Thaddeus Lewis heads to Cleveland Browns Training Camp

Well, it’s that time of year again.  NFL training camps are underway, and standout former Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is in Ohio trying to earn a spot with the Cleveland Browns.

Lewis started his NFL career with the St. Louis Rams after having signed as a free agent, but was released after two years.  New Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmer knew Thad from his tenure as Offensive Coordinator with the Rams before getting the Browns job, so Cleveland quickly snagged Lewis.

Lewis opens camp as the fourth quarterback on the depth chart.  Rookie Brandon Wheedon will battle incumbent Colt McCoy for the start at QB, but many have speculated McCoy could be shipped elsewhere, which would mean Lewis battling Seneca Wallace for the backup role.

There is a reason Shurmer wanted Lewis in the fold, and BDN feels there is no doubt we’ll be seeing him earn a spot on the squad this August. Here is another BDN interview with the former Duke star.

Welcome To The Hood: A Rodney Hood Exclusive

6’8″ Rodney Hood of Duke University, Photo by Andrew Slater

Blue Devil Nation was the first to have an exclusive one on one interview with Rodney Hood after he transferred to Duke from Mississippi State.  This interview ran for our BDN Premium members in early July and we are now opening the article up for the public to give you an idea of the articles you will find in our extended subscription service.  Enjoy getting to Rodney Hood -

In early April, Rodney Hood announced he would transfer from Mississippi State after his freshman season. It was a tumultuous year, one in which Hood, along with recent NBA lottery picks Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Brad Beal, earned SEC All-Freshman honors, but which also ended with his Bulldogs getting knocked out by UMass in the opening round of the NIT.

With Hood looking for a fresh start, Duke, a program that had recruited the former McDonald’s All-American in high school, quickly rose to the top of his new list. In early June, the Meridien, Mississippi native made the journey up to Durham to visit Duke and to meet face-to-face with the coaches. Basketball was the one constant throughout the visit, as Rodney enjoyed hanging with his prospective teammates — eating, talking, and of course playing ball.  Hood also was impressed by the refreshing candidness of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who watched Hood’s game footage at Mississippi State with him. He pointed out things that they could work to improve upon, and also reviewed footage of Grant Hill playing at Duke. The freedom that Grant Hill played with while at Duke certainly appealed to the 6’8″ 204 lb Hood.

After narrowing his list down to Ohio State and Duke, Rodney chose to be a Blue Devil. On Wednesday, he officially moved in, and will be roommates with sophomore point guard Quinn Cook. Hood and Cook, a born salesman, talked throughout the recruiting process and have built a relationship. Hood, a good student in high school, has enrolled in classes in Psychology and Advertising during this second summer session at Duke.

Along with Duke rising seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Rodney is one of the select college players invited by Nike to its prestigious LeBron James Skills Academy this weekend. The left-handed wing player shot the basketball very well in the opening session, impressing several NBA scouts with his mix of size, skill, and versatility.

In his first interivew since enrolling at Duke, Hood spoke exclusively with me about a variety of topics, including a NCAA Championship run, improving his body in this coming year, what he will bring to the Duke program, being a competitive teammate, and unpacking his bags.

 

We’ll get into why you chose Duke in a second, but why don’t we start off with your reasons for transferring?  Your dad had mentioned in an article that this wasn’t a last-second decision, that you had thought about this for a few months. 

Yeah, it was just a situation where we had a coaching change and there were a lot of changes throughout the program, so I decided to look elsewhere. It was just a personal decision and that’s what I decided to do.

What were your reasons for choosing Duke?

You know, it’s just a high level of basketball. Coach K is evidently the best coach in basketball.  It also gets me out of my comfort zone. We are going to have a chance to compete for a National Championship.

I’d like to talk to you about that in a moment, but one of the things that I saw that you had mentioned that you liked in your meeting with Coach K was that he talked about specifics. What did he envision for you?

He just envisioned me being one of the best players in the country on one of the best teams and being able to play there.  He was very honest with me.  We watched tape and he was honest about my game.

He watched tape with or of you at Mississippi State?

Yes, and he told me what I needed to work on and, for me, there were just a lot of little things that I didn’t know about myself and my game.

That’s interesting. 

And so it was great. 

Out of curiosity, did he compare you to any players? I know that sometimes he does that. I remember, for instance, him talking with Kyle Singler about that.

 Well, we watched a little of Grant Hill’s tape.

Well, you’re around the same height.

Yeah, we’re kinda the same build, but we’re different kind of players. But the freedom that he gave Grant Hill back in the day, he said he would put me in those sort of situations.

That’s also interesting.

Yeah.

Did you know any of the guys on the team beforehand? Guys like Quinn?

Oh, yeah, I’ve been on campus already since Wednesday. I room with Quinn and we talked throughout the whole recruiting process. I also talked a lot with Rasheed and Amile and all of those guys.

Well, they’re all very nice.

Oh, yeah, definitely. 

What did Coach K say that he would like to work with you on in the next year?

More than anything, my body.

Your body?

Yeah, not just really adding weight, but adding a whole lot of strength. Just falling in love with being in shape.

Yeah, I think if you just got a little more developed in the upper body and keep working on your ball skills,  you’d be pretty unstoppable at this level.

Yeah, that’s what we talked about. We talked about falling in love with being in shape. You know, if you can get into shape, you can do a lot more things and it just elevates your game..stuff like that. Oh, and obviously skill work, but more just about getting my body in shape.

Now for you is it more about strength or conditioning or, frankly, both?

Yeah, it’s really both, really. You know, KD, Kevin Durant, he runs all of the time, and he’s not the strongest guy, but he’s effective because he’s mobile and he runs. But you know, I have to add strength to be the type of player that I want to become. 

I’ve been watching you a lot in the last two days, and it looks like you make a conscious effort to try to get open. Yesterday, you shot the ball really well, but you’re constantly moving without the ball here.

Yeah, yeah, a lot of it’s just repetition, just staying in the gym.  Just focusing on getting better.

For fans who may not have seen you play at Mississippi State or in high school, what are you going to bring to the program? There are a lot of fans that are excited about you coming.

I’m a player that can play on both ends of the court. You know, gets out there on defense, and offensively I’m very versatile.  I can make plays, I can shoot the basketball, I can post-up.

You knocked down fifty three-pointers.

Yeah, I can do a lot of stuff. I’m just excited to get in there and try to win a National Championship. It’s one of my goals.

As a lefty, what advantages do you have?

You know, there are a lot of advantages. Guys are not used to going against lefties. That’s why Ginobili and guys like that, Zach Randolph, guys are not used to guarding them every single day. I think it gives you an advantage.

Also, as a shot-blocker, you’re facing a lot of righties and you have a natural advantage of being able to block their shot with your left hand. 

Yeah, it’s very easy to contest a right-hander’s shot. 

What would you say is your go-to move, for fans who haven’t seen you play?

I’d say my go-to move, well, I like to do a lot of jab series. That’s basically my go-to move — I like to jab.

Where do you like to shoot the ball? It seemed like yesterday it was, like a lot of players, dead center.

Well, pretty much everywhere, but mainly dead center in the middle of the court. I try to get open spaces.

Then today you tried to work on the wing and down along the baseline.

Yeah, I was trying to work on that.

In terms of strength and conditioning, what do you currently weigh and what are you hoping to do in terms of your body?

Well, right now, I’m 204. 

Are you 6’8” or about there?

Yeah, I’m 6’8.” Definitely, I’m 6’8.”

Well, what are you hoping to get to?

I want to get to about 212 at least of muscle. I’m not a guy that wants to get real bulky and I’m never going to be that type of guy, but as long as I keep getting strength, I’ll be fine. 

You want to add that lean muscle.

Yes, absolutely.

Is there a guy you tried to model your game after, when you were growing up?

I love Penny.  Penny Hardaway. 

He’s another 6’8,” 6’9” guy that was skilled.

Yeah, I watched him play a lot and just tried to model my game after him. The way he makes plays and made his team better.

Do you think that you’re a pretty good passer?

I am. I can make a lot of passes. I can see over the defense a lot. Just like in football, where guys, well, quarterbacks can see over the defense. I can help find the open man.  

Yeah, it’s such an advantage if you can. Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself? A little bit about your background. I know you’re from Meridian and your dad played ball. 

Yeah, I’m from Mississippi, born and raised. I love it there, but I also love to have fun. I’m a regular kid. I’m not going to get in no trouble..on purpose. You know, nobody’s perfect, but I just love to have fun. 

You’re not going to be a knucklehead off the court, right?

Oh, no. 

What about your family?

Yeah, my mom and my dad both played ball, my brother and sister both played ball on the Division I level. My dad played pro overseas.

Are you the youngest?

Yeah, I’m the youngest, so it’s good having that knowledge in front of you. 

It probably helps a lot, coming from a basketball family.  

It does. 

What are you hoping to accomplish at the skills academy?

Just getting better by playing against the best wing players and the best players in the country. Just getting better every single time you step on the court. 

Can you recap the visit to Duke?

It was mostly just basketball, really. You know, we talked basketball almost the entire time. We ate, we talked basketball. We played, we talked basketball. We talked basketball afterwards. That was pretty much it. (laughs) I liked it.

You mentioned before that you’re looking to make a title run in 2014. You guys might be stacked. 

Yeah, definitely, we’re going to be pretty good. You know, in that year, we’re going to be pretty good. I’m just anxious, you know, the freshmen that are coming in now are going to develop and we’ve got some guys that will come in next year. 

It sounds like recruiting’s going pretty well. 

That’s what I hear. I think we’re also going to be pretty versatile as far as defense and, well, offensively, too. It’s going to be pretty exciting. 

What’s your schedule for the rest of the summer?

I’m going to be at summer school at Duke. 

The second session?

Yeah, I may be at a couple of more camps, but I’m not sure yet.

Since you just mentioned it, defensively, what are you going to do for the program?

I’m just a guy that can get out there and guard your 1, 2, or 3, and at the college level, even a 4.  

That’s impressive versatility on defense. 

Yeah, it is. 

On the AAU level, I always thought that you were a really good teammate.

Yeah, I just love to compete. I think I bring the best out of my teammates, you know, challenging them every single day and, well, they’re challenging me too. 

It’ll  be great in practice this year.

Yeah, it will.

What about your major? Have you thought about that at all?

No, not really. 

Well, it’s still early for you.

I’m taking an advertising and  psychology class right now for summer.

I remember you were a good high school student. 

Yeah, I was. 

What are you interested in doing when you stop playing? Have you thought about that at all?

Well, I still want to be involved in basketball. 

Coaching or announcing?

I don’t know about coaching.  There’s a lot of personalities (laughs), but we’ll see.

Did you have a favorite team growing up?

You mean NBA team?

Yeah.

No, not really. 

I didn’t know, growing up in Mississippi, which direction you would be looking.

Yeah, I didn’t really have a team.

One person had told my privately that they thought you were really disciplined growing up. Is that true?

Yeah, my high school coach really instilled in me discipline, you know, on and off the court. You know, doing the little things can help you go a long way. It’s been paying off so far. I just got to keep focussing on doing the little things.

What do you like to do for fun off the court?

Play video games, card games, just regular card games. (laughs)

Have you had an opportunity to see any USA Basketball this weekend? Will you get to?

No, but I think we’re going to go see them tomorrow. I’m very excited to see them.

You’re obviously a very good shooter. How are you trying to develop that?

Just repetition. You know, as a shooter, I’m just always trying to add repetition. 

In one of the articles I read for preparation, one of your ex-teammates said you might be a one-and-done.

I never said that. 

It was your ex-teammate, Moultrie, who said it.

Oh, no, it’s however long it takes to be ready. I never think of it that way. 

So, you’re “unpacking your bags,” so to speak?

Yeah, I am.

Thank you so much for doing this.

Oh, sure.

Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update – New names and Vegas

 

Semi Ojeleye

 As the AAU season winds down, here is yet another BDN Premium Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update for our members.  Are you ready for a few thousand words on the latest?  If so, keep reading and be sure to join to get all the freshest info.   In this edition I reveal some new names on the radar, give an in-depth recap of the Duke targets from the recent Nike Peach Jam, and more.  Know that this is the perfect time to join BDN Premium in that we have recruiting analyst Andrew Slater reporting from Las Vegas all weekend long.

Let’s start with a recap of Peach Jam happenings :
Semi Ojeleye - What you see is what you get, and that is consistent effort.  Ojeleye has a college-ready body, and he uses it to his advantage.  In Augusta, he struggled a bit from the outside, and never really found his rhythm, but nevertheless he is a versatile stat stuffer who guards multiple positions, and who plays team basketball, so what’s not to like?  Semi is a classy young man on the court and off, and is a perfect fit for the Blue Devils — and some of the Duke staff feel it is just a matter of time with Ojeleye.  I think he’s a real Duke-type kid, and a player I would love to see in a Duke uniform.
Julius Randle - After his first game in Augusta, I was ready to proclaim him the top player in his class.  He dominated that game, but in the rest of the tournament, though his overall numbers were strong, [private] I saw him miss an unusually large number of chippies.  Part of that may be because, while he’s a real physical specimen, he’s not a great leaper.  Also, he moved outside more than expected.  He plays for a Texas Titans team that runs a three guard lineup, so it seemed unnecessary for him to handle the ball on the perimeter as much as he did.  Randle is great with the ball in his hands, but he will not be used that way in college unless he goes to a team with little talent.  Which is highly unlikely.  When he takes it to the hole,  he finishes with authority and when he draws fouls, he is a decent free throw shooter.  When Randle does go down to the blocks, he dominates, and while I realize he is trying to broaden his game, in my opinion he needs to go down in the low post more often, as at this point on the AAU circuit he is a man among boys down there.  He is also an intimidating defender down low.
I will say, however, that when Randle went against better competition, he struggled a bit.  He has the propensity to be a little foul prone; he is like a bull in a china shop, almost inviting contact on every play, and when he’s out of control, it gets him in trouble.
The gym was packed for each Titans game.  Coach Capel missed only one, and in that instance Nate James was there in his stead.  The highlight was the matchup with CIA Bounce and stud forward Andrew Wiggins, in a game for the ages.  Wiggins got the better of Julius, but not by a wide margin.  Randle struggled getting his shot off when he went one-on-one versus the ultra-athletic (though smaller) Wiggins; Randle also was saddled with two early fouls, which did not allow him to remain aggressive down the stretch, and ultimately he fouled out.
While Randle may have fallen to #2 or #3 in the imaginary rankings, he can reclaim the top spot by simply taking his team far in Orlando over the next several days.  Make no mistake, Julius is a special talent, and is one of the four best players in high school basketball.  He’s going to be an immediate impact player at the college level.  Randle, quite simply, is as likely as anyone to have a one-and-done type of freshman season.
Julius Randle

Matt Jones - Matt has improved his game.  He is better off the dribble, he is a good (but occasionally streaky) shooter and he now loves to mix it up on put-backs and other plays underneath.  He has improved defensively as well; he checked Andrew Wiggins for much of their matchup and did a great job on him on the perimeter despite giving up some size.  In fact, most of Wiggins’s hoops came on angles and also off of steals and breakaways, meaning there were few times when he faced up Jones for a jump shot.  Jones tried to carry his team after Randle fouled out, but a dribble off the opponent’s foot derailed that.  It was clear that he was the go-to guy when Randle was out.  Matt erupted for a couple of 25+ point games during the event, and overall played very well.

Jahlil Okafor -  There is always a game in each tournament when he is just not impressive, but he always bounces back.  As I’ve mentioned before, Okafor continues to be plagued by the fact that his Mac Irvin teammates simply do not look for him in the blocks as they should.  The result is they get dusted.  It didn’t help that Jabari Parker did not play for Mac this past week due to his foot injury, and that certainly changed the team’s dynamic.  It took them awhile to adjust as a team, but when they finally started going inside to Okafor, he answered the bell, shooting an efficient 7 of 8 from the field and grabbing 13 boards.  In the team’s remaining games, his teammates continued to feed him, and Okafor really responded with solid numbers the rest of the way.  His body is still a work in progress — it is truly frightening to think what he may look like once all the baby fat is off.
Marcus Lee - Two words.  Foul prone.  In three of his games, he landed on the bench with five fouls, and his numbers were down due to the reduced minutes.  But when he did play, he was good, and he did save his best two games for late.   But overall, I was disappointed by his play and that of his team, as California Supreme layed an egg, winning (if I’m not mistaken) but a single game.  Lee is athletic and long, but tends to disappear for stretches.  Personally, I think he hurt himself here, and he is not what I consider to be a super elite player.   The staff watched some of his games, but to be honest, most of them were a bore.
Theo Pinson - Pinson is steady and he’s been that all summer long, and in the process he has solidified himself as one of the very best players in his class.  His jumper is ugly but it works for him, and his slashing ability is quite nice.  He’s getting better and is just starting to get a bit more serious in thinking about schools, which is good because he and his dad have been talking for a long time about having a lot of time to decide.  Make no mistake, the offer to Justise Winslow did not go unnoticed by the Pinson camp.  While there was some concern, the fact is that Pinson has visited Duke, played at Duke, been to games at Duke, and he stays in contact with Duke, so there are no real worries.  I have to admit, it upsets me that I cannot share more about this, but the reason is the unwarranted knee-jerk reaction from some on the board who state that there has been no TLC for Theo from the staff, when in reality, that is hardly the case.  Again, Pinson has just not been that serious about his recruitment.  So why should Duke be all over him if he hasn’t been that focused on it?  Duke has done its due diligence; Theo has an offer and has had an offer, but it simply got lost in translation.  Sure, he was excited by the UNC offer as well, but he and his dad know Duke features wings, so some members need to chill out a bit and try not to go into “sky is falling” mode when you really have only limited information on the details.  Pinson likes Duke and Duke likes Pinson, and thus the offer.  For now, enough said.
Justise Winslow

Justise Winslow - I love his game and I liked his demeanor during my interview, as he was respectful, he took his time with each response, and he said all the right things.  Justise is another kid who would be a great fit at Duke, as his education truly matters to him.  On the floor, in addition to a terrific skill set, he plays bigger than his size at times and he is ultra-athletic.  He is also a leader.  It’s no surprise that so many analysts are raving about him now and all the top coaches are at every one of his games.   It was truly ridiculous the lengths that some coaches went just to be seen by him.  Anyhow, the Winslow offer is exciting;  I would take him on the spot.  But then again, I would take Pinson too.  There is room for one of them, but not both, at Duke.

Tyus Jones -  He is the best PG in his class.  He is a winner.  He is a team player.  He is a scoring point, but an unselfish one, and can put his team on his back despite their lacking much of an inside presence.  While Jones is not super athletic, his feel for the game is a thing of beauty.  Tyus is also a young man of character and maturity, and he will make any school he attends an immediate Final Four contender.  Lastly, every coach in America wants him. Did I mention his feel for the game?  Give him the ball, surround him with talent, and take home a trophy.  I hope Duke lands him.
Damien Jones - One assistant told me he was a long shot, so I did not pursue him initially.  I sat with Johnny Dawkins and Mark Madsen for a game, and they love him — it’s not surprising that a good ballplayer and good student like Damien would draw interest from the likes of Duke and Stanford.  Now Duke is a little more interested, so I am setting up an interview.  He’s rising in the rankings, but it’s hard to rate his game because he plays on the Texas Titans with Matt Jones and Randle, and as one coach said, it’s hard to figure out just how good anybody is on the Titans because of Randle.  At this point Damien Jones is solid but not spectacular; he’s a bit slender and needs to put on some muscle.  But in a class with few quality bigs, he has suddenly become a hotter commodity.  He told me he liked Duke a lot and that he would be open to them if they came calling.  Duke is evaluating him and will take another look in Orlando.
Tyus Jones

Peach Jam tidbits - I had a pretty incredible seat in between Bill Self and Leonard Hamilton for the classic matchup between the Texas Titans and CIA Bounce.   I cannot begin to tell you how entertaining this back-and-forth game was, and how good Andrew Wiggins looked.  Several times he drew the “wow” from the coaches seated next to me.  I had a good conversation with both.  Self, of course, was checking out Julius Randle and joked several times about all the ACC guys on his trail, not forgetting that he lost Matt Jones to Duke.  We discussed recruiting a bit, and he said that one of the challenges at Kansas is the lack of much local high school talent.   Still, kind of hard to feel sorry for him.  Hamilton warmed up and talked about last season as well as the future, and he seems happy that Syracuse and Pitt are coming into the league. He also feels that football needs to be better in order for hoops to be.  Not sure I agree, but he’s a good guy and a heck of a coach, one who is getting a lot out of the pool of players he works with.  He  seemed to have a quiet confidence that the rebuilding job this season would be ahead of where most media and fans might think.  I sat with Coaches Capel and James as well.  While I try not to talk about that kind of thing too much, it is always cool to be near any of the Duke staff and just hang out and chat.  The gym was brutally cold and most coaches had on long sleeve shirts or jackets, including our guys who were both probably glad to get home and thaw out —  as was I.  Capel had a nasty bug and sure enough I caught it the last day as well, and it has slowed my reporting.  Thus the late update.

But the one thing that may tickle members is the musical chair show that Calipari and UK assistant Orlando Antigua played. Word is Kentucky covets a big-time PG.  So the two strategically scoped out and sat on the corner seats with the partition in between them in back to back seats while PG prospects Joel Berry and Tyus Jones were playing on opposite courts.  The two coaches would switch back and forth in an unapologetic fashion, literally pushing other coaches out of the way in an SRO crowd.  Antigua nudged a Western Kentucky assistant to the side without even a look, much less an apology.  They were by no means breaking any rules, but still.  Not cool.  Oh, and yes Virginia, Kentucky did start that rumor via Adam Zagoria, who sat beside me in the media area for most of the event.  If you missed it, they used Zagoria to put it out there that Duke leads for Jabari Parker, probably trying to sabotage it somehow.  As for Zagoria, he’s a nice enough guy, but if you are being lured in by his sensationalist blog, you are not getting an accurate picture of what is really happening, for he is simply going for hits and hits alone, accuracy be darned.  Coaches know which media members to go to when they want to propagandize, and Zagoria is but one of many.  Other coaches leak a kid’s secret on where he will go to school and ruin his big moment out of spite, even after the kid has the decency to make a courtesy call to show some respect to the coach who has lost out.  And some coaches even leak when a kid verbals to them in an effort to keep him from changing his mind.  You gotta love recruiting!

What happens in Vegas, goes on Twitter - Andrew is in Las Vegas and will be bouncing to various tournaments while following the nation’s elite prospects.  Be sure to follow our site updates and our Twitter feeds for the latest information.  I have turned up a few names of kids catching the Blue Devils’ eye, and one of those is Austin Grandstaff, a 2015 guard from Rowlett, Texas, whose father coaches his Team Texas AAU team.  He will be visiting Duke.  I originally kept that on the down low to avoid other local schools trying to get him on their campuses for an unofficial while he’s in the area.  Grandstaff’s teammate Elijah Thomas caught my attention too, and that of Coach Capel as well.  Thomas wasted no time retweeting our interview with him just moments ago.  Duke is evaluating a lot of young talent in an effort to lay early groundwork.  I will be checking in with Grayson Allen, who is a 2014 shooting guard that has contacted Duke and grew up rooting for the Blue Devils.  He carries a 4.0 GPA and played in the Peach State Classic down the road from the Augusta in Aiken, SC this past weekend.  He does not play for a  big-time AAU program, so like Robert Hubbs, he has flown under the radar.  I have two other names I need to keep on the down low until I can talk to them, but they will come out soon as well.  Once we put names out there, everybody jumps on them.
Orlando - I elected not to go due to the overall lack of #Duke prospects as well as the cost.  But Coach Capel is following the Texas Titans targets as well as a couple of other kids.  As Andrew has mentioned, Nate James is in Vegas.  We will surely be hearing a lot from the weekend as it’s a loaded event out there, and Andrew is sure to do his usual excellent job of reporting.
A lot going on - I thank all members for their patience as we have been beyond busy. More members means more content, so encourage others to join.  I am in the process of doing whatever it takes to make BDN better, and will leave no rock unturned as we move towards making the promised changes actually happen.
Pro Am - Tonight is apt to be the last night Duke kids play, so take note.  I will let you know if something changes.  Some have asked if Murphy will play.  I think he’ll be resting up after a long trip home, but we’ll see.
ESPN U - will carry some games from Orlando, so check the listings.
Please note: I recently had to remove some information because the reaction to it was basically negativity and excessive paranoia.  I have said it before and will again: do not read so much into every little thing you see and hear on the Internet, and don’t believe every little thing either.  After all, the reason you subscribe to BDN is to get accurate information that you can bank on.
Thanks to all of you who make up the Blue Devil Nation, and remember, Members, to check out Andrew Slater’s work all weekend long.  Let’s go Devils! [/private]
Peach Jam pics 2 007

2015 Prospect Elijah Thomas is making his presence known

As the 2013 AAU season winds down, many analysts start to focus on the class of 2015, and Blue Devil Nation Premium has a long tradition of introducing our members early to the prospects that everyone will soon be talking about.  One of the players who caught my eye during the Nike Peach Jam is 6’8″, 235 pound Elijah Thomas, who plays for the Team Texas Elite AAU squad.  Thomas is a space-eating big who has been impressing coaches and analysts alike, and he told BDN Premium that he is out to prove he’s one of the best players in the class of 2015.  One good sign coming from the rising sophomore is that he has dropped a phenomenal 50 pounds in the past year; the drive, determination, and discipline needed to achieve that goal speaks very well for him.

Several schools are showing interest in the young big man, but Thomas says it’s early and that his recruitment is open.  Thomas listed Duke (along with Texas and others) as one of the schools he’s followed, as he discusses in the latest BDN Premium interview offering.  Thomas caught the eye of Duke [private] Coach Jeff Capel at the Peach Jam in Augusta, and is currently playing in Las Vegas, where fellow BDN Recruiting Analyst Andrew Slater is taking in all the action and providing up-to-the-minute reports to our members.  Here’s the interview:

All BDN Premium members have access to the message board but a separate registration is required.  Please allow up to 24 hours for approval but likely much sooner.  If you are a member and have not registered for the board, please do so.  [/private]

Mickey Mitchell garnering interest from Duke, Florida, Kansas and UNC

Plenty of prominent college coaches are showing early interest in budding young star Mickey Mitchell.  The 6’7″-6’8″ lefty, a member of the class of 2015, plays at Prestonwood Christian Academy of Plano, TX, and if that school sounds familiar to Duke fans, it’s because he’s high school teammates with key Duke target Julius Randle.  Mitchell is a year older than his classmates, as the rising soph is already sixteen years old.  One potential wrinkle in his recruitiment is that Mitchell is also an outstanding football player, and is going to be highly sought after as a college quarterback as well.  But the basketball staffs at Duke, Florida, Kansas, North Carolina and Texas have shown early interest in Mitchell, w ho has been rebounding from a recent injury, and is still working back into his game.  BDN Premium caught up with Mitchell for a one-on-one chat during the Nike Peach Jam recently, and here is that conversation. [private]

More to come!  Discuss this video on the premium message board with fellow members. [/private]

The Quiet Storm: An Interview With Andrew Wiggins

6’7″ Andrew Wiggins of Canada, Photo by Andrew Slater

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

-Theodore Roosevelt 

 

 

Andrew Wiggins of CIA Bounce, Photo by Andrew Slater

Over the past four months, Andrew Wiggins has helped strengthen his case for being the best young prospect in the world. Blessed with having two parents who possessed the genetics and self-discipline required to be world-class athletes, Andrew has not squandered his opportunity.

This April, at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon, the then high school sophomore captured the MVP Award after he helped lead the World Team Select by scoring twenty points and grabbing seven rebounds to an 84-75 victory over Team USA Select, featuring some of the best American talent, including Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Rasheed Sulaimon.

The 6’7″ Canadian followed that up by bringing his mix of elite athleticism, improved skill, scoring prowess, and competitive gusto to his balanced and deep AAU team, CIA Bounce, where they went on to dominate the Nike EYBL season, winning seventeen of their first nineteen games. Wiggins averaged over eighteen points and nearly six rebounds over the lengthy regular season, which included stops in Oakland, Dallas, Minnesota, and Virginia. In June, the patriotic young wing competed with the Canadian U-18 team in Brazil, where he averaged a team-leading 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2 assists at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships.

This July, he has continued his whirlwind tour by first heading to Las Vegas for the prestigious LeBron James Skills Academy. Even amidst some of the exceptional talent accumulated by Nike for this year’s version of their All-American camp, Andrew Wiggins, who enjoyed the playing style of Allen Iverson, stood out with his performance on both ends of the court. Pressure can break some young men, but, although he later said he was nervous before the game, he shined in front of the United States Men’s Olympic team, including his favorite current NBA player, Kevin Durant, at Durango High School in Las Vegas. After that event, he then headed to Alexandria, Virginia and later Washington, D.C., where he helped lead Canada to the Finals of the Nike Global Challenge. In the Championship game, Andrew Wiggins, who enjoys a 6’11″ wingspan, rose to the occasion, scoring twenty-four points, snatching seven rebounds, and creating four steals in a narrow defeat.

Gracious Canadian Star and Duke Recruit Andrew Wiggins, Photo by Andrew Slater

At his most recent event, the Nike Peach Jam, competing against arguably the best AAU teams in North America, Andrew took his game to greater heights. In his seven games in North Augusta, SC, Wiggins averaged twenty-two points and nine rebounds, while leading CIA Bounce to the Peach Jam Finals, before suffering a painful one point defeat, 51-50, to the Oakland Soldiers. In the Championship game, while guarded by a versatile and tough defender in Stanley Johnson, Wiggins generated twenty-three points, nine rebounds, and swatted three shots.

Genetically significant, his father, Mitchell, was an honorable mention All-American at Florida State and a first-round draft pick in 1983 for the Indiana Pacers. Mr. Wiggins, who was born in Kinston, North Carolina, played shooting guard professionally for a span of sixteen years, including six in the National Basketball Association.

Andrew’s mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, originally from Barbados, was an All-American track star at Florida State, where she met her future husband. At age 23, the 5’8″ track star,  won two silver medals, representing Canada, in the 4 x 100 meter and 4 x 400 meter relays at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. More than twenty-five years later, she still holds the Canadian women’s outdoor record for speed in both the 200 meter (22.62 seconds) and 400 meter (49.91 seconds). Although Mrs. Payne-Wiggins didn’t win another medal, she competed for Canada in the 1988 Seoul Olympics as well.

Andrew played briefly in America during the 2009-10 season for Ro Russell and Christian Center Faith Academy in Creedmoor, North Carolina, a thirty-minute drive from the Duke campus. Wiggins’ parents elected to take him back to Canada to go to Vaughan Secondary School, just north of Toronto, for one year. While competing for the Vaughan Voyageurs, the nearly 6’7″ wing averaged twenty points per game. In his only high school year in his native Canada, Wiggins enjoyed a storybook ending, scoring twenty-five points and grabbing thirteen rebounds in the gold medal game to lead Vaughan to a OFSAA AAAA Championship. A year ago, Andrew Wiggins and his family decided to take his talents to Huntington, West Virginia, where he attends school at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School, lives with a host family, and plays basketball for Coach Rob Fulford at Huntington Prep. Andrew liked the improved competition in both practice and games in America, the familiar camaraderie of knowing several of his Huntington Prep teammates through the CIA Bounce AAU basketball program, and the college-level facilities available through Huntington at Marshall University Recreation Center.

Andrew Wiggins, Whose Parents, Marita and Mitchell, Were World-Class Athletes, Photo by Andrew Slater

After a stellar 28-2 sophomore season at Huntington Prep, which included trips to Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Canada, and Washington, D.C., the accolades flooded in for the soft-spoken young man with a loud game. Andrew Wiggins, who very well may be the best Canadian basketball player since two-time NBA MVP and eight-time NBA All-Star Steve Nash, was named the MaxPreps Sophomore Player of the Year nationally and won the Gatorade Player of the Year in West Virginia after averaging more than twenty-four points, four assists, and nearly nine rebounds per game on a deep Huntington Prep Express squad. Off the court, he earned a solid B average at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School. Basketball can be a mercenary’s life, but Andrew will enjoy the stability of being back at Huntington Prep for, at least, one more season.

Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep, Photo by Nike/Position Sports

Seemingly every year, there is a new middle-school phenom unearthed and hyped as the “next big thing,” but, for a variety of reasons, a very small percentage ever ultimately live up to the initial billing. When Andrew was thirteen, a highlight video or mixtape, which has now been viewed more than 4.1 million times, spread virally throughout the internet, billing him as “the best thirteen year-old on the planet.” Now, at seventeen, with significantly more skill and physical development, he has managed to navigate the waters and be even closer to realizing his ultimate potential, through sheer competitive drive, guidance, and maximizing his natural talent.

In an ongoing interview with the friendly Andrew Wiggins, who visited Duke when he was younger, we spoke about a variety of topics, including his lethal mindset when he steps on the court, Duke’s interest in him, and playing in front of LeBron James.

 

 

 

How has the transition to Huntington Prep gone and what you’ve gained from that experience?

It’s been good…probably because I knew a lot of people and know a lot of people from AAU or other things. That’s helped a lot. They’ve helped treat me like I’m family. 

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You actually lived with a host family. How has that aspect of the experience gone so far?

Oh, that’s been great. They’ve been treating me like it’s a real family. They’ve taken me into their home, they help me out when I need it. 

Well, that’s great.

They’ve acted like parents. They’ve been really nice to me. 

You’re lucky in that regard.

Yeah, I am.

For the audience that may not know, you go to a local Catholic school, but you play for Huntington Prep. Explain how that works. It’s probably a solid school.

Yeah, it’s a private school, it’s a great education. Teachers support us 100%. They’ll help us when we need help. 

I saw that you had a B average this year in school.

Yeah, I’m working hard this year in school. I don’t want any problems. (laughs)

Exactly, that’s a casualty I don’t want to hear about. 

Yeah, yeah.

What are you working on most over the last year in terms of skills, body, etc.?

I would think my shot has improved a lot. 

That would be the thing that people would notice most?

Yeah, that and my ball-handling, probably. Playing without the ball.

There’s been some talk about you re-classifying. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Can you address that issue? 

Oh, well, that’s something I haven’t really thought about yet. 

I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Alright, we’ll move on. You’ve had a lot of international experience. How do you think that’s benefited you? What was the Nike Hoops Summit experience like for you?

The international experience has been great. You get to meet new people. 

You get to travel.

Yeah, that’s cool and we’re all friendly. We love each other. 

And, in terms of the Hoops Summit, you got the win.

Yeah, that was good. I thought I played a good game. I got my shots. My shots were falling. I had a lot of fun and a lot of support from my teammates. They’re all friendly. 

Now transitioning into EYBL, can you compare this year versus last year in terms of experience? How have you benefited?

Well, this year and last year, I think our teams are great. Last year, I think we did great. We went to Peach Jam. We played good. Last year, we didn’t win it, but we still went out hard. This year, I think we’ll win it. I think we actually have a better chance of winning it this year. Our team is pretty deep this year.

Pretty balanced.  Last time we talked about working out with your Dad. Do you still work out with him in the off-season and, if so, what do you try to work on most?

Oh, yeah, yeah, I definitely work out with him. He teaches me a lot.

Well, he was an ex-pro, that must help a lot. What does he teach you?

He tries to tell me what he knows and what it will take to get to the League. 

What advice does he give you now? I know in the past, he would always try to tell you to stay humble.

Yeah, he likes to say, “Stay humble and the sky’s the limit.”

I saw that your brother committed to Wichita State.  What was your and your family’s reaction to that?

Yeah, I was happy for him. He had a lot of options. He was looking at Baylor, Oregon, but he felt most comfortable at Wichita State.

Are you guys pretty close?

Oh, yeah, we play all of the time. We’re very close.

You guys must kill it at the local YMCA when you two walk in.

(laughs) Yeah.

I was looking back at a prior interview with you. You said defense is where you wanted to focus a lot of your energy. How would you assess that aspect of your game at this point?

I’ve tried to improve my man defense and my off-the-ball defense. I try to really get up on my guys. I’d say that my man-to-man defense is pretty good at this point, actually.

What’s your current height, by the way?

I’m about 6’7 ½” and that’s my real height..unlike some guys. (laughs)

Is the number one ranking still very important to you? I know in the past that was something that you were striving for.

I would say more than anything, it would really be an honor to me. I don’t want to say it’s incredibly important, but it would definitely be an honor and something I’m certainly shooting for and working hard to get there.

Talk about Allen Iverson being your role model. Well, not role model, but someone you’re trying to model your game after.

Oh, oh, I wouldn’t say role model.

God forbid.

(laughs) What I liked about him is he was under 6’, he was under-sized, but he could score whenever he wanted to. He played hard both ways and we really don’t have any superstars like him anymore. He helped them to the Finals.

I would think to a degree that you would try to model your game after guys like LeBron, Kobe, and Kevin Durant.

Oh, yeah, those guys are all like the best players in the League right now.

 For better or worse, I just thought those guys are versatile wings like you.

My favorite player in the League right now is Kevin Durant, but probably all-time is still Allen Iverson. It’s amazing to me that he was able to get his team to the Finals and play like he did at that size.

The only time I ever spoke with him was the day before he was drafted. He had an amazing watch on his wrist. I used to like to watch how he used his hands and feet on defense. He had an amazing ability to rip point  guards with weak crossovers.

Yeah, he was amazing.

 Your parents both went to Florida State and you grew up as a Florida State fan from a very young age watching them on the television. It’ll obviously have some influence on your decision.

Yeah, it’ll definitely have an influence on my decision and Florida State did big things this year, but I still have to make my own decision.

You had mentioned in the past that you appreciate playing such a tough schedule. How would you assess the competition this year and compare it to what you faced in Canada last year?

The competition this year was very good. It’s a lot different than Canada. A lot of people knock Canada.

Oh, no, I wasn’t trying to insult Canada at all. I love Canada.

(laughs) Yeah, me too. I wasn’t trying to knock it either, but the people are a lot bigger and stronger down here.

Well, there’s a lot more people. 

Yeah, there definitely is a lot more people and, yeah, the competition is much better down here.

Who will you turn to for guidance whenever you do make your college decision?

It will pretty much just be my parents.

Coach K was watching you earlier in the year. Can you talk about that?

It’s an honor. He’s a big-time coach. He’s been able to coach and develop some great players. 

What do you know about the program?

I watched a game there a couple of years ago. It’s a great basketball program. They’ve been winning for a lot of years. They’ve developed a lot of pros. They play really fast and fun. 

Well, you actually lived in North Carolina for a couple of months a few years ago, but we don’t need to talk about that. What has it been like to have Tyler Ennis as your point guard?

Oh, he’s a great point guard. He’ll find you wherever you are. He’s a pass-first point guard and he has to be ready to get the ball. He’s very fast in transition. He’s very unselfish. 

He’s very efficient as well.

Oh, yeah, he definitely is. He’s a smooth passer. He can score whenever he wants to score. 

What do you think he’s like off of the court?

Oh, he’s a great kid off of the court. He’s unselfish, he’s humble, he’s friendly.  He’s a good person to be around.

One of the things you wanted to improve on was your three-point shooting. You can be a tough self-critic, but how would you assess your three-point shooting at this point?

I think I’ve actually improved a lot since last year. I feel much more comfortable shooting the ball up there. I’ve tried to take away my weaknesses.

Yeah, I think you have in terms of the three-point shooting. Last year, you felt comfortable anywhere from your mid-range and in. I think the word you said was you could “kill,” but you wanted to push it out this year.

(laughs) Yeah, yeah. 

Your handle is another thing you wanted to improve on. You mentioned that you think that was something that you improved on.

Yeah, that’s been an area I was trying to work on all winter. 

Have you taken any visits and or do you have any planned?

Well, I visited unofficially to WVU. 

That’s a pretty local school.

Yeah, exactly, it was pretty close to me and I don’t have any plans at this point, no.

What about your strengths? You look a little more ripped in your arms, so to speak.  Is that something you guys work on at Huntington?

Oh, yeah, we go hard. You know. (laughs)  

Yeah, I’ve heard.

We work hard on and off the court. We play hard on the court and in the weight room.

Do they have a good weight room facility there?

Oh, we have great facilities there.

Who would you say the toughest competitor  is that you’ve ever gone against? Would Shabazz be up there?

I think I would go with Anthony Bennett instead. (laughs)

Oh, a little hometown shout-out!

(laughs) Yeah, he’s my boy.

Do you have any lingering injuries?

Well, my back hurts just a little bit, but it’s nothing.

I’ve seen you lying on the floor occasionally. I just hope everything will wind up being okay for you.

Yeah, definitely, thanks.

Now, in terms of Huntington, you’re going to go back next year. Is that definite?

Yes, it’s definite.

What’s the latest in your recruitment? There’s not really any new schools?

It’s the same schools that have in there. 

For the sake of the fans and my writing, can you please reiterate what schools are in the running? I just want it for the record.

Florida State, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, UNC.

What was it like playing in front of LeBron?

Oh, that was great. It was like a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a huge opportunity and a real honor. I was a little nervous before the game. You know, these guys are big-time players and they’re coming to watch you. 

Well, the only guy I know at all on the team is Kyrie and I just quickly tried to tell him to make sure to watch you.

Oh, yeah, thanks. It was a great experience and a real honor to play in front of those guys. 

I thought you played well, too.

Thank you, thank you. 

Have you felt any changes in your recruitment now that these coaches are allowed to text all of the time?

Oh, no, not at all, cause I haven’t given out my phone number. (laughs)

Oh, smart man.

(laughs)

You mentioned before that Duke is recruiting you. What do you know about the program?

Yeah, they’ve been speaking with my coaches. It’s obviously a tremendous basketball program and a great school. Coach K is a legendary coach and now he’s working with the Olympic team. They’ve had great players develop and play at Duke. I visited the school when I was younger. They’ve been winning for a long time. 

You guys are traveling like crazy, but what are you working on most on your down period?

When I get a chance, I work out with my AAU coach and my dad. We’re working mostly on jump-shots whenever I’m home. I try to work out really hard whenever I’m home.  

By the way, are you ever home?

(laughs) 

What’s the story with that? Are you ever home?

(laughs) Hardly ever. 

What’s your mind-set whenever you’re on the court? Is it attack? In the past, you said like to think of you as a killer or that others think of you as a killer on the court.

Yeah, I guess I would say more than anything, I just to kill them.

(laughs) That’s what I love about your game- that you have an absolutely killer attitude, totally cold-blooded.

Yeah, I just try to play my game, play hard, and take the other guy out. 

Would you say you try to intimidate guys?

No, I can’t say that. What I would say is that when I step on the court, if they’re not intimidated, I’ll try to, well, they’ll….

They’ll learn?

(laughs) Yeah, they’ll see very soon learn that they should be. 

By the way, what does your father think of all of this? The success, the notoriety, your recruitment, your development?

Oh, he’s very proud of me.

I’m sure.

He sees me working very hard in the gym. 

Did he think this would happen for you?

Oh, yeah, he always thought since I was really young that I would be up for something special. He told me that I would be something special, very special. 

Yeah, well, hopefully, he turns out right. It looks like you’ve got a good head-start.

Thanks. 

What are your goals for next year?

I just want to make the ESPN tournament at the end of the year and win it. I’d really like to go undefeated. I’d just like to keep improving my game, that’s all. 

Lastly, I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I’m counting on you to bring a little basketball glory to the name Andrew. You and Andrew Harrison are my two current hopes. We’ve got Drew Breeze and now Andrew Luck in football, but Bynum is just not cutting it. You’re my hope. I’m looking for single name recognition like Kobe, Shaq, or Michael.

(laughs) All right, I’ll definitely try.

Thanks a lot for your time, Andrew.

Sure, thank you.

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