing, his goals for this summer, and his relationship with Jabari Parker, amongst other topics.

Well, first of all congratulations on making all-state as a sophomore in Illinois. 

 It was an honor. It’s something I talked about setting as a goal with my Dad. It was great. 

 

This year you made much more of an impact on the team than you did as a freshman. You had a really competitive schedule. How do you view your season overall?

 Well, we had a couple of our key guys injured early in the season…

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton.

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton was hurt and Paul White as well. It put a lot of pressure on me and made me grow up a lot faster.

 

Speaking of that, it looks like you’ve lost some of your body fat. Have you been working a lot on your conditioning this year? I remember that it was something that you wanted to work on the last time I spoke with you.

Yeah, I was speaking with all of my coaches and the thing that they thought that would prevent me from getting to the highest level would be me being out of shape. I wanted to focus on that.

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You guys played a very tough schedule this year, traveling around the country at various showcases and tournaments. How does it help you now and into the future?

It helps. It just helps to play against other top players in the country, you know, and other top high schools. It was just a great experience. 

And you get to experience different places.

Yeah, yeah, definitely 

 

What’s your current size?

I’m like 6’11,” 275.

 

Let’s talk about visits. What about some of the visits you’ve taken?

Sure, I went to Nebraska recently. I’ve been up to Ohio State. I visited Duke. I went to North Carolina and Arizona as well. They’re all great campuses. 

Can you talk a little bit about each of them?

 Yeah, Duke speaks for itself. Meeting Coach K. it was just beautiful. It was great to talk to Coach K and look at their facilities. And North Carolina had a great team.

 Did you get to see any games in person this season?

When I went to Arizona, I went to a football game. I had a fun time there and the weather is always nice.

 

What were you looking for on those visits?

I’m looking to see how happy the players are on campus, how the players and coaches respond to each other, and then other students and how they interact with the team.

I remember that you said that you went to Whitney Young, not because of the basketball, but because it had the reputation for being the best school in Chicago. 

Yeah, absolutely, that’s right. 

 

You’re originally from Arkansas, can you talk a little bit about your background?

Yeah, I’m originally from Arkansas, but I moved to Chicago in the fourth grade.

I know you also have a Nigerian heritage. Was your father born in Nigeria or your grandfather?

No, my grandpa was born in Nigeria, but my father was actually born in Chicago.

 

In terms of roles, what was your role for Whitney Young and what do you feel your role is for this team? 

With Whitney Young, pretty much I had to do everything this year. I had to rebound, score inside, and block shots. On this team, I pretty much have one role: to be a dominant low-post man and rebound. I have a bunch of help on this team.

I was looking through my notes and saw that you wore your dad’s number. 

Oh, yeah, I wore #32, I didn’t even know it was my dad’s number, but, then, I wore #15 for my Olympic jersey, but I knew that was his number.

 

In terms of your recruiting timeline, how far along do you think you are? When do you think you’ll decide on a school?

I probably won’t decide on a school ’til my senior year.

 

Since you mentioned Tommy Hamilton before, what’s it like to play with him now that he’s healthy? Have you ever played with his father (7’2″ Thomas Hamilton)? He used to be a good player and a massive guy.

No, I’ve actually never met his father in my life, but Tommy and I complement each other perfectly well out there on the court. I like playing with him. 

 

Just out of curiosity, do you have a rivalry with Cliff Alexander (a 6’10″ fellow sophomore from Curie HS in Chicago)? They seem to talk up on in the Chicago papers from time to time. He’s about your size and age.

Yeah, Cliff’s a really great friend. And I have a rivalry with Jabari and Cliff, but we’re all great friends.

 

Can you talk about that last playoff game against Simeon? It was your second time seeing those guys (lost in December at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion) and you lead at the half. For your sake, I was sorry.

Oh, yeah, that was a heartbreaker against Simeon. I walked away feeling like we should’ve won that game. There were a couple of plays here and there, but we’re really excited about the team that we’ll bring back next year.

You’ve got a good shot next year.

Yeah, I think so too.

 

(Interrupted by 6’10″ sophomore Dakari Johnson)

Now, he’s a rival.

Yeah, Dakari’s a rival (laughs)

 

This year, you’ll be playing against seventeens exclusively. What did you gain last year from facing players that were two age groups up in the EYBL?

Yeah, everybody’s got better ball skills at the seventeen level. They’re more developed physically. It’s a challenge, game in and game out in the EYBL. 

I spoke with you after you played in your first game and you had just faced Elijah Macon, who was shorter than you, but built like a bull. You said he was the toughest guy that you had guarded at that time.

Oh, yeah, I remember.

 

One of the unique things about your game is that you’re a back-to-the-basket player in an age where there are a lot of big guys that want to face up or play away from the basket.

Yeah, it’s just something that I’m real comfortable with. I’ve been doing it since I’ve been in seventh or eight grade. It’s helped and now I have a lot of confidence with my back to the basket.

 

I know that you read some of your articles. What goes through your head when you see some local scouts saying that you’re the best Chicagoland center or big man since Eddy Curry?

Oh, yeah, I’ve read that, but..

You just go about your business.

Yeah, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything yet. I’m hungry.

Well, that’s a good attitude. You’ve got those big, “soft” hands. How much of an advantage does that give you over your fellow bigs? Also, how do you account for having soft hands?

(Mac Irvin teammate throws a fake mouse)

Sorry about that. Yeah, everybody always talks about having great hands. I think it’s a pretty big  advantage. Well, at least, mentally, you know, knowing that you have them.

 

One dimension that you’ve worked on this year is your face-up game..

Yeah, my coaches are always telling that I’ve got to continue to perfect my low-post game, but I’ve also got to extend my range and expand my game.

I remember that was you wanted to add a jumper and be able to finish around the basket with either hand at the end of last summer.

Yeah, exactly, both of those things.

 

One things that helps you differentiate yourself from some of the softer big men is that you don’t mind contact at all.

Yeah, no, absolutely, it’s something that I actually enjoy. I love to get in there and mix it up. I love to be aggressive. 

And then you can knock down your free throws to help your team too.

Absolutely, you’ve got to take advantage of those free throw shots. You can win or lose sometimes by just a few shots, here and there.

 

You guys lost Mac Irvin over the offseason. He was obviously a major figure in Chicago basketball over the past few decades. He was always nice to me, but can you tell the audience your thoughts on Mac Irvin’s passing?

It was sad. You know this year we’re going to try to put our egos aside and just try to win the Peach Jam for him and in his memory. He was a very nice man.

 

Speaking of your Mac Irvin team, what’s your relationship like right now with Jabari (Parker)?

Oh, you know Jabari is just someone that I’ve known since seventh grade and he’s just somebody that I can always talk to.

He’s, sort of, going through some of the same things that you are, but just a year ahead.

Yeah, exactly, we’re experiencing a lot of the same things with the college coaches and the fans and everybody coming at you, but it’s just nice to have Jabari.

 

The next one I was going to ask you about, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t confirm if it was true. Someone said that before you visited there, that Coach K said something to the effect that you could’ve started or played for him this year. Did he actually say that to you or this just an urban legend?

Oh, wow, no, I didn’t hear that. If he said that, then it’s really humbling to hear, but I don’t believe that. I couldn’t have. It’s still good to hear.

You mentioned about five schools before that you had visited. Have you cut down or reduced your list at all?

No, I haven’t reduced my list just yet.

Who are some of the schools that you’re interested in?

Pretty much everybody. I’m hearing from Ohio State. I’m hearing from Duke. Who else? Illinois, Michigan State, DePaul, Arizona, and UConn.

 

In the Chicago papers, they’ve written a lot about that Illinois job and the hiring process. As I recall, you were a Sun-Times guy, but did you pay any attention to the various articles about potential coaches or Coach Groce?

I did a little bit. I spoke with the Illinois coach soon after he got the job.

Well, I’m sure that you’re a major target. He ought to be after you.

Yeah, well (laughs)

 

Lastly, let’s just close by talking about what you hope to accomplish this summer. 

Sure, well, first, I’d like to win a championship for Mac Irvin. That’s my top goal. Then, personally, I’d like to play hard for the majority of each game and keep my conditioning up. I’ve been trying to work on my conditioning and, hopefully, it can pay off.

 

I remember last year around this time you were focused on winning the gold medal. That was what you were targeting.

Yeah, well, we won the gold medal.

I was proud of you.

Thanks.

I saw that picture that you put up of you, Coach (Mike) Jones, and Tyus (Jones) in Mexico.

(laughs) Yeah, well, that was a great experience. Now, I just hope that I can make the team again.

Thanks for your time, Jahlil.

Oh, sure, no problem.

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NCAA BASKETBALL: JAN 30 Duke at St. JohnÕs

The demise of the Duke? A look ahead and a reality check

DURHAM, N.C. – Have you heard? The Duke Basketball team is not as good as they use to be and there is trouble in paradise. Yeah, right. When the Blue Devils fell to Florida State in the ACC Tournament, the critics started to come out in droves. They had been around all season but Duke kept them at bay with a solid regular season where they defeated the likes of their highly talented rival North Carolina, Kansas and a bevy of other good basketball teams.

It’s true that Duke struggled a bit down the stretch as evidenced by their upset loss to Lehigh in one of the programs more embarrassing losses. But the reason that loss was so unbearable to many is that the Blue Devils rarely lose to an upstart team, so this was shocking to many. But if you take a more careful look, you quickly realize that fate caught up with Duke and the fan base, spoiled as it is and media types seemed to pay no mind the fact that this has happened to every program out there and that on occasion the Basketball Gods’ can be cruel.

The media, many who had been watering at the mouth for Duke to fail took full advantage and the articles and usual nay sayers were out in droves. In today’s instant gratification society you are only as good as your last game. Many overlooked the overall success Krzyzewski had with a team that he admitted had an unusual make up and one that was different from Duke teams past.

Of course, the increasingly spoiled fan base started to do a great job of imitating Chicken Little on various message boards and neither they or the  media mentioned that maybe it was the Blue Devils turn to fall short of an ACC Tournament Championship for a rare change. I mean the Blue Devils have only won 10 out of the last 14 trophies which makes for a crowded showcase that any other program would die to have.

A few weeks passed and Duke missed on two top prospects in Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad, both of who went to UCLA and then there was the transfer of Michael Gbinije. And that prolonged the Duke is doomed scenario where many fans acted like a successful program on all fronts could do no right.

Transfers happen and Gbinije headed to Syracuse to finish his college career. When Krzyzewski mentioned that his team was a bit different from other teams he’d coached, one of the things he was alluding to without mention is the lack of vocal leadership on the team and the nickname for Gbinije, “Silent G.” also applied to his demeanor both on and off the court which is quiet. Folks, if you are going to get burn at Duke you have to talk, call out picks, switches and the kind.  Still, many fans were convinced it was some sort of conspiracy and they questioned a decision of a Hall of Fame Coach that only broke the all time NCAA wins mark about a players playing time.

As for the losses in recruiting, let’s just say Adidas played a big role with Muhammad and Parker. Many complained that Krzyzewski went after the wrong big men targets but the truth is there were not many that would have fit Duke on and off the court. Duke cannot magically make kids grades better so he can get into school and they cannot compete with any under the table dealings in the world of recruiting in that they do it the right way, something fans and detractors alike should be proud of in the current climate of the game.

Duke stayed in the top ten all year long and were dropped way below where they really should have been in the final poll where it is what have you done for me lately mentality when voting.  One of my trusted allies thinks Duke will not start this season in the top ten in that the projections have them anywhere but their accustomed place.

But I am betting that the national types will start to see what I see and have them there by the time the real polls come out.  And if they do fall short of a top 10 start, it will not be long before they are there to stay if they simply play Duke Basketball.

The Blue Devils also had to deal with the Andre Dawkins situation where he may or may not take a year off as well. Dawkins had a horrible time breaking out of a funk down the stretch and that surely did not help and what about the injury to Ryan Kelly? Is there anybody that does not realize Duke had to change the concept of their team with the issues at hand on the fly?

The first way too early pre season top 25 polls started to come out a month ago and I snickered at seeing Duke ranked behind a neighboring rival. Actually they were ranked behind both of them. While Duke lost Austin Rivers who left Duke with the amazing memory of his three-point buzzer beating dagger at North Carolina and Miles Plumlee, they gain incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, the newly acquired Amile Jefferson and redshirt freshman Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee.

In short, they gain more than they lost and return a huge portion of their team.  That folks, will translate into on the court success and I assure you I feel that way without a pair of royal blue glasses on.

You know Coach Krzyzewski has to in a sense love where his team is currently projected for they are not annointed the favorites.  While Duke will continue to take every teams best shot, something that goes overlooked, let’s see how others not use to the limelight take on the favorites role.

And tell me, how many teams will have experienced senior leadership that Mason Plumlee. Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry bring to the table, two of the guys playing on a national championship team.  If Dawkins returns, they will have another senior who wears a national championship ring.

I suppose you could point to the aforementioned Gbinije as a loss as well but the reality is he played very little so how much of a loss is he for the coming season?  He will be a very good player just not at Duke it’s time to move on without overblown speculation and not live in the world of what if.

With the signing of Jefferson, the Blue Devils have a lot of depth up front and the most experienced front court in the conference. And the group of guards includes Curry, Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. How many teams backcourts in the entire nation are that much better that this group?

Anybody who thinks the Blue Devils are going to take a step back will be sorely mistaken and you can bet this coming season will be business as usual for the Dukies in short order. Folks, there simply are not a lot of better teams than Duke or ones they cannot compete with, so for now, the naysayers will have to wait a bit longer before you bury the program which gobbles wins like a kid with a sugar fixation does his box of Skittles.

Rank them where you will, overstate their supposed failures on the recruiting trail too. But realize that Duke always has and always will right the ship under the watchful eye of Mike Krzyzewski.

That said, go and enjoy your summer and watch Krzyzsewski as he leads Team USA on a quest for Gold. The program is in good shape which is the same as it ever was.

Here is a look at next seasons team with player by player capsules -

Mason Plumlee - The most important recruit in the off season was Mason Plumlee and talking him into coming back to Duke. Plumlee is a physically gifted and mature player that has gone up against a slew of NBA 1st round picks over his career and held his own. He will be All ACC going into the season and on some All American teams as well. He is the most experienced big man in the league and could push for most valuable player honors in the league..

Ryan Kelly - Another senior who is a big that can draw other teams frontcourt out of the lane with his ability to knock down the three point shot. Kelly is a hard worker that will improve even more this summer. He will attend the Amare Stoudemire Big Man’s Camp with the aforementioned Plumlee. Also, like Mason, he has been through the wars and brings much overlooked experience to the table as a senior and has been on a national championship team.

Seth Curry - Sure, Curry struggled down the stretch with his shooting but you cannot keep a shooter down but so long. Curry will work on his strength in the off season and he is a seasoned player that will provide mental toughness with his experience when the going gets tough this coming year.

Tyler Thornton - While Tyler is not officially a team captain, the junior is as big a leader as anybody on the team. Kryzyzewski has said he calms the team when need be and Thornton also plays within his skills set. His early season heroics garnered Duke some key wins last season.

Josh Hairston – The junior big man will get a chance to play and he’s a spirited player that gets the home crowd going at every Duke home game. With Thornton, he adds character to the team concept. He’s now an upper classmen and many players past have turned in on in their final seasons at Duke.

Andre Dawkins - Nobody knows for sure if Dawkins will play next season at this time but if he does, he can alone catch fire with his three point shot and that same shot won games for Duke or put them out of reach a season ago. Dawkins is athletic and can break out when he gets his plans settled.

Lance King Images for BDN

Quinn Cook - Cook will battle for the starting point guard spot and another year of maturity will most certainly help. Cook is one of the better ball distributors on the team and has the ability to score the ball. He needs to work on his defensive footwork in the off season and if he improves there he may well end up running the team.

Marshall Plumlee - At close to 7 feet, the youngest Plumlee adds depth backing up his brother in his senior season. I expect Mason to teach him a thing or two. His better years are likely a year or two away but the coaches love his attitude and motor. Plumlee is also a bit of a team comic who provides laughs and that in itself can be a plus.

Alex Murphy - With a year of the Duke system under his belt and physical maturity, a lot is expected of Murphy, a staff favorite. Murphy brings a little bit of everything with his game and he’s been itching to show what he’s got. A solid player in every aspect, Murphy may well start.

Rasheed Sulaimon - Great character and will. Sulaimon will add a lot to the Duke defense as their best pressure defender in the backcourt He can also break you down on the dribble and knock down the three point shot. He will east the loss of Austin Rivers.

Amile Jeffferson - With a 7 foot wingspan, Jefferson will find a role on the team from year one. With a deep team up front there will be no pressure on him to contribute right away. Jefferson has smooth movement on the floor and has the ability to knock down those garbage buckets so many players find a way to miss these days. A fantastic late addition to the team.

Philadelphia Express: Amile Jefferson To Duke

Future Blue Devil Forward Amile Jefferson, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

 Duke landed its second commitment of the 2012 class when Friends Central forward Amile Jefferson pledged to the Blue Devils. Jefferson, who was a McDonald’s All-American this March, will bring length, skill around the basket, a good basketball IQ, and versatility to the Duke frontline. Although the courtship was quite lengthy, it heated up this January when Coach Krzyzewski extended a scholarship offer to the cerebral big man.

 

6'8" Amile Jefferson, Photo by Adidas/Getty

Jefferson, who recently won his fourth consecutive Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Title for his suburban Philadelphia school, visited Duke for a third time on March 3 and 4 with his dad, Malcolm Musgrove. Jefferson has been on Duke’s radar for several years. Before his sophomore year at Friends’ Central, an academically challenging Quaker school in Wynnewood,  PA, Amile was one of two rising sophomores who attended Duke’s Elite Camp. In the autumn of his junior year, Amile watched Duke unveil its fourth National Championship banner at the Countdown to Craziness.

 

The forward with a seven foot wingspan also considered N.C. State, Villanova, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Temple. Amile Jefferson was recruited by Duke Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Chris Collins. Jefferson is Duke’s first Philadelphia player since current Charlotte Bobcat Gerald Henderson suited up for the Blue Devils.

On March 28, he joined fellow Blue Devil incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon at the United Center in Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American game. In fourteen minutes, Jefferon tallied eight points, three rebounds, two steals, and an assist for the East team. This April, the Philadelphian scored twenty-six points and grabbed five rebounds, earning the MVP of the Derby Classic at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY.

For the second consecutive year, Jefferson won Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year and was named Pennsylvania’s Class AA Player of the Year. Over the course of his career with the Phoenix of Friends’ Central, alma mater of former Syracuse All-American Hakeem Warrick, Amile Jefferson scored over fifteen hundred points, grabbed over eight hundred rebounds, and swatted away nearly two hundred shots.

6’8″ Amile Jefferson averaged twenty points, ten rebounds, and three blocks this year en route to a 21-5 record for his Wynnewood, Pennsylvania school. Jefferson provides Duke with a coveted second multi-year player with long-term pro potential in the 2012 class. To this point, Jefferson, the second highest-rated senior in the class of 2012 by HoopScoop,  has largely been able to overcome having no strength regimen, but in a prior interview with me, Amile has said he’s anxious to start a college strength and conditioning program in order to make his game more college-ready.

 

Amile Jefferson, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

McDonald’s All-American voter and veteran scout Tom Konchalski of HSBI said of Amile Jefferson, “He’s a young colt who’s waiting for his body to blossom, but he has a really good feel for the game. Right now, he’s probably more of a 4/3 and, obviously, he’s going to have get stronger, but, in the ACC, it’s not as if he’s going to the Big Ten or the Big East, which is even more of a physical conference. In terms of style of play, if he were to go to Duke, that would be a good pick, but he’s still got to get stronger in order to be able to play both sides of the court. He’s a guy who has some perimeter skills..not an explosive athlete, but, when he starts to working to improve himself physically, his legs will get stronger. He will get quicker and he’ll get more lift off the ground. He’s a guy who has a good feel for the lane and the baseline. He’s almost like an old-time player around the lane. He knows how to finish without going above the rim or jumping over people. He knows how to use his body to get between the defender and the ball. He knows how to shield the ball and reverse it. He has a really good feel for the game and he’s a really good kid. He’s also a good student.”

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 18 Division I Men's Basketball Championship - Second Round - Hampton v Duke

Kyrie Irving named NBA Rookie of the Year

DURHAM, N.C. — Former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving was voted NBA Rookie of the Year by members of the NBA media, as announced by the league on Tuesday. Playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first professional season, the 20-year-old Irving led all NBA rookies with an average of 18.5 points per game. In 51 games, he averaged 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game while logging a 1.72:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He became one of just six rookies in NBA history to average at least 18 points and five assists.

Irving received 117 of a possible 120 first-place votes from a national media panel. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and New York’s Iman Shumpert received the other first-place votes.

Irving is the third Duke player to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Grant Hill shared the honor with Jason Kidd in 1994-95, and Elton Brand split the award with Steve Francis in 1999-2000.

“There is no limit for me,” Irving said. “The only way I can go is up. That’s the only way I want to go. This season was a learning experience. I learned what to do and what not to do. Going forward, I want to apply it next season and take it to another level.”

Cleveland drafted Irving with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. He helped the Cavaliers improve their winning percentage from .232 (19-63) in 2010-11 to .318 (21-45) in a lockout-shortened 2011-12. Irving scored at least 20 points in 25 games and scored in double figures in all but five contests. Irving also sank three game-winning shots during the season and was named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge, part of NBA All-Star Weekend, by scoring 34 points – including an 8-for-8 showing from three-point range – during the rookie and sophomore all-star game.

“The progression of Kyrie from Game 1 to Game 50 probably exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott said. “I don’t think anyone expected him to do what he did this season.”

Irving left for the NBA after playing one season at Duke in 2010-11. A toe injury forced him to miss 26 games, derailing a promising freshman season in which he averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game. Irving returned to Duke in time for the NCAA Tournament and averaged 17.7 points during three postseason contests, including 28 points in the 93-77 loss to No. 17 Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.

What They’re Saying about Kyrie Irving

“Kyrie Irving is the Rookie of the Year. Kyrie is doing it all. He’s so explosive. The difference is everyone game-plans for Kyrie. They don’t game-plan for some of the others.”

- Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson

“I see no reason he wouldn’t be at the same level as the Chris Pauls and the Derrick Roses and those guys. He’s got size. He’s quick. He takes the ball to the basket. He makes good decisions. He’s shooting over 40 percent from [3-point range]. He defends. Even right now, let’s say conservatively, he’s in the top seven or eight point guards in the league … I knew he was good in the little bit I’d seen. But then you sit and watch him … oh my God.”

- Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy

“He’s taking Cleveland where they were a few years ago before LeBron left. It’s a big void to fill, but he’s doing a great job.”

- Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce

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BDN Monday Musings – Jefferson decision, Irving Rookie of the Year and more

Here is another edition, albeit a brief one of Monday Musings.  BDN takes a look at Kyrie Irving, the Amile Jefferson recruitment, Matt Daniels and more.

Amile Jefferson Decision

It’s taken Philly product Amile Jefferson, a consensus top 35 prospect a long time to decide where he will play his college basketball but a decision will be made tomorrow at his high school. As of now, three hats will be in place, those being Duke, Kentucky and N.C. State but some still say Villanova is alive as well. Jefferson has played this one really close to the vest and its rare nothing has leaked out in today’s recruiting environment. Duke has had good feedback but the delay in a decision has effected them as well as the other schools. Kentucky has made a strong late run and they’ve already pulled one kid high on academics in Alex Poythress. On paper, Duke is a good fit for Jefferson on and off the court with his educational acumen but it is N.C. State that seems to be a late favorite. Those who cover Wolfpack recruiting have been supremely confident on this one for a good while and here is a tweet from the Wolfpacker this morning, “We’ll have some Amile Jefferson stories lined up Tuesday, and then coverage of the press conference live at the school.” Sound like they;re pretty confident and it would not surprise me if his decision leaks soon if he is indeed Raleigh bound. Jefferson is the last prospect on the table for Duke in the 2013 season.

Kyrie Irving set to be NBA Rookie of the Year

Kyrie Irving is the real deal and the whole world knows that now. The number one pick in last seasons rookie class and is set to be named NBA Rookie of the Year. And to Duke fans credit, you do not hear a lot of “what could have been.” like comments, but one has to wonder what kind of season he would have had past a few games. Austin Rivers will join Irving as a first round pick in this years NBA Draft and that will keep Duke in the limelight. Irving averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 51 games.

Duke LAX success

What a great weekend for Duke LAX as the men and women took care of business.  The Blue Devils Men defeated Syracuse 12-9 and the Duke Women ousted Virginia 11-9.  Both teams move to the next round of the NCAA Tournament.  And it’s the last day to vote for C.J. Constabile, so go here and support his career efforts Vote here

Team USA

Coach K will host his annual Coach K Academy at the end of this month and then it is off to training camp for Team USA.  Krzyzewski has logged quite a bit of frequent flier miles and has rarely been in Durham.   Coach is currently in Dallas and was recently on the road for ten days after the Nike EYBL Boo Williams event.  Press conferences will start any day now and BDN will as always support Team USA efforts.

Matt Daniels nabbed by the Rams

Former Duke Safety Matt Daniels has signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Rams and he’s earned a lot of praise as a player who is most likely to latch on from undrafted player.  He is the infamous Gil Brandt from NFL.com on Daniels in this link.  BDN will follow Daniels as he tries to fulfill his dreams.