6'9" Duke Recruit Austin Nichols, Photo by Andrew Slater

The Running Man: An Interview With Austin Nichols

6’9″ Duke Recruit Austin Nichols, Photo by Andrew Slater

For a self-described “goofy kid,” 6’9″ Austin Nichols of Memphis has a serious game. Blessed with a 7’2″ wingspan, he is one of the most skilled big men in high school basketball, and has demonstrated the ability and desire to get out and run the floor.

On a senior-laden Briarcrest Christian team, the junior averaged over eighteen points and nearly ten rebounds, while leading the city of Memphis in shooting for a second consecutive year. Nichols, who has added twenty-two pounds (he is now up to 202 pounds) since last year, was named Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball.

Nichols and fellow Duke recruit Robert Hubbs III, an ultra-athletic shooting guard from Dyer County in Tennessee, have been forming a nice one-two punch on the AAU circuit for M33M this year . They will be playing in Minneapolis and Las Vegas later this month.

Last summer, Austin attended Duke’s camp, and began a relationship with the Duke coaches. Before being introduced to Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Nichols first spoke with Associate Head Coach Chris Collins and later Coach Steve Wojciechowski. Coach K came and watched both Nichols and Hubbs play. In April, Austin became the first player this spring to be offered a scholarship by Duke.

In June, Nichols trained in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, Colorado for the United States U-18 team that eventually competed for the FIBA Americas Championship in Sao Sebastio do Paraiso, Brazil. He was one of the fourteen finalists, playing alongside incoming Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and fellow Duke recruit Julius Randle.

This month, Austin has been busy competing in the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas, NV and the Reebok Breakout in Philadelphia, PA before he rejoins his friend Hubbs for AAU competition around the country.

While his twin sister will be a freshman at the University of Tennessee and his oldest sister will graduate in August from the University of Memphis, where his mother is an alumnus, Austin Nichols, who has a 3.4 GPA at Briarcrest and a strong Christian faith, plans on cutting down on his extensive list of college suitors in about six weeks. Recently, Nichols, who has the deep Tennesseean voice of a young country music singer, spoke with me about a variety of topics, including playing alongside Hubbs and Randle, his improved overall game, and his faith.

 

You’ve been on a nice run this year, winning Mr. Basketball and being a part of USA Basketball.
I mean, I definitely worked hard for it. It’s a dream come true, especially to become a part of USA Basketball. Even though I got cut, it was a great experience in Colorado and I had fun and everything like that. I met some new guys. And then winning Mr. Basketball, that was a great experience.
It’s the highest honor in your state.
 Oh, yeah. I was just excited and I worked hard to get it and I realized I want to work harder to get another one.
What was it like when you received the Duke offer? You were the first guy that they offered this spring.
 Yeah, I talked to Coach K two or three times before he offered and I was shocked, just shocked. It was April. I started talking to Coach Collins first and then I started talking to Coach Wojo and then I finally started talking to Coach K and he offered in early April. 
What was your initial reaction like?
 I really didn’t believe it at first. It really hit me about a day or two later. 
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Coach K had seen you play a few times at that point?
 Yeah, well, I went to their camp the summer before. They saw me there and then, yeah, over the early summer, he saw me a couple of times. 
I watched you a few times last year on the AAU circuit. In your opinion, what would you say you’ve improved on most over the past  year?
 Getting stronger, improving my jump-shot, keep running the floor, I think my offensive rebounding has improved. 
You look a little stronger as well, I must say.  Or at least bulked up from last year.
Yeah, I was 180 last year, I’m now up to 202.
What would you like to be? What’s the next step for you in terms of weight and size?
I’d like to get all the way up to 220 by Christmas. 
Oh, wow. 
Yeah, I think it’s going to be hard, but I think I can do it, adding lean muscle. 
For the majority of the audience who has never seen you play, what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are I have long arms, I can run the floor. Man, my weaknesses are probably my jumpshooting.
Oh, really? You think that is your major weakness?
Yeah, I can hit that 15-footer, but my 3-pointer really needs a lot of work. 
Oh, you’d like to move your range out even further?
Yeah,  I would. I just don’t feel as comfortable that far out.
By the way, do you view yourself as a 4-3? What position do you view yourself as?
Usually as a 3-4, sometimes even a 5, depending on the match-up or the line-up in the game.
With your twin sister at Tennessee, how will that affect your decision?
She’s going to be a freshman at Tennessee this year. I’m actually about 3 minutes older than her. She got held back, I mean, I got held back in 7th grade.
I assume it was purely for athletic reasons, right?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely, that’s right. And she, I mean, we always talk. We’re really close, so whatever she thinks that I might be interested in.
Does it give Tennessee a competitive advantage?
No, not really. She is there for me, regardless of what I decide.
Does she play basketball at all?
Oh, yeah, she played until 6th grade.
I was just curious about your various connections. By the way, who do you try to model your game after? You have, sort of, a unique one. 
 I’d have to say Dirk (Nowitzki) and then secondarily, I’d have to say Pau Gasol.
 So, you like to model your game after sort of tall, relatively athletic guys who have the versatility to step out and shoot it?
Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely, those are my type.
What about the pull of Memphis? 
Great coaching staff.
Great recruiters.
Yeah, they definitely are. 
Your mother went to Memphis as well, as I recall.
Yes, she went to the University of Memphis. She didn’t play basketball, but she was I think part of a band.
 Well, that counts for something. She’s bringing spirit.
(laughs) Yeah, thanks. She wants me to go to Memphis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. She‘ll support me. They’re really aggressive at recruiting me. I have to see. I’m neutral right now.
I was reading that you were planning on cutting down on your list relatively soon. What would you like to get it to and what is the mindset behind it? Is it to try to cut the list to a more manageable number?
 Probably in a month and a half. I’m not really sure how low I’m going to cut it to, but yes, to make it more manageable. 
By the way, are you a pretty good student?
Yeah, I’m pretty good. A’s and B’s. I’ve got about a 3.4 GPA. 
That’s about double most guys here.
(laughs)
Well, that’s at Briarcrest Christian, where Leslie McDonald went. Speaking of Leslie McDonald, has he tried to influence you about North Carolina?
 Yeah, about four weeks before school was out, he came by the school, he came to talk to me about going to North Carolina. Well, not just going to North Carolina, but being a college player. He was kind of getting me ready for it, waking me up early, telling me you had to get ready to go to practice, and just setting my mind right.
Do you think you have a good work ethic?
Yeah, I tend to think so. I get in the gym pretty constantly. 
Well, for the most part, you have to to maintain at this level. What about public versus private? Will that be an issue for you when picking a college? You obviously go to a private school right now, but I didn’t know if that was an issue. Will size be a factor as well?
 Well, actually, I went to a public school until 7th grade, so no, I can’t say, not really. 
So, it doesn’t really matter to you, per se?
 No, it doesn’t really matter.
This really varies from player to player, depending upon the level of competition or talent they face and what the level of talent they’re accustomed to playing with, but how would you compare your high school basketball versus AAU? How does the competition compare as well?
High school versus AAU ball? Well, AAU ball is definitely faster. School ball is definitely slowed down a little bit more.
What style of play do you prefer?
Fast, loose, let’s push the ball. I like to run, I think it’s an advantage I have. I like to push the pace.
You shot about 67% from the field this year in high school. How did you remain so efficient? Was it you were primarily playing inside? 
Yeah, I led the city of Memphis two years in a row in field goal percentage, but I really don’t know how I do it. It sort of just happens.
Having seen you play the last few days, I know how. Can you give a quick scouting report on Robert Hubbs?
 Oh, he’s a great player. He can run, he can jump, he can shoot the ball. He’s a great ball-handler. He’s just a great player overall. He’s been great to play with.
Back to you, what about your defense? You obviously take pride in it. You’ve been a good shot-blocker in the past and I know you put up some good numbers in high school. Also, how much do you attribute that to your length?
Well, in school ball, I average about four or five blocked shots a game. 
Well, you’ve got the length or wingspan.
Yeah, I’ve got the length and when I’m guarding a defender out, I try to use my length to keep them at a distance. I don’t try to play right up on them and they don’t quite realize my length and jumping ability. Some guys find it pretty frustrating.
On this year’s Briarcrest team, will you take on more of a leadership role? Do you think of yourself as a natural leader?
Yeah, well, on the high school team, I’ve been one of the youngest kids. Like last year, we had six or eight seniors on the team, so I didn’t have an opportunity to be a leader, but this year, I’m definitely going to take the role. I’m definitely going to take the role.
What about Faith? I was reading in several of the accounts that that was an important issue for you. It’s not something that I usually get into, but it came up Jabari Parker as well. Is it an important issue for you and will it factor into making your college decision?
Yeah, well, definitely when I make my decision for college, I’m definitely going to go with a coach that walks through Christ. That’s why I go to a Christian school, to be close to Christ. My parents are both Christian. 
 I always wonder. There are some guys that say it and there some guys that walk that life. It’s a difficult period in your life. 
 Yes, it is. 
In terms of visits, I know you’ve gone on a couple locally. Do you have any planned? 
Yeah, I mean, I may go on a couple in August. August 1st is the first day I can get back on the road, but I’m not sure yet though.
In terms of a basketball or a football school, will that factor into your decision at all? Some of the schools on your list are known more-so for their football programs. Does that matter to you at all?
No, it really doesn’t matter. It’s along the public-private lines.
In your mind, what would you like to improve upon to be “college ready”?
I definitely would like to add muscle. I’m not sure what weight. I’d like to improve my ball-handling and my shooting. Those are primarily the three things.
Can you tell the audience about your family and yourself away from the court?
Well, personally, I’m just a goofy kid off of the court. Like I said, I walk through Christ. I go to church. I’m just goofy, I’m just a regular kid, I guess.
What about your family? Are you close-knit?
Oh, yeah, definitely. We’re definitely close. I mean, especially with my twin sister, I can tell her just about everything.
Is it just the two of you or do you have any other siblings?
I have an older sister. She’s a senior at Memphis. She’s about to graduate in August.
Congratulations.
Thank you.
Do any of the guys on Team USA try to recruit you, would you say? It’s certainly an interesting dynamic. 
Well, first of all, Coach Donovan was there. He’s trying to recruit me.
No, actually, what I meant was more along the lines of the players. Guys like Nate Britt or Rasheed Sulaimon. 
Oh, okay, well, I wouldn’t say they really recruited me, but they talked with me about it. I mean, they’re good guys and everything. I met them and we talked, but I would just say they gave me positives about each of the schools. 
In an article about you and USA Basketball, it indicated that you had taken yourself out of the competition at the very end. Is that true and, if so, why did you do it? What was your mindset behind it?
The way I was playing, I don’t think I could play that way in Brazil. So I thought it would be better for me to drop out and let someone else take that spot. 
I guess that was selfless of you.
Yeah, well, hopefully. It’s just what I felt at the time.
Who do you turn to for guidance in big decisions?
Definitely my parents and my sister.
Your older one?
Actually, both of them. When we have time in August, we’re going to sit down and pray about it.
What are your overall thoughts on your performance at the LeBron James camp?
LeBron has definitely been a great camp. I’ve learned a lot. They have great teachers. 
What are your goals for next year?
Well, since it’s my last year, I’d like to just have some fun.
And win a state title, I would think.
Oh, yes, definitely.
Who are some guys that you are closest to on the circuit?
Jabari Bird is one, Robert Hubbs, and probably third would be Stevie Clark.
By the way, what is Hubbs like off of the court?
Oh, he’s cool. He’s real nice. You’d like to deal with him. 
Thanks, I haven’t talked to him.
He’s a real cool dude. You’d like him.
The next one is something that I was thinking about when I was coming in here. As you may have heard, they basically wiped out four AAU directors. In terms of AAU ball, how do you protect yourself against others that may have ulterior motives in helping you and helping your game? Do you ever think about stuff like that? What’s your mindset with that?
Yeah, I definitely thought about that. I just have to play my game.
I’m sure you’ve had people try to come at you and get into your life. 
It happens.
But you’ve been able to keep them out?
I have so far, yeah. I just try to keep my circle tight. I don’t know what to say.
All right, can you talk about keeping your circle tight?
Oh, yeah, one of my good friends Jarnell Stokes told me on the USA trip all about that. He told me that I had to keep my circle tight. He said you don’t know who’s watching you and who’s trying to come at you.
I think that’s very important.
Yeah, that’s the way I feel too. It’s definitely going to be my family and I don’t know much from there. 
And lastly, about Julius Randle, can you give the audience a scouting report about him and what was it like to play along side him?
 He’s like a 6’9” point guard. He’s huge, he can get in the lane whenever he wants to. He’s a great player. He can shoot it, he can dribble, he can do whatever. I love playing with him. He makes me better every single time. He raises your game. 
Who would you say is the best player you’ve had to guard so far or hardest guy to guard?
Probably Julius Randle or..no, it’s definitely Julius Randle. 
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Courtesy of GoDuke

BDN Football Friday: class of 2013 review

Courtesy of GoDuke

To date, the Blue Devils have added 13 for ’13. The Duke staff has secured verbal commitments from a baker’s dozen of rising high school seniors. It should be noted that the 2012 team is set to graduate just 12 seniors and redshirt-seniors (assuming Kenny Anunike stays for a sixth year), so even with some unavoidable annual roster attrition, the class of 2013 is mostly filled. Next week, the ACC will host its annual football kickoff at the Grandover Resort, and all attention will shift fully to the 2012 Blue Devils. Before we make that transition, though, it’s important to take a look at the #dukegang class of 2013.

However, even before we do that, please continue to keep Blair Holliday and his family in your prayers. His family has requested privacy regarding his condition, and we ask that you respect their wishes. If you wish to contribute, you may do so through the Blair Holliday Recovery Fund, which has been granted a waiver by the NCAA. #Prayfor8

Defensive backs

Without a doubt, the strength of this class lies in the defensive backfield. Headlined by the highly-coveted Evrett Edwards (ESPN #38 CB), Duke has four verbal commitments from DBs in the class. At 5’11” and 175 pounds with a 4.4 second 40, Edwards continues to be pursued by some of the top programs around the country, holding 17 scholarship offers at last count. He most recently impressed at an Alabama camp, where Coach Saban reportedly called him one of the best cornerbacks he’s seen. Jake Kite (ESPN #36 S) is an exciting prospect at the safety position, where he brings his hard-hitting athleticism to the Blue Devil secondary. Two sleeper in-state prospects round out the group thus far, and both are expected to put together big senior years this fall. Quay Mann (ESPN #70 CB), a preseason All-State selection, will play on both sides of the ball, plus special teams, for Northern Nash, while Breon Borders (ESPN #75) will star on a talented Statesville team. With the expected graduations of Lee Butler, Jordon Byas, Walt Canty, and Tony Foster, these four athletic DBs will have the opportunity to contribute early for the 2013 Blue Devils.

Wide receivers

For some prospects, rankings and ratings don’t do justice to their abilities, especially for those that play multiple positions and become difficult to project at the college level. That’s the case with the Blue Devils’ 2013 receiver prospects, a group of four players who have each shown dynamic playmaking ability at multiple positions during their high school careers. The prized catch in this group is Johnell Barnes (ESPN #90 WR), a player who remains extremely undervalued and under-recruited, despite coming away with multiple camp and combine MVP awards this spring and summer. A well-rounded receiver with big-play ability, Barnes will be a very productive receiver in the Blue Devil offense. Darren Andrews (#135 ATH) traveled across the country to attend camp in Durham earlier this year, and it paid off, as he earned an offer. In high school, Andrews has been asked to play on both sides of the ball, and he showcased his abilities both as a receiver and a cornerback at Duke’s camp. He’ll likely be brought in as an athlete, and given the depth chart, he’ll get his first opportunity at receiver. Both of Duke’s remaining commits, Quay Chambers (unrated) and T.J. Douglas (unrated), have starred primarily at quarterback for their respective high schools. Their dynamic playmaking ability will be counted on as they make the transition to play receiver at the college level.

Offensive linemen

After bringing in a big lineman from Texas in the class of 2012 (Tanner Stone), the Blue Devils dipped into the Lone Star state again in the class of 2013, securing early commitments from Austin Davis (ESPN #6 OC) and Sterling Korona (ESPN #67 OT). The two Texans are firm in their commitment to the Blue Devils, and will anchor the Duke offense for years to come. Gabe Brandner (ESPN #127 OT) is another of the Blue Devils’ undervalued commitments, most likely due to relative underexposure playing for a private school in South Carolina. Brandner is a strong athlete who could easily play tight end, but has the frame to add weight and move to the offensive line. Immediately after his commitment to Duke, Brandner’s recruitment heated up, as he picked up offers from Clemson, Maryland, and Navy. Given his skill set, he’s likely to continue to see increased interest, but he remains committed to the Blue Devils.

Quarterback

Coach Cutcliffe is notoriously selective with scholarship offers at quarterback. In the class of 2013, the Duke staff identified a small group of dual-threat prospects to recruit to Durham, and after a few close misses, secured a commitment from Parker Boehme (ESPN #42 QB-PP). Boehme’s commitment makes him the second consecutive QB from the Jacksonville, FL area to join the Blue Devil program, following Duke’s get of incoming freshman Thomas Sirk.  Boehme’s lack of high-end speed led to him being ranked as a pocket passer by some of the ratings services, but they must have overlooked his nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns as a junior. Likewise, some scouts have questioned his mechanics, but his arm was consistent enough to throw for over 2,200 yards and 27 touchdowns last year as well. In summary, Boehme is a great addition to a QB stable that already includes Anthony Boone, Brandon Connette, and Thomas Sirk; he’ll have plenty of time to develop under Coach Cutcliffe into a well-rounded dual-threat ACC quarterback.

Defensive linemen

It makes for great message board material, but there is some truth to the notion that Duke Football has struggled to land highly-ranked defensive linemen over the past few classes. The Blue Devils have secured a commitment from one player in the class of 2013 who hopes to buck that trend. Mike Ramsay (unrated) is a prime example of the type of diamond-in-the-rough recruit that could make an impact in Durham. Ramsay is another player who has been featured at multiple positions for a small southeastern private school. A late bloomer physically, Ramsay has attended Duke’s camp each of the past two years, ultimately earning himself a scholarship offer with his play. As with most linemen, Ramsay is a talented athlete who may benefit from a redshirt year to improve his size and strength, while adjusting to a relatively new position at the college level. Duke has pretty strong depth at DE, but with Ramsay projecting as a bit of a project at DT, it wouldn’t hurt for the Blue Devils to continue to look for a stud interior lineman in this class.

Outstanding needs

Who’s been paying attention? So far, Duke has put up an 0-fer at three positions – linebacker, running back, and tight end. Overall, the Blue Devils have addressed many of their pressing needs (DB, WR) in this class, and with a (seemingly annual) scholarship crunch, enter the fall in a position to fill their remaining scholarships with some of the best available players across their recruiting board.

That being said, things may clear up on the RB front sooner than later, as Duke hosts Joseph Ajeigbe (ESPN #58 RB) and his family, all the way from California, on an unofficial visit today. The Blue Devils have been after the west coast star for several months, and find themselves out in front (alongside Northwestern) in this race. Jordan Huff (unrated), a prospect out of the football hotbed of lower Alabama, and a teammate of 2014 Duke commit Zavier Carmichael, is another RB prospect to keep an eye on as the fall approaches. Along with Ajeigbe, Duke hosts ATH DaeSean Hamilton (unrated) on an unofficial visit today. The staff would love to round out the class of 2013 athletes with a player like Hamilton, another two-way high school star who could play either receiver or safety. As for LB and TE, the picture is a bit murkier; the Blue Devils have seen a run of commitments at those positions move off their recruiting board over the past few weeks. With most of those top prospects out of the picture, there’s no rule saying that the Blue Devils have to add a LB or TE given their depth chart, but there’s still room if they find a match.

Oh, before we go, 42 days to kick off! WE ARE DUKE.

Amile Jefferson drops 29 points at the NC Pro-Am

The N.C. Pro-Am provides fans an opportunity to get a look at incoming players for the first time, and those who saw Duke freshman Amile Jefferson last evening came away impressed.  Jefferson led his team to an easy win with a game-high 29 points, which included six dunks, many of which came off assists from teammate Quinn Cook.  Jefferson graciously took the time to talk to Blue Devil Nation after his performance.  Here is our latest video offering: