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Serenity Now: The Evolution of Ryan Kelly

6’11″ Senior Ryan Kelly of Duke University, Photo by Andrew Slater

 On a steep hillside overlooking the Hudson Valley in New York, the Trinity-Pawling school was where Chris and Doreen Kelly were working as educators and coaches when their first child, Ryan, was born on a Tuesday in early April of 1991. Genetically, Ryan benefited intellectually and athletically from a union of two high school sweethearts who both enjoyed athletic success in the Ivy League.

Alongside 6’11″ Chris Dudley, who would ultimately play in the NBA for sixteen years, Chris Kelly played collegiately for the Yale Bulldogs under Tom Brennan and captained the team as a senior in 1985. A sharpshooter like his son, Mr. Kelly left his mark in New Haven on the court, finishing in the top ten in both field goal and free throw shooting before playing basketball professionally in France. After working at Merrill Lynch, he coached for nearly a decade at Trinity-Pawling, including winning the Western New England Championship in an undefeated season with Heshimu Evans, who would play collegiately both at Manhattan under Fran Fraschilla and at Kentucky where he would be a major contributor on their 1998 National Championship team with “Tubby” Smith.

His mother, Doreen Casey Kelly, twice earned all-Ivy distinction for her exploits on the volleyball courts at Penn. Her father, Rich Casey, played basketball with the “M & M boys,” Jim Manhardt and Bob Melvin, at Fordham University under Coach Johnny Bach in the early 1960s. Mrs. Kelly would go on to teach for a decade at Trinity-Pawling before becoming the Director of the Lower School at the tony Ravenscroft School, which is in its sesquicentennial year, in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was at this point, when Ryan was in the third grade, that the Kelly clan, which now included younger siblings, Sean and Erin, made the nearly ten hour drive from Dutchess County in New York to begin a new venture in the capital city of Raleigh.

Fast forwarding to 2005, at Ravenscroft, Ryan Kelly started immediately as a freshman under Coach Kevin Billerman, a former Duke captain from New Jersey under Bill Foster and Neil McGeachey as well as a former college coach at Florida Atlantic and UNC-Charlotte. Although he started, Kelly’s on-court production, averaging four points and four rebounds per game as a freshman for a sixteen win Ravens team, didn’t necessarily portend the future All-American that he would eventually develop into.

With his mother, Doreen, now the Head of School at Ravenscroft, Kelly had unfettered access to the school’s gymnasium and took full advantage, practicing often from before dawn broke on the school’s hardwood. Ryan also began to grow physically and played with the D-One Sports AAU program, run then by the Clifton Brothers, Dwon and Brian. By his sophomore year, Ryan’s metamorphosis as a basketball player began, as he was now averaging over fourteen points and nearly nine rebounds, while helping Ravenscroft achieve a top ten ranking in his adopted state of North Carolina. As a result, Kelly began to garner mid-major interest.

Ryan Kelly, Lance King Image

Off the court, Kelly was a bit of a polymath. He was a member of the National Honor Society and a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, earning over a 4.0 GPA and a 2150 SAT score, while demonstrating his proficiency in Latin (Magna Cum Laude on the National Latin Exam), playing the double bass in the school’s orchestra, and being an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He also began to date the captain of the Ravenscroft girls’ basketball team, Lindsay Cowher, whose father, Bill, was a Super Bowl-winning coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and is currently a studio analyst for the NFL Today on CBS.

As a junior, the perpetually growing Kelly took a great leap forward earning all-state distinction and becoming a nationally recruited high-major caliber recruit. He helped the Ravens win twenty-four games and get ranked fifth amongst private schools by scoring over twenty-three points, grabbing nine caroms, and swatting four shots per game. On the AAU circuit, he teamed up with John Wall, a Raleigh product, to form as dangerous a one-two punch as there was for the AAU season of 2008. Wall, a tall, blazing fast point guard, was a sensation unto himself, but Kelly, who grew six inches during high school, had a unique skill set as a highly skilled four man, drawing praise for his shooting proficiency and basketball acumen. Playing with Wall helped bring Kelly attention from coaches and scouts. The duo took full advantage of his “pick-and-pop” dexterity, which was hard-earned through the countless hours of refining his shot and drills at the Ravenscroft gym.

Duke Co-Captain Ryan Kelly, Photo by Mark Watson

During that summer, Kelly also traveled to Formosa, Argentina, where he played with future college roommate Mason Plumlee and fellow future national champion Kemba Walker for Team USA and Davidson Coach Bob McKillop, a fellow transplant from New York. Kelly started all five games and contributed, but, ultimately, the host Argentinians captured the gold medal. Kelly then headed out to Las Vegas for his final AAU tournaments with Wall and D-One Sports. Soon after, Duke’s interest in Ryan Kelly intensified rapidly. Coach Krzyzewski, having just revitalized the USA Basketball Men’s team with the gold medal in Beijing, took a keen interest in Kelly as a stretch four in the mold of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Luol Deng.

Kelly, with the academic and athletic credentials to be recruited at that point by literally every program in the country, sat down with his family and whittled his list of offers to six schools in early August. By September, he visited Duke and was formally offered a scholarship on his visit. On October 9, 2008, after systematically analyzing the pros and cons of his prospective offers with his family, he announced his commitment to join Duke University, a thirty minute ride away from his home on Ravenscroft’s campus.

As a senior, Ryan averaged over twenty-five points and ten rebounds in leading the Ravens to a 28-7 record, ultimately losing in the title game to Mason Plumlee’s Christ School by eight points in the state championship game. Ryan garnered all of the prestigious awards and honors, including McDonald’s All-American, Parade All-American, Jordan All-American, and North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year, while finishing as a consensus top twenty recruit in the class of 2009.

Duke’s Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly, Photo by Mark Watson

At a lean 6’10″ and 205 pounds with a tight crewcut, Ryan Kelly entered Duke with an affable fellow McDonald’s All-American, 6’11″ Mason Plumlee, and a 6’5″ sharpshooter from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia, Andre Dawkins, who he believes will be lifelong friends. With veteran leadership and blessed with substantial depth in the post, Kelly played relatively sparingly, two hundred and twenty-seven total minutes in thirty-five games, as a freshman during Duke’s Championship run, but steadily tried to add strength and contribute in spots.  He was able to compete in five of the six NCAA Tournament games, including knocking down a pair of free throws against Purdue in the Sweet 16, in front of more than 45,000 in attendance at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Grateful to his parents for their guidance and support, he did try to overcome one perceived genetic flaw, upper-body strength, immediately following the season. “They were athletes and I mean good athletes, but they weren’t..I don’t know if either of them could do a pull up,” joked Kelly. With a single-mindedness of focus, Ryan ate a lot more, hit the weight room, worked out, and, after earning All-ACC academic honors as a freshman, did both summer sessions of classwork at Duke. At an elite basketball program like Duke’s, there are no guarantees of playing time, but Kelly’s work and perseverance paid immediate dividends for the team and himself.

As a sophomore, Kelly was now nearly two-hundred and thirty-five pounds and a frequent starter, on a team with four players that are currently in the NBA. His constant shot refinement in the gym manifested itself in substantial improvements across the board in the prominent shooting categories: field goal shooting percentage leapt from 35.6% to 51.6%, foul shooting percentage improved substantially from 66.7% to a respectable 80.5%, and the former McDonald’s three-point shooting champion more than quadrupled his production from five to twenty-two made three-pointers, while improving the overall percentage from 26.3% to 31.5% . At one point in the season, Ryan hit a blistering eighteen consecutive shots from the field, including seven three-pointers. After scoring a total of forty-one points as a freshman, his scoring production also increased, including scoring a then career-high twenty points against Wake Forest, a former finalist in his recruitment. Defensively, he lead Duke in charges taken and finished in the top ten in the ACC in blocked shots.

Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Photo by Mark Watson

When Kelly, a public policy major, became an upperclassmen, he followed former mentor Brian Zoubek’s guidance and added whiskers to his youthful countenance, more closely resembling a nineteenth century professorial beard than a Maine lumberjack, and let his mane of hair grow.  The growth was not just superficial as the cerebral junior was named a team captain. As the season began, his efficient offensive impact was felt immediately as he captured MVP honors at the Maui Invitational, including scoring seventeen points and ensnaring twelve rebounds in Duke’s win over Kansas in the championship game of the early season tournament.

The weapon that Kelly added to his holster was developing into a lethal three-point shooter, 40.8%, at 6’11″ in sneakers. As a stretch four, Kelly was instrumental in the team’s climactic come-from-behind victory over the archenemy UNC Tar Heels, scoring fifteen points and nailing a Tyler Zeller-aided shot to pull the Blue Devils within one, which enabled Austin Rivers’ dramatic and clutch three-pointer to be the game-winner. After struggling with his shot a bit down the stretch, Ryan went for a career-high 23 points in Winston-Salem, NC against Wake Forest on the last day of February. A week later, Kelly sprained his right foot in practice and the Duke team never fully adjusted in the short span of the season that remained. Statistically, he was the team’s third best scorer and rebounder, but that doesn’t adequately convey the absence of the spacing, perimeter shooting, patience, shot-blocking, presence and basketball acumen that Ryan provided the team. Three games later, the Blue Devils’ season ended with a stunning upset loss to Lehigh.

In late March, Dr. James Nunley at Duke Hospital put a screw into Kelly’s fifth metatarsal and Ryan has fully recovered. By June, the twenty-one year old spent several weeks in Las Vegas training with players like Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Arnett Moultrie, Maalik Wayns, and Xavier Gibson at Impact Academy. Kelly was looking to cut down on his shot reaction time, continue to add range to his three-point shot, and get leaner through added strength. Later in the month, he joined his Duke teammate and co-captain, Mason Plumlee, at the Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago. During the following month, Mason, Ryan, and Duke newcomer Rodney Hood were among the twenty-five elite collegiate players attending the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas, where they went through drills with veteran coaches, such as the Celtics’ Kevin Eastman and former Duke assistant coach Jay Bilas, as well as played in front of NBA scouts.

Duke Senior Ryan Kelly, Lance King Photo

Kelly also worked as an intern and a fundraiser for The Monday Life, a non-profit begun by a former Duke team manager, Joey McMahon, that seeks to improve the environments for kids at six children’s hospitals around the country, including Duke Children’s Hospital, through a variety of enrichment programs. Finding passion in this newfound venture, Kelly visited Duke Children’s Hospital, spoke and played with patients, and the two-time Duke captain worked to set up his teammates with fundraising pages for The Monday Life.

Always a student, Ryan, an analytical Seinfeld fan, along with his father, Chris, combed through the Duke record book looking for a prior Blue Devil whose career trajectory that he could emulate. He’s targeted current NBA Champion and former Duke All-American Shane Battier, who tirelessly transformed himself from an anemic three-point shooter as a freshman (four three-pointers out of twenty-four shots, 16.7%) into a sniper forward (124 made three-pointers at a 42% clip) during his national championship-winning senior season, noting that Battier was also a high volume (averaging roughly seven three-point shots per game) long-range shooter during that season.

As the dawn of his final season approaches, the highly motivated Kelly is excited about the team’s future and his own. “We go into every year believing that we’re going to win championships. This year, we have the talent to do that and, if guys come ready to play and compete, we can certainly go get one.”

In a very lengthy and candid interview with Ryan Kelly, the senior forward spoke about his relationships with Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski, Andre Dawkins, and Mason Plumlee, his NBA aspirations, how playing sparingly as a freshman fueled his motivation, how his leadership approach will evolve for this year’s team, Bill Cowher, the impact and influence of his family, playing with John Wall, his charity work this summer, what some of the freshman will bring to this year’s squad, and comparisons to European big men, amongst a variety of topics.

 

 

Let’s start with your family. On both sides of the family, you’ve got a lot of relatives who have played and coached basketball. How has that helped you throughout your journey to this point?

Yeah, my family’s been deeply involved in sports. It’s been great for me. You know, before my grandfather passed away, he was a big influence on me, both on basketball and off the court. We were quite close.

[private]

Did he move down from New York as well?

Yeah, he moved down here to North Carolina a couple of years after we did..with my grandmother. He was a huge influence. Funny enough, back then..oh, man, I can’t remember the name of his high school, but he still holds the record for most points scored in his high school gym, without the benefit of the three-point line. He was a real scorer, but he really taught me a lot about the defensive side of the ball (laughs). The reason is because, when he got to Fordham, he was playing for Johnny Bach (former coach of Fordham, Penn State, the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards)…and he didn’t get the playing time that he, well, because, you know, he could score with the basketball, but he didn’t play any defense. So, he always big on me on that..

Well, I’m sure you’ve seen that with others as well where a parent or grandparent will emphasize an area or facet of their game that they wish they had been a little bit better at, even those that played at the highest levels. I’m familiar with that Fordham area. Arthur Avenue, the Bronx Zoo.. You can get a good calzone around there.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Then, my father was just huge for me to be around and just get in the gym with him whenever I needed to. He was a guy that was a captain and, you know, played professionally in France. It’s just valuable information. The game of basketball is about hard work, but it’s also a mental game and you can learn a lot of things at any age.

I was going to ask you about your thoughts on the mental aspect of the game in a little bit, but, since you brought it up, I know that you were an excellent student. I’ll assume that you still are.

(laughs) I try. I’m still really trying.

Latin scholar. For whatever reason, that always impressed me. Sapientia est potentia.   

(laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah, well, that was really just something that my parents, you know, really instilled in me. I really think that it shows out in the basketball court as well. I figure..

I think, at the college level, at the beginning of your sophomore year, I thought it really started to click for you.

You know that, in this game, you’ve got to have some athletic ability, God-given height and different things

Unfortunately, the Lord robbed me on one of those things.

(laughs) You know that it’s a cerebral game. You can’t over-think it, but you need to be smart about the moves that you make. I think it’s really been an important part of my game.

Did you feel that your second year was when you started to be able to blend or fuse the mental gifts that you bring to the court with your newfound body? Was that when it started to click for you?

It started to get there and my whole career, you know, my high school career, was a growing process.

Sure, it absolutely was.

Yeah, and I think that’s what my college career is going to be like. That’s just the way that my career is and that’s why I feel I’m poised for a really good senior year. You know I’m excited about it because I look back and I go, well, look what I did, you know, growing through high school in the way I did. It’s happening again.

With you, I think about that Coach K saying, “Run your own race.”

Yeah, exactly. That’s the one. As you know, not every player that comes into Duke and is a McDonald’s All-American is a one-and-done or whatever.

Right, right.

I think I had a really solid junior year.

You did.

I’d like to take that and grow from it. You know the end was not fun, but injuries are a part of sports. It’s not fun to get hurt, but, like I said, injuries are a part of sports and especially at that time of year.

I was going to ask you about that in a bit, but have you fully recovered? I assume that you’re back to your old self.

Oh, yeah, yeah, I’m fully recovered. I’m obviously playing, but, yeah, it’s at full speed. The training staff has done a great job with that. They would never stick me out here if I wasn’t good to go. They took great care of me and the surgery went great. I had a screw put in my fifth metatarsal. (demonstrates) That’s where it was. It’s just your outside bone there on your foot. The healing has been great and, like I said, injuries are a part of sports. They stink and especially when it’s your feet, where you’ve gotta be off of your feet, but..

Especially, for a big guy.

Yeah, but I think the surgeon did a great job, Doctor (James) Nunley.

It was done at Duke.

Yeah, it was done at Duke.

We don’t want one of those shabby Tar Heels damaging you permanently.

(laughs) No, he’s one of the best surgeons in the world. I was fortunate to be in a place where, at Duke Hospital, they really took care of me.

I had watched you play a lot in high school, but you’re actually the only member of the team that I never actually formally interviewed because of the timing of Duke’s recruitment of you. So, I’ve had some things that I was curious about. You had access to a gym and the reports were, in those days, that you were in there at 6 AM. I don’t know if it was true or not. You had a legendary work ethic.

(laughs) No, it is. It’s something that I’ve always prided myself in.

It impressed me. I like guys who are hungry and have a great work ethic.

Thanks. Since probably about eighth grade, I…and I’m not a morning person at all (laughs), but I kind of forced myself to get up.

Finally, something the audience can relate to..

(laughs) Yeah, my mom, was the head of the school and so she.. 

That’s an interesting dynamic.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, and so she had the keys to the gym 

I wish to God I could’ve had that as a kid. 

(laughs) Yeah, I’d just get in there and just shoot, shoot, shoot. 

Do you still do that a lot during the summer?

Oh, yeah, well, actually not at six AM, but..

God knows.

(laughs) Yeah, I’ve fortunately got all day, but, yeah, I’m still the same person who goes in that gym like two or three times a day.

Three times a day. Wow.

Yeah, I feel like I’ve got to in order to keep improving on my game. Just working on your shots.

One thing that I thought you separated yourself from the pack in the two-on-two and three-on three drills today was with your fadeaway. That was an element that you didn’t necessarily have as much in high school as you do now.

Yeah, definitely, I’ve really worked on that, especially this summer.

At your height, it’s a very dangerous or potent skill.

Yeah, you know that’s something that I think is really going to help my game this year. In the past, so far at Duke, well, really it’s unbelievable, but people don’t really know me. In high school, I shot…

I watched you a lot with (John) Wall, but I didn’t know if they were going to come after you. Then, by the time they did..

 Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I mean in high school basketball. In AAU basketball, I shot some threes, but, in high school basketball..

You shot straight up.

Yeah, I didn’t really shoot three-pointers and then I won the McDonald’s three-point competition and..

“Hey, the kid can shoot threes!”

(laughs) Yeah, exactly, all of a sudden I can shoot…and that was a good thing because I needed to have that skill, but what I’ve always had is a little knack for scoring around the basket..with my back-to-the-basket stuff

Yeah.

And, as we got to college, I wasn’t always big enough or strong enough

Very fundamentally sound. Bank shots, drop steps..

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I wasn’t big enough or strong enough to get the shots that I wanted.

That’s another thing that I’d like to touch on with you. Your body has transformed so much in your time at Duke. You’re so much bigger.

(laughs) It’s definitely changed a lot since I’ve come to Duke and, you know, it’s still changing.

Maybe you could speak about that and where you’d like to get your body to be. You’ve gotten much bigger. You were like 190 to then 205.

Yeah, yeah, now, I’m up in that 230 range and that’s where I’d like it to be. I just want to continue to get stronger in the weight room.

Forgive me a second, but I was speaking with a scout today about you beforehand, in preparation, and he was commenting on how you’ve gotten bigger. So, I asked him what he thought you needed to do next and he felt that you now needed to get a little bit more cut. 

That’s exactly what I’m working on next.

I wondered if that was the next plan in the ongoing process.

That’s exactly the next plan in the process. You know that a lot of my freshman year, especially because I wasn’t playing a ton at Duke, I kept trying to put weight on. That’s what my body needed. Then, the next few years, it’s been trying to get cut and get stronger. Just get stronger. That’s what will come with being stronger. You know I somewhat blame my parents a little bit. I don’t necessarily have the best genes..

Oh, please, you don’t know how bad it can get.

(laughs) No, no, they were athletes and I mean good athletes, but they weren’t..I don’t know if either of them could do a pull up (laughs) ever.

(laughs) No, I’m sure they could. I believe that your mother was actually a volleyball player, as I recall, at Villanova and Penn.

Yeah, exactly, she played volleyball at Villanova and Penn. She loves to come to the games (laughs).

She follows me on Twitter. I’m very careful about what I write.

(laughs) Don’t worry. Yeah, she’s very interested in the program.

Just out of curiosity, in retrospect, what was your experience like playing with a point guard like John Wall? 

Well, he was just a great player and he made things very easy. You know that was a really fun time because I was playing AAU with him..

You guys were like rock stars.

(laughs) Yeah, it was a pretty cool time to be in Raleigh. It was a special time for basketball in Raleigh and, since then, it’s really grown.

You guys definitely helped it.

Yeah, and especially the private schools. The private schools have become the best basketball in the state of North Carolina in a pretty short period of time.

I was talking with your guy, (Anton) Gill last year in Pittsburgh.

Oh, yeah, Anton.

He said that he was training with you and that you were giving him some direction. So, you’ll verify that he was working with you?

Oh, yeah, he was and he’s a great kid. He’s a talented kid. It’s just been cool to see. You know there was a group before me a little bit and then, as I came into high school basketball, it really started to pick up. There’s some really good basketball in the state of North Carolina and that’s pretty cool…and, with John, he just made things easy and it was fun. We were playing AAU together, but then, during the season, we were, like, rivals. We would play him at Word of God.

Was he a generous teammate? I found him very likable and down to earth, despite what seemed to be, like, an entourage of people trying to get a piece of him. On the court, he seemed to be generous and he was just so blazing fast, but, as his teammate, I wondered how you felt..

Oh, no question, he was very generous and made his teammates better. He’s, you know…he’s continuing to get better and it’s great to see, for him, that the Washington Wizards are starting to get better.

They’re starting to get a few pieces and looking for more character guys.

Yeah, they’ve been adding. It’s been tough to go somewhere that hasn’t been winning and..

It must be frustrating. 

Yeah, and, you know, when you’re not used to it and you’re that good of a player.

Yeah, absolutely.

I mean I’ve talked to him and he’s excited about the future and he liked the opportunity of playing with the USA team. That’s pretty cool. It was fun, though.

Thinking about chemistry…With Mason Plumlee, have you guys developed a semblance of a chemistry? I always wondered if you viewed him as a bit of a rival.

Well, I guess a little bit since he beat us in the finals. We really didn’t play in the regular season that much, though. We saw him in tournaments. No, but Mason is an unbelievable person to play with.

No, I had interviewed him a lot of times in high school and, in those days, I thought he was about the nicest kid that I had ever interviewed. I’ve seen him at events and some games since. As his teammate for three plus years, he hasn’t changed much, has he?

(laughs) Oh, no, he’s a great guy and, on top of that, just in terms of basketball, the way he plays. I think we really complement each other well. We’ve got kind of an inside-outside thing going on. We both have good passing ability.

The scout noted that, by the way.

(laughs) Good, he’s just great. He gives me so many open looks, when he’s in the post and I’m up top. You know when a big helps down or whatever. 

You guys are both very good high-post passers.

Yeah, that’s something we, you know, have become pretty good at and we need to continue to do in games. That’s a thing that can help our team win.

 In terms of winning the National Title, on that veteran laden team, you obviously didn’t necessarily have the huge impact like you did in either your junior or sophomore year, but what was the experience like for you in winning the national title? You also obviously were a contributor and you played in the Final Four. What was that experience like for you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was something that I’ll never forget. You never know. You want to, but you never know if it’ll happen again and so that’s what made it so special.

Lightning striking once.

Yeah, you never know. That’s what we compete for every year because you simply do not know. You have to strike when you have the opportunity.

I’d like to get to that and your thoughts on this year in a moment.

Yeah, exactly, but, one was seeing what it took. You know guys like Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas doing something special.

Those guys were from a neighboring state and I thought Lance especially had good leadership skills.

Oh, yeah.

Maybe you can touch on that for a second.

Yeah, yeah, they were great leaders and, you know, they were the type of guys…You know that I was kind of the fifth big and I was built with a little bit different skill set.

Absolutely.

  I had to get my body into a position where I could truly compete at that level, but everyday Lance and Brian came to get me, Mason, and Miles better. In turn, that made them really, really good and they played great at the right time.

 Do you find any parallels between that and you with Marshall and Alex Murphy and even Amile with his skill set?

Yeah, absolutely, it’s important to… 

Take them under your wing.

Yeah, take them under your wing. You know, it’s about teaching the culture. The culture of Duke basketball and that was something that we didn’t feel like we did an unbelievable job of doing last year.

Yeah, Miles, to a degree, and I’m sure he tried, but, while he’s got plenty of strengths, he indicated that he really had to work on his  leadership ability more than some others might have to.

Yeah, he tried and he did a little bit, but he tried his butt off. I’m so happy for him that he’s getting an opportunity with the Pacers. I’m just so happy for him.

So am I. I wanted to talk with you about Seinfeld, but..

(laughs) Oh, that’s my favorite show (laughs) Great topic.

I will, but I also wanted to get to another long-term relationship that you’ve had at Duke. Your teammate and roommate Andre Dawkins… You seem very tight with him, well, at least, as far as I can tell.

Oh, yeah, we’re really close friends and, um, this time..

He’s gone through his ups and downs.

Yeah, he obviously had a big shock in his life. That’s not an easy thing to go through.

It’s about as devastating as it gets.

Really, I think that it’s going to be big for him and his career to just take this time and step away from basketball.

Sure. The reason why I brought it up is because, without putting you in any type of an awkward situation, you’re about as close to him as any teammate and would be a good person to offer your thoughts on him and his situation.

Oh, yeah, yeah, I can say that Andre will be a friend of mine forever. No matter what…and he can be and he has been for us, at times, a terrific player.

Well, I mean you just go back a second when we were talking about the national championship. Without him against Baylor, you may not have won the title. He was as clutch as it gets. It’s as simple as that. Those shots against Baylor were pivotal in winning that national title.

Absolutely, those shots against Baylor (laughs)… I mean as a freshman too.

Bang. Bang.

He’s got some cajones with him and he can shoot the ball.

He’s always had that confidence.

Oh, yeah, it’s funny back…I didn’t even know him at the time, but it had to be like my sophomore year in high school. I came over to play over at Duke and Andre was visiting. He was just a freshman and I was like, “Who is this kid?”

(laughs) 

He had more confidence than anybody playing in the gym.

About three years ago, I was at the LeBron camp in Cleveland and interviewing Kyrie… and Dawkins was playing. Sullinger, who was a bit of a bully, kept knocking Duke and saying things that, well, can’t be repeated and Dawkins was getting more and more angry. Finally, he just went up and tried to dunk on Sullinger.

(laughs)

He didn’t, but it was more of a street ball way of sending a message. He wasn’t going to take it anymore. I was impressed that he stood up for Duke and Sullinger kept his mouth shut for the rest of the game. 

(laughs) Oh, yeah, he loved Duke and he’s such a talented kid and he’s talented not just on the basketball court and, so, he’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.

What have you been working on this offseason? You’ve been in Vegas a lot this year. It’s a bit unusual.

Yeah, you know, last year, I came out here actually with John, but it was just for, like, a long weekend and I liked the experience of going up against some of the pre-draft guys and guys who were NBA guys, who were really good players.

Is that at Impact? Impact Academy?

Yes, exactly, at Impact. This summer, you know, I though it was an opportunity to make me a better player and, you know, I have one more year of college basketball, which is huge for me, and then it’s trying to make it at the next level. Those are my goals. I have goals for next year. I’m also going to have goals for past that. I have to do everything that I can to achieve those goals and I thought that this was a great place to help me get there.

Forgive me, but what’s the sort of time period that you’ve been doing this? 

It was in June. For about two and a half to three weeks, leading into Amar’e (Stoudemire Skills Academy).

Okay.

So, yeah, in the beginning of June until towards the end.

Who did you train with? They’ve been able to get some very good players over the past few years.

Oh, yeah, there were a lot of good players. I mean in the ACC, there were guys like Xavier Gibson, Maalik Wayns, Dion Waiters, Ashton Gibbs…I mean there were a lot of talented players.

He’s gotten a good mix over there of guys trying to make it, first and second year pros, and some younger talented players.

Yeah, there’s talented people and going up against players who are competing to make it in the NBA.

And you’re doing it a year in advance.

Exactly.

That has to be a good experience for you.

Yeah, and I know that I got better. I was working a lot in the post and a lot with that deeper range three obviously.

Which you’ve been hitting, of course

(laughs) It was big because I need to speed up my shot a little bit and I think I was…I know I can shoot the basketball, but I can’t be thrown off by someone running at me…fast.

Right, it’s got to be an instant reaction, at times.

Yeah, it’s got to be catch-and-shoot. It’s something that I think that I’ve gotten better at this summer and, you know, this is an exciting time because you see yourself getting better.

Right.

It makes it fun.

It’s that fine tuning of an instrument or tinkering with a machine. 

Yeah, yeah.

In terms of recommendations by the coaching staff towards achieving your pro potential, one thing that Kyle (Singler) had mentioned was that the staff wanted him to watch three NBA players. Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy were two of the players. Did they make any suggestions, in terms of NBA players, for you to watch?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, a guy that I like to watch a lot is Ryan Anderson, down with the Orlando Magic. He had a tremendous year.

Sure, a 6’8″ great shooter, who Coach Van Gundy utilized quite well last year.

Yeah, he’s a great shooter. He can pick-and-pop. I think that I’ve got some skills that he has, but the biggest thing that people have seen and I’ve got to continue to show it is that I can shoot the ball well for a guy my size. Then, I have to be able to rebound the ball and defend my position.

You’ve got some valuable and clearly demonstrated skills, but I think that the more you can demonstrate that you’ve added those last two things, well, the better off you’ll be financially because you’ll be rapidly moving up the draft boards. 

Yeah, exactly, I know that I can score the basketball and I know that I can pass the basketball and, if I can do those other two things better, I can put myself in a position to…

Make a lot of money.

(laughs) Yeah, that’s the plan.

 Meeting Bill Cowher. I can’t say that I really get intimidated by meeting anyone..

(laughs)

..but, just out of curiosity, what was it like meeting Coach Cowher for the first time? He seemed to be a very intense coach on the sidelines. Somehow, the image of him in the doorway when you’re trying to pick up his daughter on a date..  

(laughs) Oh, yeah, no, it was pretty neat. I had actually met him before I started dating my girlfriend. So, but, yeah, he’s a great guy and it’s also real cool because he knows the game of basketball and appreciates the game of basketball and he played it.

CBS analysis as well.

Yeah, he did the CBS stuff with basketball as well. So, I can always throw something off of him. He’s real supportive and I never saw him when he was coaching personally.

It was just something that I always wanted to ask you about if I ever crossed paths with you.

Yeah, no, but he’s a great guy…and I haven’t gotten into too big of a trouble with him yet.

(laughs) I’m sure you won’t.

(laughs)

In terms of your leadership, what did you learn from being a captain this past season that you hope to improve upon for this coming season?

You know this year was a learning experience for me as a captain. It wasn’t easy. I think I’m somebody that certainly has leadership ability and I tend to lead more by example than by using my words.

They say that the quarterback Johnny Unitas used to end every pre-game meeting by saying, “Talk is cheap. Let’s go play.” You’re trying to lead through your actions.

Yeah, that’s a huge part of leadership. I think I have that and now I have to continue to expand my leadership ability and communication, on and off the court. I think that’s something that I can do better this year. As you know, we have a great senior class who certainly have ability on the court and also have great leadership ability and, you know, that’s just another reason to be excited.

I mean that’s one of those things where you look at the track record of really successful teams, championship-caliber teams, and it’s often senior or upperclassmen leadership with quality talent.

Absolutely, it’s a big part of winning and, you know, a lot of times a lot of the closest teams and the most highly knit teams are the ones that win it in the end. That’s not to say that we weren’t tight last year. Things obviously have to fall the right way, but you need to be a real team.

You’ve obviously had teammates, friends, and competitors get drafted, but what was your initial reaction to Miles and Austin getting drafted in the first round?

They’re both, well, I mean Austin first of all is obviously a really talented kid. He had a really good freshman year and then we expected what he was going to do. 

He was a surefire “one-and-done,” but Miles..

Yeah, Miles, I was so happy for him because he was one of the hardest workers I know. You know he’s such an incredible athlete.

He’s also smart, like yourself.

(laughs) Well, thanks. You know that I’m glad that people saw that ability because we always saw it and he did a lot of things for our team that people didn’t see necessarily, but there were spurts of that athleticism shown..

That’s what amazed me. That his athleticism, which was so highly coveted and talked about in the pre-draft process, was not necessarily recognized until it was so late in the overall process. Because he had been demonstrating his athleticism throughout, if they had just watched for it.

Yeah, I know. I think in the setting that he was in, with the pre-draft stuff, he really showed his ability and I’m really happy that he stepped up in that time. He really went out there and just got it. I think that he’s going to be the type of kid that plays for a long time.

Just out of curiosity, did your father ever talk to you about Chris Dudley? I know that he was one of your father’s college teammates, but he may or may not have spoken to you about him?

Oh, yeah, sure, he talked about playing with him and how talented he became.

He still has the record for the longest NBA career of any Ivy League player.

Yeah, I knew he played for a long time. My father talked about how he worked really hard and developed at Yale.

He was able to carve out a niche in the NBA by blocking shots and rebounding, but you’re a much better free throw shooter. 

(laughs) Oh, I’m not so sure.

Apropos of nothing, but do you remember living in New York at all?

Oh, yeah, I don’t remember a lot because it was the third or fourth grade, but we always went back up every summer for my dad’s basketball camp.

Oh, he ran a basketball camp too. Forgive me, I didn’t even know that.

Yeah, he ran a basketball camp because he coached at Trinity-Pawling.

Right, I knew that.

I don’t know if you know the name Heshimu Evans. He played at Kentucky.

Yeah, sure, he was also with Coach Fraschilla at Manhattan.

Yeah, exactly, and then he went to Kentucky. My dad was, like, his PG (post-graduate) year coach.

He was a tremendous player.

Yeah, he coached some very good players.

Heshimu was an absolute “freak athlete.” 

Yeah, he was a heck of a player. He might even still be playing overseas. So, my dad always ran camp and we always went back every summer, but, because there’s no newspapers up there anymore, it’s impossible to advertise, and we’re so far removed that we had to stop. You know those are the times that I remember the most.

Somebody wanted me to ask you about your vertical. 

It’s actually pretty decent. (laughs)

That’s what they had heard. It was somewhere between like thirty-one and thirty-four inches. 

Yeah, I think it was measured at like thirty-three… at Duke. I don’t know if it necessarily shows on the court.

No, no, forgive me for even asking, don’t worry, I was going to kill him if you said, like, a foot.

(laughs) I think I’m more athletic than people realize at times. I’m tall and long, but there’s no question that I have some physical limitations.

But, if you have that kind of a vertical, that’ll grade out well.

Yeah, exactly, and, you know, I believe that I have the tools to play at the next level and play for a long time. So, that’s what I believe.

Hopefully, you do play for a long time. We touched on rebounding a little bit before, but, with Miles not being there this year, it creates a bit of a vacuum. What would you like to bring, in terms of rebounding, this year to the team?

Yeah, you know it’s going to be huge for our team that I rebound the basketball this year. I didn’t do a terrible job last year, but I could’ve done better. Something that’s really big for me is getting explosive and getting rebounds outside of my area. I’m pretty good because I’ve got good hands and I’ve got the balls that are coming to me.

If it’s, sort of, within your vicinity, you’ve got it. The next step is being able to expand your region.

Yeah, it’s being explosive enough to get rebounds outside of your area.

Even today, in the morning drills, you showed the guys that you’re able to go get it… outside of your space. Battling against one of the best bigs in college, Jeff Withey.

Yeah, yeah, that’s what I needed to do.

With the new guys, in particular, Marshall and Alex, you’ve seen them in practice. What should fans expect?

Marshall plays his butt off.

He always ran like hell.

Yeah, he runs like crazy. He goes after every rebound and he really knows his role.

Has he improved substantially over the past year?

He’s gotten much stronger. You can’t move him now. It’s unbelievable. He’s become a lot stronger. He’s still growing into his game certainly and his body, but he’s going to help us this year. He’ll be important. And, with Alex…Alex is a really talented kid. I think, at the three position, with his size, and his ability to shoot the basketball, we’re real hopeful that he’s going to be huge for us next year. I think we’re already seeing, with the numbers that he’s putting up overseas, what he’s capable of.

Yeah, he’s putting up great numbers.

He’s putting up great numbers and he’s, you know..

He has a competitive fire that I think could frankly also help out the squad a lot.

Oh, no question. 

I don’t know if he still has it.

Oh, no question, he still has it. In every drill, if he’s in a drill, he tries to win it. That makes for a great practice.

In high school, he had actually talked about you. I don’t remember if it was on the record or whatever, but, of the Duke guys that he wanted to emulate, he liked your inside-outside game. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that’s something that he can do. He can play inside-outside and, especially, with him, you know that he’s really athletic. So, he can really play that three position and get those mismatches. If a small guy is on him, he can take him inside. If it’s a bigger guy, go right by him.

Has he gotten bigger physically and stronger as well?

He’s gotten stronger by a lot. There’s no question about that. When you’re red-shirting, you’re in the weight room a lot.

I would think so. I mean what else are you going to do.

(laughs) There’s no question that we saw improvements in his physical ability and also on the basketball court.

I was looking at your statistics and I was wondering if you had given any thought to potentially being a one thousand point scorer. I was seeing that you, Mason, and Seth Curry could all, relatively realistically, reach that distinction. I didn’t know if it held any particular value or meaning to you at all. I don’t know if that distinction still quite holds as much luster as it did in the past.

It would, sort of, be a cool thing. It would be a cool thing, but you can look at individual accomplishments when you get past them. That’s how I look at it. 

I frankly don’t know why I even asked you that, but I guess I was just curious. I like to know what motivates different people and how their mind operates. 

No, no, there have been a lot of really good players. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of people that’ve scored a lot of points.

Taking away your opportunities.

(laughs) No, no, I’ve been able to rebound the ball. That’s something that hopefully I’m able to do. Hopefully, when I look back at it, when I’m fifty, I’ll think that was pretty cool. I’ve got to do it first though.

What’s your relationship been like with the Duke coaches and how has it grown?

Oh, it’s been huge and, with Coach, you know, it’s hard, freshman year, it’s hard to really communicate with your college coach. You know they really try to communicate with you. When you’re young, you don’t really understand it and it’s been important for me, especially after this junior year, to really stay in communication with Coach K.

 Have you seen a metamorphosis with regard to that as well?

Oh, there’s no question about it. He’s always been there to try to communicate with me, but it’s got to be my effort to do so.

One thing that I often find striking about him is his candidness. There are a lot of guys that will pull punches or, well,…he’s very honest.

(laughs) He is. He’s very…(laughs)

Well, I guess it’s either refreshingly honest or brutally, depending on your perspective.

Yeah, in a lot of ways, I think that’s what makes him so much of a great coach. He’s always honest with you.

You know where you stand.

Yeah, that’s exactly it. You know it’s been a blast to play with him so far and I think that this senior year is going to be really special for us.

 What about the assistant coaches as well? Your position coach.

Oh, I mean, with Coach Wojo, being our position coach, you know, I’ve really become close with him. He’s somebody that, well, all of our coaching staff, but, especially Coach Wojo, I know that he would take a bullet for me. That’s something special to have that kind of relationship. You know I have great relationships with all of my coaches, but you know that we kind of have a special one.

Sure.

He’s kind of the one at my end of the court always when we’re doing drills and doing different things and in the film room and doing or giving the extra time. When you know that people really care about you doing well, that’s a special feeling.

It’s almost like a secondary parent.

Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.

With this relatively newfound physique, if you will, have you become more comfortable with physical play and how has it improved your defense?

Yeah, the game is a really physical game and (laughs), like I said, I wasn’t able to do or be that early in my career. I wasn’t able to play that physically. 

But now, at over 230..

I have the ability and I have to keep getting better and stronger in my legs especially. You know I have to be able to, like I said, defend my position. In the ACC, especially, there’s…it’s a little bit different in that a lot of the fours are smaller players. I have to have the lateral quickness to defend them. That said, there are also some guys that I go up against that are big, strong guys and I have to be able to defend them in the post as well. So, that four position, depending on who you’re playing, can be dramatically different as well. 

I think the three and the four positions in college are the two really, well, interesting positions in college right now.

Yeah, they’re interesting..

Difficult and varied too.

Guys are different size ranges and have unbelievable athletic ranges..

From 6’7″ to 6’11,” you may have to defend them.

Yeah, whoever’s up next. You’ve just got to defend them and prepare for them.

Who has been the toughest guy for you to defend, so far?

Well…

Some guys, for example, mentioned Mike Scott at UVA this year was a difficult match-up. 

Yeah, he’s a great player. Even if I…Even if there was somebody, I probably wouldn’t tell you. (laughs loudly)

Alright, alright, I shouldn’t have asked. That’s fair and totally understandable.

(laughs) 

There’s a lot of comparisons made of you to European big men. I’m sure that you’ve seen or heard the comparisons. What do you make of them?

Oh, yeah. Well, first off, I’m white.

Right, that appears to be the case.

(laughs)

You’re also of a certain height.

Yeah, you know I have some abilities that European players have and then I’m a face-up big. I think those things are a hot commodity right now in the NBA and that’s what’s pretty cool about the comparisons.

Before we run out of time, let’s talk about your charity work.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s plug that. We’ve got the web site up there and everything. Well, I’m doing an internship this summer and really I’m going to continue to work with them, but specifically this summer with Monday Life. It’s an organization that helps children’s hospitals to better the environment inside them. You know that kids are in there…when they’re in there for long periods of time.

These are for extended periods of time.

Yeah, for people that are, well, it’s for anyone, but especially for those kids that are in there for long periods of time. The experience…different hospitals have different things for them to play with or whatever it is. This summer, we’re really focused on raising money so that we can get the kids the kind of things where they can enjoy things as much as they can..

Oh, so, that’s the connection. I was wondering how you became involved initially.

Yeah, and it’s a former manager, Joey McMahon, who started the organization.

At Ravenscroft?

No, at Duke.

At Duke?

Yeah, and he’s a great guy. I’m in the process now of setting up fundraising pages for all of my teammates. They’ve all wanted to be a part of it. It’s pretty neat.

It’s good to get a commitment from those guys as well.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Demonstrating some of that leadership ability for a good cause.

Yeah, and we’ve gone into Duke Hospital and done some work.

Is the organization affiliated with Duke Hospital or a few, particular hospitals?

Yeah, there’s a bunch that have signed up from across the country, but Duke Hospital is first up and we’ll go over to Duke Hospital every once in a while and we’ll just talk to kids. 

Brighten their day.

Yeah, and see what they like and don’t like and what we can do to make it a little better. 

I see.

And, so, it’s a pretty amazing thing. It’s something that I’ve become passionate about.

I can sense it in your voice and you’ve certainly brought it attention through Twitter.

Yeah, I’ve tried.

Raising money through social media.

It’s been amazing to see people’s generosity.

Microfinancing and “crowdsourcing” have become buzz words, but it’s nice to hear it used for a good organization.

Yeah.

There’s no good transition, but I was looking over your statistics from this past season. You shot over forty percent on your three-pointers. Technically, you were actually Duke’s best three-point shooter this past season.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I mean I knew you shot the ball well, but I must admit it was a little bit startling to see that you were actually the best. 

Yeah, I shot the ball well.

Off hand, I would’ve thought that Seth Curry would’ve been up there.

Yeah, no, he shot well too. I think I can shoot even better than that.

That’s what I was going to ask. Where do you go from here?

I think that I can shoot better because, to be honest, I have the ability to shoot, but I’ve also been pretty streaky. I mean I’ve gone through stretches where I won’t miss.

Oh, yeah, of course, you had that streak of eighteen straight shots. Sure.

Yeah, that was something. I also had some time there where my shots just weren’t falling, but, fortunately, at the end of the year, I shot the ball well. You know I think I can be better at it and that’s why I, like I said, I’m trying to improve and that’s where, you know, I shot forty percent, but I can shoot a lot more shots.

That’s another thing that I was wondering about. You took about one hundred threes. Do you think that you’ll go up to about one fifty or one twenty-five? Not that you’re consciously trying to aim for or think about a number.

Yeah, I don’t want to put a number on it. It’s hard to put a number on it, but..

You’re a team player. If it happens, it happens.

 If you look at players who played a similar position or positions to me at Duke, you know, guys like…well, I’m a big stats guy and I like to look up stuff like that and so does my father.

Yeah, I always like to look at them, in terms of history.

Yeah, just seeing what guys who played a similar position to you at your same school accomplished. You look at a guy like Shane Battier in his senior year. Not that we’re the same player, but we play a similar position. We play that stretch four a little bit and, you know, a guy like him he was getting close to seven three-pointers a game.

Wow.

Yeah, I never thought that. I knew that he obviously shot the basketball well and shot three-pointers, but I never would’ve guessed  that he shot seven threes a game. That’s a lot of threes. 

Yeah, definitely.

Yeah, and I think he shot about fourteen shots.

Those guys played so fast.

Yeah, but I believe that, if I shoot the ball as well or better than I did, I need to shoot more because that’s a good thing for our team.

In terms of quick hitters, ballhandling..

 Oh, that’s going to be a huge thing for me. It’s something that I’ve always had a little bit of a feel for in the game, but..

You’ve had that two to three dribbles and “boom.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, now, I need to be able to improve being able to make more than one move because at the next level you can’t just make one move.

 This is your last go around. Has it hit you yet? Does it make you emotional?

It has. I don’t know if it’s emotional, but..

It’s something that you’re cognizant of.

Yeah, definitely. Now, I’ve got one more shot at it and you know I want to win championships.

Yes.

I mean I’ve got one more shot at it.

Well, maybe we’ll end it with that. I was going to ask you about tearjerkers.

(laughs) Oh, man. 

(laughs) I remember that you had a list of top tearjerkers.

That’s going way back and far too embarrassing. (laughs)

Alright, metamorphosis and maturation.

Clearly, I’ve shown a lot of that. My game has changed. I’m..

What were you like in high school versus now? Other than your hairstyle.. 

(laughs) Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. It’s getting really long. I’m going to need a Scola headband or something like that.

(laughs)

No, but my game has changed. My maturity level has changed. You know I scored with the basketball, but I needed to adjust to the speed, the strength, and the athleticism when I went up into this next level. I really felt like my freshman year was a huge learning experience for me. I mean I won a national championship, but, like you said, I didn’t play.

Well, you played in five of the tournament games and scored in the Sweet 16.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you were right. I didn’t play then and that was just motivation. I try to find motivation.

Sort of, your internal fire.

Yeah, exactly. That’s something that I told myself where, if I get there again, I want to be on the court. I want to be there and I want to hit that game-winning shot.

Lastly, what are thoughts on Duke’s chances this year and just any general thoughts on this team?

Yeah, we go into every year believing that we’re going to win championships. This year, we have the talent to do that and, if guys come ready to play and compete, we can certainly go get one. So..

Thank you very much, Ryan.

No problem. 

It was nice to meet you.

Yeah, you too.

Oh, you mentioned before that Seinfeld was your favorite show. Did you have a favorite episode?

Yeah, oh, man, I can’t believe that I can’t remember the name. It’s the one where George (Jason Alexander) goes, “The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.”

(laughs) Oh, “The Marine Biologist.”

Yeah, exactly, “The Marine Biologist.” It’s a classic! (laughs)

Absolutely, thanks again.

You’re welcome. I appreciate it. [/private]

Monday Musings – Duke Hoops had a heck of a week

 

Mason slams one down.  His brother was a first round NBA Draft pick this past week.

What a week it has been for Duke Basketball!  There is no denying the “feel good” atmosphere around the program these days. It began last Thursday night when Austin Rivers was selected by the New Orleans Hornets with the 10th pick in the NBA draft. He was followed by Miles Plumlee, who went 26th to the Indiana Pacers, giving Duke two more first round draft selections under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. On Saturday, coveted transfer Rodney Hood pulled the trigger for Duke, so as I say, it has indeed been a good week for the program.

If you’ve seen Miles Plumlee of late, he sports a spiffy new look that recalls Clark Kent chic, and it fits him to a tee. Plumlee was often seen by the media as a mild-mannered type, always polite, grounded and professional. But this past Thursday, Plumlee ripped open his shirt to reveal he has a little Superman thing going on as well. While the Pacers’ pick shocked many, those of us who followed Plumlee’s progress and spoke with league insiders saw this coming. Plumlee is a workout freak, and he posted great numbers during the NBA combines.  Many teams saw a player with both the athletic ability and the skill set to make it in the league. You can’t teach height, of course, and Miles’s size, combined with his ability to shoot from the permiter and run the court, served him well. NBA coaches and execs also did not forget that Miles learned how to play the game under Coach Krzyzewski at Duke, and that at 23, he’s already mature in many ways that should aid in his transition to the next level.

Austin Rivers is one of the most unfairly judged players I have been around since covering Duke basketball. Many mistake his confidence as a brash arrogance, when the reality is that confidence is an integral part of his game and a key component of his drive and his motor. Desire can carry a player a long way, and Rivers unquestionably has it. It never ceases to amaze me how uninformed internet chatter can be taken as gospel truth, even by the “mainstream” media, and this was certainly the case with regard to the perceptions of this young man.  I can tell you first hand that Rivers is a good kid, polite and professional when need be, but also not afraid to speak his mind. He is the type of kid that would settle differences with a game of one-on-one; the only thing wrong with that is how unfair it would be to just about any opponent he would face.

Austin leaves Duke having provided the program and its fans with one of the most thrilling and unforgettable moments in Duke’s long and glorious history when his buzzer-beater to beat UNC hit nothing but the bottom of the net.  While Rivers will certainly have to adjust to the physicality of the NBA game, he has been a big success at every level, and this one will be no different.

The news came Saturday evening that Rodney Hood, a coveted transfer from Mississippi State, would be attending Duke. In our latest BDN Premium update we discuss his addition for our members, and one of the things we share is that he will be on campus this Wednesday.  Hood’s addition changes the landscape of Duke’s recruiting, and we discuss that as well in the Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update. Hood was a player BDN was on early when he was on the AAU circuit, when he let us know that he had always liked the Blue Devils growing up. Hood will be allowed to practice with the team this year, and should be a part of the N.C. Pro-Am, where fans will get a firsthand view of his game.

We are a mere two months away from kickoff on the gridiron, and the Blue Devils face a bear of a task in the opener, as Florida International comes to Wallace Wade returning 18 starters from back-to-back bowl teams. There is no doubt that this game, even though it’s the opener, is vital to the Devils’ hopes of a run at a bowl themselves.  If a season opener could ever be “must win” for Duke, this would be the year.  We’ll be talking more football starting this month as Cut surveys his team.  Make plans now to support Duke Football by buying season tickets and check out the new “Cut’s Corner.”

USA Basketball is about to take center stage as well, and Coach K and company will keep Duke in the headlines in their effort to bring another gold medal home from London.   BDN has always supported and covered Team USA’s efforts, and this season will be no different.

Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee are NBA 1st Round Draft Picks

Miles soars into the first round.

NEWARK, N.J. – Duke’s Austin Rivers was selected with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round by the New Orleans Hornets in Thursday’s NBA Draft, while Miles Plumlee was taken with the No. 26 selection by the Indiana Pacers. Duke has now had two first round picks in each of the last two years and six times overall.

Rivers, who entered the draft following his freshman season at Duke, is the 17th Duke player selected in the NBA Draft Lottery, more than any other school in the nation since the system was put into place in 1985.

“I love New Orleans more than anything in my life right now,” Rivers said to a group of reporters after being selected on Thursday. “Coach Monty Williams is a great coach. Anthony’s coming. They have a great city. I’m looking forward to going there and working hard and helping out in the community and doing everything I can to help this organization win.”

Rivers, a 6-4 guard from Winter Park, Fla., averaged a team-high 15.5 points per game to join Johnny Dawkins (1983) and Bill Sapp (1945) as the only players to lead the Blue Devils in scoring as freshmen. He scored in double-figures 30 times, with eight games with 20 or more points scored. He also averaged 3.4 rebounds, while finishing second on the team in assists (71) and steals (33) and third in three-point field goals (58).

In the Duke freshman record books, Rivers ranks among the all-time leaders in points (3rd – 527), points per game (3rd – 15.5), field goals (6th – 174), three-point field goals (5th – 58), free throws (1st – 121), free throw attempts (1st – 184), games started (t-6th – 33), minutes played (7th – 1,129), double-figure scoring games (t-3rd – 30) and 20-point games (t-5th – eight).

Rivers earned NABC third team All-America honors to become the first freshman in Duke history and the 24th player overall (38 honors) under Coach K to earn All-America accolades. He also became just the seventh freshman in ACC history to collect first team all-conference recognition.

He had his best scoring performances of the year on the biggest stage on Feb. 8 at North Carolina. Rivers posted a season-high 29 points and nailed a three-point field goal at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils an 85-84 win over the fifth-ranked Tar Heels. He went 9-of-16 from the field, including 6-of-10 from three-point range, and added five rebounds in the victory.

Rivers, the 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year, joined Corey Maggette (1999), Luol Deng (2004) and Kyrie Irving (2011) as Blue Devil freshmen to enter the NBA Draft after just one year of college basketball. The three previous freshmen early entrees were each selected among the first 13 players in their respective drafts, including Irving, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

Rivers’ father, Doc, is the current head coach of the Boston Celtics. The elder Rivers played in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks (1983-91), Los Angeles Clippers (1991-92), New York Knicks (1992-94) and San Antonio Spurs (1994-96). He was an NBA All-Star in 1988 and was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2000. Rivers was the head coach for the Orlando Magic from 1999-2004.

Plumlee closed his four-year career at Duke with 650 points and 654 rebounds, while shooting 55.6 percent (262-of-471) from the field. He helped Duke to the 2010 NCAA Championship, three ACC Tournament titles and a 115-20 record during his four seasons in Durham.

As a senior, Plumlee averaged 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds (ninth in the ACC) per game. He established a Coach K era record with 22 rebounds in a Feb. 11, 2012 win over Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Plumlee, a 6-11, 250-pound  For more Go Duke.com

miles plumlee

Duke Basketball Notebook – A busy month ahead!

In this week’s edition of Duke Basketball Notebook, we’ve got a number of things going on in and around the program that we wanted to let you in on.  As you probably can imagine, there is no off-season for Duke Basketball and this month and the rest of summer feature a bevy of interesting “happenings.”  Let’s take a look:
- The NBA Draft goes off this week and the Duke Blue Devils will have two players selected, Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee.  Rivers seems to be moving up as the draft nears, which is exactly what we told you would happen when he was initially projected to go around 17th in the first round.  Rivers’s transition to the NBA will likely be much easier than others’ due to the guidance of his father, and perhaps NBA types are considering Doc’s influence as well as the skills that Austin brings to the table.  We are also going to honk our horn on Miles a bit, in that we let you know early on that the eldest Plumlee was impressing many with his measurements and skill set at pre-draft workouts.  Now everybody is raving about Plumlee, and it could not be happening to a nicer kid.  It also goes to show that playing less at a top flight program is sometimes better than playing a lot at a bad one.  Miles wears his NCAA Championship ring with pride and we hope one day he has another ring to add to it.
- Speaking of rings, Shane Battier added another one as the Miami Heat won the NBA title.  Battier played a huge role, knocking down timely three point shots and making key steals, tips, and other heady plays to help seal victories.  Shane is already benefitting from the hype.
- In other NBA news, former Duke star Danny Ferry is the new General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks.  Ferry has deep roots in the league through his father Bob Ferry, who was the long-time GM of the Washington franchise.
- While the rosters have yet to be officially announced, the N.C. Pro-Am kicks off later this week, and as we have been since the event’s inception, Blue Devil Nation will be there to report.  This event provides some of the best basketball entertainment that can be found in the dog days of summer, and the price is right — attendance is free.  This year, they’ve cut back to eight teams and there will be three nights of action.  We’ll have more on the logistics and other particulars in the coming week.  But regardless, we’ll be in our customary spot in the end zone, so stop by and say hello.
- The Duke Men’s Basketball staff will head to Las Vegas shortly, and be gone through July 4th.   Mike Krzyzewski is trying to bring another Olympic gold medal home from jolly old England this summer, and he’ll have his trusty blokes, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, in tow.  Several exhibition games have already been set, and we’ll follow Team USA as we always have in the past, so be sure to bookmark the site for updates.
- During the coaches’ absence, assistants Jeff Capel and Nate James will take center stage on the AAU circuit, so Duke will still be well represented at the great events remaining this summer, many of which BDN will cover.
- Don’t forget that Alex Murphy will be playing for the Finnish National Team this summer.  He will earn a lot of burn, which can only help him in the coming season.  We told you long ago that Alex would be suiting up for Finland, and here is a video from last March where he spoke of his redshirt season and playing for Finland.
- Meanwhile, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly are participating in the Amare Stoudemire Big Man Camp.  If you were a BDN Premium member, you would have known about this weeks ago.  Plumlee and Kelly will be seasoned senior leaders this season for Duke, and if history repeats itself, that should bode well.  Having veteran leaders is big come March.
- This is the week coveted transfer Rodney Hood will suppoosedly announce his decision.  Hood is down to Duke and Ohio State, and I feel good about the Blue Devils’ chances.  As you may have learned in an interview BDN Premium had with Hood before his senior year in high school, he grew up a Duke fan, and some say that by Thursday we will know where the long and lean prospect will be balling for the remainder of his college career.  Many leakers are saying he is bound for Columbus, but our suggestion is to take a wait-and-see approach.
- For more on where other Duke players will be this summer, join BDN Premium.  Speaking of our Premium service, our interviews continue to draw raves for their timeliness and their detail.  Andrew Slater is doing a great job for us (as is the rest of our staff) and we invite you to join and discuss all the latest with fellow members.  We have a lot of interviews coming soon, an early bird Duke hoops preview, as well as much more on the football recruiting trail, where Patrick Cacchio’s work is second to none.  If you are looking for a reliable source of timely information, BDN Premium is that place.  In our latest offering, for example, recruiting insider Van Coleman takes a look at Duke and national prospects in an exclusive with BDN.  BDN Premium features the nation’s best talent scouts, from Tom Konchalski and Clark Francis to the aforementioned Coleman, to give our members the best information available from a variety of well known, tried and true sources.
- Finally, BDN is looking for a couple of people to add to our team.  Most recently we have added Tom Rubinson, who will act as our lead editor and will write some feature articles as well.  Tom has already added a lot to our site and his wordsmithing will be part and parcel of a new and improved BDN as we make some important changes to the site.  We’ll talk more about those changes when we get closer to implementing them.  If you are an outstanding writer, we have a soap box for you.  You must know the program well and have some experience in the field.  We are looking for a person to cover “Dukies in the NBA” on a regular basis next season, and somebody to help us get more proactive and creative with our use of videos.   Our football coverage has grown  immensely and Patrick is looking for a sidekick to help there too.  In addition, we are looking for somebody who has a keen interest in Duke Women’s Basketball and who can cover their games and the program as a whole.  If you have any interest in these volunteer positions or want to know more, please contact me at watzone@bluedevilnation.net

BDN Recap – Coach K shares the latest on Duke Basketball

Coach Mike Krzyzewski addressed the media today and, as usual, his summer session provided a lot of information.  The biggest news to some was that it is now official that Andre Dawkins will redshirt this coming season.  But there was so much more.  In fact, there was so much information that I decided to just share several interesting notes from today, so read on and enjoy.

-Andre Dawkins will redshirt this coming season.  Details were not given, out of respect for Andre’s personal privacy.

 

- Coach K said that last season’s team was not good defensively out front.  The perimeter players were not big enough or long enough to effectively pressure the ball.  However, he expects they will be better able to apply that pressure this season with improved size and length on the perimeter.   Improving the team’s on-ball pressure will be addressed in the off-season, as will reinforcing defensive concepts out front.

- Coach K said this year’s team would be more versatile and would benefit from having three senior leaders in Mason, Ryan and Seth.

- Ryan Kelly has fully recovered from his injury and is currently working out in Las Vegas.

-  In fact, all the Duke players are currently in good health.

- Mason Plumlee is on an internship and is working out in Chicago.

– Alex Murphy left two days ago for Finland to play on the Finnish National Team. His Mom played for Finland’s national team as well.  Coach said that Murphy would get a lot of playing time. Duke will use the 6’8″ Murphy on the perimeter or in the SF role.  K said having him on the wing would stretch the court and allow Duke to do some different things.

- Seth Curry will play off the ball more in order to hunt his shot.  Thornton, Cook and Sulaimon would be the primary ballhandlers if the season were to start today.

- K did not mention anything about Josh Hairston losing weight in the off-season, but did say that Josh could play more on the perimeter than he has in the past.

- Marshall Plumlee is up to 240 pounds, and K believes last year’s redshirt season would help him. He likes his work ethic and enthusiasm, and mentioned his toughness as well.

- Incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has played well and K believes that he, like all players do, will grow from the experience of playing international basketball.

- One peeve that Coach K mentioned was the transfer rate in college basketball.  He thinks it’s just out of control, as more than 450 kids are moving to different schools. As the NCAA is not doing much about the problem, K believes that college hoops needs a governing body to address issues like this.

- Coach said the one-and-done mentality has always existed but that players now leave more quickly when facing controversy or any type of difficult situation.  He noted as well that sometimes kids leave before the book is written, and referenced 2010, where Duke’s senior-laden team blossomed into champions.

- Also on transfers, K believes that transfers are being recruited harder than high school prospects now, and he implied the battles were vicious.  Again, he recommends that studies needed to be done to support controlling this trend.

- He mentioned some teams trying to improve their APR as well, as that measure will have UConn on the sidelines of the NCAA tournament this year.

- Coach was aked if in the future he would recruit differently in light of having lost Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers back to back, after only one year apiece at Duke.  He said there are no real recruiting philosophies that he could describe in the current climate.

- He also said that Rivers and Miles Plumlee were expected to do well in the upcoming NBA Draft, and that the success of former Duke players in the league enhances perceptions of Duke and helps Duke’s image with new prospects.

- Coach said that he faces challenges with Team USA from both the effects of the condensed NBA season as well as injuries.  They have yet to finalize a roster. He glowed when talking about the play of Russell Westbrook, and scoffed at so many analysts who examine his game under the microscope, noting that Westbrook is just 24 years old. He said LeBron James would play for Team USA for sure.  In discussing LeBron, Coach K stated that some kids learn in different ways and that while James has had to learn some tough lessons, he is a special and gifted player.

- When questioned whether it bothered him that N.C. State and North Carolina seemed to be getting more love, he quipped, “I like what we’ve done” and preferred to talk about that.  He gave a bit of a sly smile at that moment, and there is good reason for that. My take is that K was saying, in effect, “let people overlook us.  That’s exactly what we want them to do.”  And if you truly know hoops, then you realize Duke will be just fine this coming season and when it’s all said and done, the Blue Devils will sit in their customary position at the top of the league.

For more of my take on the event and to discuss the latest of other BDN Premium members, join today!

BDN Premium – Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update

Rasheed Sulaimon played "Horse" while visiting Duke. Maybe that helped him win the three point shooting contest at the McDonald's All American game? BDN presents another loaded team and recruiting update article for premium members.

Well, it’s that time of year again when AAU ball cranks up and for BDN that means we’ll be hitting several big events. Austin Rivers decision to sign with an agent and enter the NBA Draft wasn’t that big of a surprise to us and we all wish him luck. Rivers decision is the first thing that will set the future into motion as the staff will be hot on the recruiting trail.  While many Duke fans hate to see Rivers lead, he can help the program at the next level and they will show that shot against UNC several times early on in his pro career.  He joins Kyrie Irving as players kids will really identify with.

I expect Mason Plumlee will (you must be a BDN Premium member to read the 2000 plus word update, so join today!) [private] enter his name into the draft to get feedback as to his draft status which must be done by April 3rd. Plumlee from all accounts is torn about his decision but the departure of Austin Rivers could help. Had Rivers returned the offense would have been run through him and the Blue Devils would have been his team. His high school coach David Gaines said that he was weighing his options and that one thing he would want is more touches or to be used in a more prominent role, It seems part of Plumlee wants to return and finish what he started and play with his brother Marshall for a year. Marshall could surely use his tutoring and Duke could surely use his presence in the paint. But an equal part of Mason wants to go pro and it may come down to where he is projected in a deep draft. It’s probably even odds right now but that could change.  If I were to guess, I think Mase will probably want to go through his senior season and be a more focal point for the team but I am not majorly confident with the info I have received to date and it is worth noting that I have not talked this  over with some of my usual sources.

Should Plumlee head to the league with Rivers, Duke will be in major need of a big or two. There are two options, one being Tony Parker and the other Alex Oriakhi, the Connecticut transfer. Should Plumlee go, it would be a match made in heaven with Oriakhi. As for Tony Parker, he announced that he would be making a decision on April 11th and I can tell you now that Duke is a definite player. Coach K locked in on his parents early on and there is a very solid relationship and trust between them. While Parker has seemingly bought into all of the anti Duke recruiting rhetoric and squirmed away at the mention of Duke, he may finally be seeing the light and the opportunity he has stepping right into playing time at Duke. Parker showed signs of getting a bit out of shape at the McDonald’s All American drills but who knows the circumstances or that he didn’t have something going on? Anyhow, he has trimmed his list to Duke, Kansas and UCLA. IMO, Los Angeles is too far from home unless all his pals go there and that means it is likely down to two, Kansas and Duke. I think the Blue Devils have proximity in their favor as well and may pull this one out. Their odds are much better than they were a month ago at this time and Parker knows he would plug right in. Parker’s decision may also effect the aforementioned Oriakhi.

Shabazz Muhammad won the dunk contest and he will choose a school on April 11th as well on an ESPN special. His decision likely has bearing on Trey Zeigler, a recent visitor and I expect nothing will happen with him until Bazz pulls the trigger due to available slots. Duke can now show Muhammad that he can be there next one and done freshman and that may be enough to pull him in. Zeigler offers maturity and the ability to guard certain types of players on defense. It will be interesting to see how all plays out, but I feel one will be on the roster at this time. And there is still the shadow of an NCAA investigation over Bazz and this could effect him going to what many felt the leader has been for months, Kentucky.

The Duke coaches will assault the AAU circuit full throttle before July for that is when Coach K will be heading up Team USA and he’ll take assistants Collins and Wojo with him. That means April is an important month and the staff will take in both Nike EYBL sessions and other events I will share at a later date. Jeff Capel, Nate James and Chris Spatola will fill in while the staff builds the team they hope wins gold.

Several Duke Assistants have been considered for other jobs but the info coming in is somewhat shaky so I will not share the rumors. The Illinois job supposed linked three Duke types, Johnny Dawkins who led Stanford to the NIT title game, Steve Wojciechowski and of course Chris Collins. It looks like the job has been filled and Collins was like the next one or two choices had the job remained open. Nothing official while I am typing this though … It is looking more and more like a mid major stepping stone job may be the ticket for some. Back to Dawkins, he would probably like to go somewhere it is easier to recruit but his Stanford team will compete for the PAC 10 the next two season should he stay put and I expect him to do so.

The coaches will be meeting with players to tell them what to work on for the coming season and what role they envision them taking on.  And you have heard a lot of transfer rumors by now and I fully expect some movement.  It’s hard for me to share too much on that front in that it is a sensitive and private issue for the program, but the most rumored kid to leave Michael Gbinije seems prepared to returned and told his AAU coach he knew Coach K knew what he was doing.  It has also come out that Seth Curry can or will graduate and that he entertained going overseas but no firm decision has been made.  It was odd that Austin Rivers seemed to slip and say he was gone in the locker room after the tournament loss, but there was a lot of emotion going on.

I can tell you that there will be a shake up and Duke will try to get back to playing better defense and I expect all players will be challenged and have to earn their time next season.  The coaches, like us. have to let all shake out and each player or prospect move will effect one another with concern to the players/prospects in play.

The Carolina Classic has concluded and we’ll add some late scouting reports and get the thoughts of others before weeks end.  I would say Theo Pinson is the only prospect firmly on the radar and while there are other good players, none of them are past the evaluation mode.  For those new to BDN Premium, the evaluation mode consists of players they are putting feelers out on.  Many kids, like prospect Tyrone Outlaw will get a look and he will visit in an unofficial manner, but it is common for local star prospects to drop by campus.  Jeff Capel is the lead guy for Outlaw but I’m not sure he would make the final cut.  However he does add toughness to the team he will play for and he can guard bigger players.  Outlaw will have to improve his perimeter game to become a real candidate.  Duke has showed some interest in Jaquel Richmond as well but something tells me they may not pursue him as hard as some other names.

Another name which has popped up is Christian Harrison of Greensboro Day.  Harrison grew up a Duke fan and of course says he would accept an offer on the spot.  He’s a nice late bloomer in the rankings but has very thin shoulder width which needs a lot of added muscle.  He can finish very well and is a smooth player but hangs outside a bit too much for my tastes.  His second game was his worst and his defense was awful at times in that game.  He wasn’t playing help D or using his length a lot.  His third game would have one drooling and he played much better after motivational speeches.  I would have to get more views on him to get a real feel.  We will have an interview up soon with him.

The Nike Jordan-Brand Classic is on my agenda where I will see Rasheed Sulaimon play and hopefully one or two more future Blue Devils.  The even on April 14th will allow us to know where Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad are going.  There are a slew of UNC and N.C. State guys playing in the event, a game of local North Carolina ballers and an International game.  continues to work Duke prospects as does his future teammate Matt Jones.

The Nike EYBL season starts in April as well and it gets underway with session I  in Minnesota on April 20-22 and then session II in Hampton, Virginia the following weekend.  The event is loaded with Duke prospects and among them are Chicago studs, Jabari Parker, the top rated player in the class of 2013 and Jahill Okafor, the paint eater and key Blue Devil target as well.  Both will suit up for the Mac Irwin Fire again and Parker has been the Blue Devils top target for a long time and as I have said for a year or so now, I feel Duke is in great shape with  him.  Then there is the Texas Titan duo of Matt Jones a shooting guard who has already pledged to Duke and his teammate, the bullish post man, Julius Randle.  If Duke misses on bigs this year, their need for Randle will be dire.  Duke is in good shape and will surely make his final cut and he is right there with Jabari Parker as the most important prospects they will work before Olympic duties.  But rest easy for Duke Assistant Jeff Capel is the lead recruiter for him and that bodes well.    Then there are the two PG prospects, Anthony Barber 2013 and Tyus Jones 2014.    Long time members know I rave when speaking of Jones and I will finally get more views of Barber.  Both are legitimate standouts but Jones to me is special and a winner.  But Jones has the nation after him and he will be a tough get.  Duke will also have their eyes open for other players and by the end of April we should have some new names popping up.  Other names to watch are big man Bee Jay Anya and Theo Pinson to name a few.

By all accounts, Ryan Kelly is healing nicely and he should have plenty of time to have his game together before the season starts.  Duke players had a lot of nagging injuries by seasons end but the Blue Devils do not broadcast them until later and maybe no even then.  Coach Krzyzewski has never been one to share too much in the past.  But it was certainly evident that the loss of Kelly effected the team concept and in hindsight, Kelly added a lot of value to the team.

The take on Amile Jefferson in interesting.  Talk to the NCSU types and they are majorly confident he comes.  Their spin is he is waiting to see what C.J Leslie does, well, I will tell you that he is going pro.  Jefferson has a great relationship with the Wolfpack staff but I feel his heart is with Duke.  I though his decision may be tied in with the McDonald’s game but it seems he will watch what happens with team rosters as well as others now.  Jefferson is a nice young man who is likely having trouble telling certain teams no.  Villanova continues to make the hometown push and they are still hovering about but it is down to the ACC schools and I still feel Duke is in the best shape to get his services.  But it’s recruiting, so who knows 100% sure what might happen.

So, we are all waiting to watch the McDonald’s All American game this evening and to see how things shake out for Duke Basketball.  You have heard me say the following on numerous occasions but it applies more than ever to current situations.  Let it play out.  Freaking out and over speculation is a waste of ones energy.  Watch what prospects do and not what they say.  Actions speak louder than words.

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