Everything Is Bigger In Texas: An Elijah Thomas Interview

6'9" Duke Recruit Elijah Thomas of Texas, Photo by Andrew Slater

After putting in the hard work to lose a significant amount of weight, Elijah Thomas, at nearly 6'9" and 235 pounds, has seen his game and recruitment take off. With soft hands, a strong upper body, good feet, a fundamentally sound low-post game, a relatively soft touch, and a competitive streak on both ends of the court, the young, Dallas-area wide body was a force to deal with at the 16-and-under level for Nike Team Texas this summer.

Texas Big Man Elijah Thomas of Nike Team Texas, Photo by Andrew Slater

While he suffered some tendinitis earlier in the  year, by the time of the Nike Peach Jam in July, he had recovered and was ready to impress.  At that prestigious event, Eli turned in some dominating performances, including one where he registered 35 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks. Duke Assistant Coach Jeff Capel, who helped develop NBA All-Star Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, was front and center to watch this young big man compete.

In both AAU (with Nike Team Texas) and in high school ball with Rockwall High School in suburban Dallas, Elijah plays with combo guard and friend Austin Grandstaff. They were named co-newcomers of the year for their district of Texas. In addition to working on traditional basketball skills, Eli and Austin have worked together with trainer Tyler Relph to improve their  strength and conditioning, which Eli, a friend of incoming Duke guard Matt Jones, credits for improving his stamina in games. The Texas duo will soon visit Duke.



How do you feel that you played this summer?

Well, I started off a little slow because I had growth tendinitis in my knees. So, I was playing hurt.

How is that now?

Oh, it's completely fine now. I got some help for it. I went to therapy for it. The therapy helped me to work it out and now it's fine now. Then, we played in the Peach Jam.


I heard that you played very well down there.

Yeah, I played pretty out there and I feel pretty good about how I've played lately. Sometimes I can get upset with the calls or my playing, but as long as we get the wins, I'm good.

Which schools are recruiting you right now?

Duke, Texas A & M, Kansas, Nebraska, LSU, Colorado, Texas, Rice, Arizona, UCLA, and North Texas.


That's quite a lot. Have you taken any visits yet? Do you have any visits planned?

Oklahoma and Texas A & M. That's the only ones that I can think of right now.


Do you have any planned in the future?

I think that they said that we're supposed to visit Duke, but I'm not completely sure of when we're going.


What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses at this point?

My strengths are playing down low, playing with my back to the basket, rebounding, blocking shots, and hitting my free throws. My weaknesses are my stamina and staying in the game by staying out of foul trouble. I've gotten better, but it's still something that I need to work on.


What has it been like for you playing with Austin (Grandstaff) both here with Nike Team Texas and in high school?

Oh, it's always been fun. We've always been friends for a long time. We came out on the same team in eighth grade and so it's always been our thing.


You have good chemistry together.

Oh, yes, sir.


Who do you try to model your game after? Is there a particular player?

In the NBA?


Well, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Garnett, like the little things…maybe a little of Zach Randolph.

So, generally, you like the athletically gifted, skilled big guys

Yes, sir.


What are trying to work on most right now?

My shooting, my athleticism.

What type of shooting? Free throws? Straight facing up from the mid-range?

Yeah, straight up shooting and my turn-arounds too, but, yeah, I'm mostly working on concentrating on my jumper and my athleticism, and improving my quickness.


Who is the best player that you've faced so far?

So far . . . I don't know his name, but there's this kid that we played from a team in Waco that probably had like fifty points on us. I'm sorry I can't remember his name, but he pounded us.

Don't worry about that. What are your goals for next season, both individually and as a team?

To get better and to play as a team. Hopefully, we'll improve and get stronger. To grow.


I saw that you made all-district and were the newcomer of the year.

Yes, sir.


The first school that you mentioned before was Duke and you later mentioned that you'll be visiting them. What have they expressed to you in terms of their interest?

Well, I got a letter and they talk to Coach Wes all the time. They say that they'd like us to come out there. They came to watch us at the Peach Jam when I had like thirty-five points and like twenty-one rebounds in a big game.


So, they were really interested after they saw your performance at the Peach Jam.

Yes, sir.


What do you know about the school overall?

Well, my friend, Matthew Jones, is going to be playing there. He's told me that it's a really good school.

He's a nice kid and player.

Yes, he is.


Before, you were mentioning that you were planning on improving your conditioning. What specifically have you been working on, in terms of strength and conditioning? 

Well, we work on it at our gym with our trainer all the time. We haven't been able to work as much as we'd like because of all of the travel and everything, but when the opportunity comes..

In August and September.

Yes, sir, we'll be going hard and making the most of our opportunity.


What's your current size?

I'm about 6'9" and 235.


Your feet move better than I expected. How would you assess your defense at this point? You've giving an honest effort on both ends. What kind of impact do you hope to have on the defensive end of the ball?

Well, I've been trying to stay on my toes a little bit longer and really be active when I'm out there. You know, really bring it! The thing that I've got to work on is to try to stay out of foul trouble. It doesn't help us if I'm on the bench with foul trouble or anything. It's been progressing though. I've gotta stay out of a little bit of foul trouble.


Just out of curiosity, but, between your size and feet, has anyone recruited you for football?

No, not really, sir. I'm not too interested in playing football. I used to do it a little bit, but that was just to stay in shape.


What position do you prefer to play in basketball?

I guess power forward. I play power forward in the summer and center during the school year.


What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?

I'm a big kid. I like to laugh and joke and play video games. I like to hang out.

You seem pretty happy.

Oh, yes, sir, I'm a happy kid.


Are you in a rush to decide on a college?

Oh, no, I've got to get my game to where I want it to be first, I think.


Who do you turn to for guidance whenever you make big decisions?

My mother and my coaches, both my AAU coaches and my high school coach. Those are the people that I usually turn to.


What will be some factors in your decision, whenever you do decide?

Just them developing my game and helping to make me a better player, winning, playing, getting stronger. Well, just honestly winning and playing, not worrying about anything else too much. That's about it.

Sure. What would you say is your best basketball memory so far?

Probably that game at the Peach Jam. I played great and Coach Calipari was there to see me. Duke was there. North Carolina and Georgetown were there. It was a classic game.


What's your favorite NBA or college team?

My favorite NBA team is the Knicks. My favorite college is, well . . . now that Jeremy Lin is gone. I don't know so I guess Kentucky. I kinda like them and how they play I guess.


Who else are you close with on the circuit?

Who am I friends with?


Mickey . . . Mickey Mitchell. I guess that's about all I can think of right now.

Well, he's good.

Yes, sir.


By the way, do you prefer Elijah or Eli? I hear them calling you both.

Either one is fine. It's whatever you prefer.


That's it for me. Thank you very much.

Thank you, sir.


Norco RB Joseph Ajeigbe commits to Duke

Duke and Arizona are the first to offer Norco RB Joseph Ajeigbe

The Blue Devils are up to 15 verbal commitments in the class of 2013 with the addition of RB Joseph Ajeigbe on Wednesday afternoon. A 5’9” 195 pound rising senior, Ajeigbe ran for 20 touchdowns and 1,673 yards as a junior for the same high school that produced current Blue Devil Corbin McCarthy and former Stanford star Toby Gerhart. Ajeigbe traveled across the country with his family earlier this summer for an unofficial visit to Durham. The Blue Devils beat out Arizona, Arizona State, and Northwestern for the 247composite 3-star prospect. Check back with BDN for more on the newest Blue Devil.

The Rockwall Rifleman: Austin Grandstaff

6'5" Combo Guard Austin Grandstaff of Rockwall, TX, Photo by Andrew Slater

Since the arrival of Coach Jeff Capel in the spring of 2011, the state of Texas has been more of a focal point for Duke recruiting. In the class of 2013, the Blue Devils have already received a commitment from 6'5" Matt Jones of DeSoto and are heavily pursuing 6'8" Julius Randle of McKinney to add to Rasheed Sulaimon, an incoming freshman guard from Houston. For the class of 2014, they have offered 6'5" Justise Winslow, a versatile wing from the Houston area. In the class of 2015, Duke has made contact with such Texans as Rockwall teammates and friends 6'4" Austin Grandstaff and 6'8" Elijah Thomas, as well as 6'7" Mickey Mitchell from the Dallas area.

Wes Grandstaff has been involved in grassroots basketball at a variety of levels as a coach, tournament director, scout for HoopScoop, and AAU program director. His son, Austin, is a skilled rising sophomore from the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, who said that he tries to model his game after Steve Nash. This past high school season, the combo guard averaged nearly fifteen points, five rebounds, and five assists for Rockwall, and shared his district's co-newcomer honors with his friend, Elijah Thomas, who plays with Grandstaff for both Rockwall and Nike Team Texas.

Austin Grandstaff, who already holds offers from Texas A & M and Arizona, is scheduled to visit Duke University with Elijah Thomas. Recently, he spoke with me about a variety of topics, including his upcoming trip to Duke.



Overall, how do you feel that you played this summer?

Overall, pretty good. I think or feel like I've played pretty well. I'm happy about it.

How do you think that you benefit from your dad being in the business of basketball?  You've grown up in it.

Yeah, I've been around it for a long time and so I'm used to it. You know now that I get to do it, it's pretty cool.

It's an exciting time for you.

Yes, definitely, I get to play and show what I'm capable of. It's been great.

What's your relationship like with Elijah (Thomas)?

He's like my brother. We go to school together. He lived with me for a little bit and, now, his mom moved to Rockwall. We're really like brothers.

You've certainly got good chemistry out there.

Yeah, it definitely helps us.

For the audience that hasn't seen you play in person, what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are scoring and getting my teammates involved. My weakness is probably my strength, but I'm working on that right now.

Well, I was going to ask you about what exactly are you working on right now or in your down time.

Yeah, i'm working on mostly strength and speed and ball-handling. That's really it right now.


Is that primarily at your high school?

Oh, yeah, I just train at my high school right now.

In terms of visits, you mentioned yesterday that you had taken some and were going to visit some more.

Yeah, well, we're going to go to Duke sometime soon and, right now, that's the only really big visit that we have planned. We go to Texas and Texas A & M a lot, but..

That's relatively close to home.

Yeah, exactly, those are pretty close to home. 

In terms of a preferred position for you, what do you view yourself as?

Oh, I'm a combo guard.

All things being equal, where do you prefer to shoot the ball on the court?

I like the one-dribble pull-up at the free throw line or just a  catch-and-shoot three.

From anywhere in particular?

From the volleyball line in.

In terms of working out and training, Eli (Thomas) had mentioned that you guys were working out with a trainer.

Yeah, Tyler Relph.

Oh, yeah, I know about him. He was originally from upstate New York

Yeah, he trains like Amar'e Stoudemire and stuff. I work out with him a lot and then also I spend a lot of time working out on my own…well, pretty much every day of the week…when we don't have games.

You were mentioning before that you do strength and conditioning.

Oh, yeah, I do a lot of strength and conditioning as well.

Which schools are recruiting you right now?

Texas, Texas A& M, Baylor, Wisconsin, Duke, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and SMU

That's a nice list to start out with. Have any of them formally offered you at this point?

Texas A & M and Arizona. I didn't mention them, but Arizona is also recruiting me.

Don't worry. You had a lot of schools to remember.

Yeah, definitely, there's a lot of them.

Who would you say that you try to model your game after?

Probably a mix of Steve Nash and…I don't know I guess a lot of Steve Nash and then, well.

A scoring point guard

Yeah, that's my favorite type of player.

What is your current size?

I'm about 6'5" and 185.

In terms of your weight, what would like to be by the time you start playing high school ball again?

It really doesn't matter to me, but probably 185 to 190.

Defensively, which position do you feel most comfortable guarding?

Probably the two, but sometimes the one, if I have to. Mostly, the two..

How would you assess your ability to drive the ball at this point, your handle, etcetera? Do you work on a lot of ball-handling drills?

I just like to get my teammates involved. So, when I drive, I don't really look to shoot first. I look to dish it off really. If there's a layup, I'll take it, but my first thought is to dish it off.

A combo guard.

Yeah, yeah.

What's been your favorite basketball memory so far?

Definitely, the Peach Jam in Augusta, Georgia. That was a really cool experience. I'm looking forward to going back to it next year.

What about playing in front of college coaches?

Oh, that's just a blessing. 

There's such a small percentage of kids that do.

Yeah, absolutely, I feel blessed.

What will be some factors in your decision? What will be some things that you'll be looking for?

I'd like to be able to click with the coaching staff. My mom and dad are going to help me make my decision and I'd also like to go to some place that I can play when I get there. I don't want to have to redshirt.

So, immediate playing time and a good relationship with the coaches?

Yeah, yeah.


What do you know about Duke and Coach K?

Well, I've been watching them since I was younger. Well, like, everybody I guess.

They are on television a lot.

Yeah, definitely. I don't talk to Coach K much. I've talked to Coach Wojciechowski a lot though. I don't know, but I just like them a lot and I'm really excited for that particular visit. It's supposed to be a beautiful place and, so, I'm pretty excited for that visit.


It is a beautiful campus. What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?

I'm kind of a chill person. I keep to myself a lot. That's really it.


Do you know what you shot for the high school season?

I don't know. I think I shot fifty-six to fifty-eight percent from the field and I think that I averaged like nineteen or twenty points a game in high school ball. I don't know about this summer though.


That's fine. Don't worry about that. What are your goals for next season, individually and team-wise?

Are you talking about the high school season?


Oh, um, hopefully, I'm going to lead my team to state, well, me and Eli…we have a high chance of having that happen

You've got a nice one-two punch that any coach would love.

Yeah, we should be pretty tough. This year, I got All-Region and, next year, I want to make All-State.

I know that you guys both shared newcomer of the year.

Yeah, and newcomer of the year.


I asked Eli for one on you, but, as the son of a scout and someone who knows him very well, can you give the audience a scouting report on Elijah Thomas?

Oh, sure, he's big and a beast. Nobody can really guard him because he is so big. He has great hands and great feet.

He lost a lot of weight too.

Yeah, he's lost somewhere between forty and sixty pounds.

I'm sorry I didn't want to interrupt you.

No problem, he's a big big. He can finish around the rim and I think that, by the time he's a junior, he'll be able to shoot threes because he's got such a great touch.

And you guys always work out together?

Oh, yeah. All the time.

Now, who does he remind you of? You were mentioning before that you've tried to model your game after Steve Nash. If you're Steve Nash, he's..

A mixture of Shaq and Zach Randolph

Active, athletic, wide-body types

Oh, yeah, that's his type

You were mentioning before about playing in front of college coaches. Do you get excited? Nervous? What are your emotions or thoughts like when coaches are coming to watch you?

Oh, I get really excited before the game because I know that they could be anybody else, but they've chosen to watch one of my games. 


It's been pretty cool.


Thanks very much, Austin.

Thank you for interviewing me.



BDN discusses first scrimmage with Duke’s Desmond Scott, Brandon Connette, and Issac Blakeney

DURHAM - BDN was on hand Monday for Duke's first scrimmage of the 2012 training camp. The Blue Devil offense appeared to have the upper hand throughout the evening.  Some of the stars included senior Desmond Scott, redshirt sophomore Brandon Connette, and redshirt sophomore Issac Blakeney.

Redshirt-sophomore Brandon Connette has become a jack of all trades for the Duke offense -BDN Photo
Duke redshirt-sophomore TE Issac Blakeney looked like a playmaker for the Blue Devil offense -BDN Photo









Brandon Connette

Desmond Scott

Issac Blakeney

From the Cutting Room Floor: Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hood recap NC Pro-Am

With so much going on in the world of Duke athletics these days , BDN can get backed up with material.  Case in point: here are two videos with Duke newcomers Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hood that had been left on the cutting room floor .  Jefferson proved to be quite competitive during the N.C. Pro-Am, where his team fell just short of the championship.  Hood admits to missing Granny's cooking (and who wouldn't?) but said he's adjusting and enjoying being in Durham.  Check them both out:

Duke offense looks sharp in first scrimmage, and other observations

Duke WRs Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder appeared in mid-season form in Duke's first scrimmage -BDN Photo

The Duke Blue Devils had a strong first scrimmage of the 2012 training camp on Monday evening in Wallace Wade Stadium. First and foremost, as Coach David Cutcliffe pointed out after practice, the Blue Devils finished with the same number of players as they started with. For a program that at times has seemed snakebit by injuries in recent seasons, that's always a good thing to see and hear.

When you have multiple talented and experienced quarterbacks on a roster, some might call it a controversy, but the Blue Devils consider it to be a strength. On Monday, all three of Duke's returning QBs looked strong, led by redshirt senior Sean Renfree. The veteran came out guns-ablazing in his first series, leading an impressive drive that was capped by a long 43-yard strike to All-ACC WR Conner Vernon, who appeared in mid-season form despite missing practice time earlier this spring. Redshirt sophomore QB Anthony Boone was equally impressive in his first series, hooking up with redshirt sophomore TE Issac Blakeney on a deep route to set up a Brandon Connette TD run. Speaking of Connette, the redshirt sophomore looks to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Blue Devil offense, making plays from multiple positions. Similarly, senior Desmond Scott has seen his role expand this fall as he transitions to wide receiver, where he showcased his playmaking ability when he was able to find open space. Scott also lined up at tailback a few times, and admitted to BDN that he's still working on his confidence at receiver. Sophomore Jamison Crowder was another receiver who stood out, using his speed to separate from defenders and make plays downfield. Younger players such as TE David Reeves, TE Dan Beilinson, WR Anthony Nash, and WR Max McCaffrey all showed flashes of their abilities, but as would be expected this early in their careers, will need to show more consistency to become big contributors.

To say that the Duke offense played well is not necessarily indicative of a poor defensive performance. Duke's running backs, including freshmen Shaq Powell and Jela Duncan, found a few holes, but were also fairly well contained by the Blue Devil defenders. In particular, redshirt freshman LB Kyler Brown made some nice stops against the run. True freshman safety Dwayne Norman made the defensive play of the game, returning a tipped pass for a 55-yard touchdown. As a group, the Blue Devil safeties are capable of a better effort than they showed on Monday, but there is plenty of talent and they are bolstered by the strong play of newcomer Brandon Braxton. At cornerback, Lee Butler made an impressive interception, while his counterpart Ross Cockrell also came up with a couple of big plays. The veteran duo of Butler and Cockrell should be the best pair of cornerbacks Coach Cutcliffe has had in his time at Duke. Up front, Duke was able to get a lot of snaps for freshmen Carlos Wray, Keilin Rayner, and A.J. Wolf; with their lack of depth up the middle, a lot of players were rotated in and out, and that experience can only help in the long run for this team. That being said, the defensive line remains a work in progress. Though they were able to bring pressure occasionally and came up with a few stops, they will need to become much stronger in short yardage situations.

Freshman K Ross Martin continued to impress in his first scrimmage -BDN Photo

And for Duke fans, maybe the best is saved for last. The Blue Devils made plays in the kicking game. Duke showcased a handful of elusive return men, and punter Will Monday displayed a big leg. After the Devils' placekickers struggled last year, it was a pleasure to see that true freshman Ross Martin appears poised to win the starting job after connecting on field goals of 40 and 48 yards.

For a team that hasn't had a lot of live game work so far this training camp, the overall impression from the first scrimmage has to be a positive. After a spring game that saw the first team defense outplay the offense, the Blue Devil offense appears ahead of the defense in fall training camp. Duke showcased a number of playmakers on both sides of the ball on Monday, and they'll be back to work on Tuesday. Duke training camp has no days off, and the team will work all week to improve before the next scrimmage on Friday evening.

Coach Cutcliffe spoke with BDN after Monday's scrimmage. Check back with BDN for more from Desmond Scott, Brandon Connette, and Issac Blakeney. For the official recap and video highlights, be sure to visit GoDuke.com.