Grayson Allen has helped lead his Southern Stampede AAU team to seven straight wins where they’ll advance to the EYBL Finals know as the Peach Jam this July in Augusta, South Carolina. Most recently, Allen attended the NBAPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia where he competed against some of the nation’s top collegiate prospects. Blue Devil Nation caught up to the future Dukie and he shared how the recruiting process went down in detail. He also gave us his thoughts on his most recent camp experience and how it helps him moving forward, not to mention his rooming with another key Duke target Kavon Looney and what the staff has him working on. What I learned about Allen was that he’s athletic. Standing around 6-3, he competed in an impromptu dunk contest and took off from the free throw line to flush one down. He has a good and improving handle is unselfish despite his ability to score. Anyhow, check out our latest interview from the NBA Top 100 Camp and join BDN Premium to read all of our past articles and the many to come.
What do you feel like you have learned or will take with you moving forward from this camp?
That it’s tough competition. Every time down the court you can’t just make a play and shoot it yourself. You definitely have to get your teammates involved and there are really good post men down low so you have to feed them. But mostly, you learn how to be professional on and off the court and you focus on how to carry yourself.
Wow! You rolled that right out and seem quite humble as well.
Yes sir. My parents instill in me to stay focused and humble.
Your tweets seem to reflect that you have a religious up bringing.
I was born and raised in a Christian home, so pretty much everything I see is what God has blessed me with. So I just perform on the platform given to me by him to show others Christ.
So when did Duke actually offer you and what was your reaction at the time to that?
Last summer, about April and then they saw me play in July. Coach Nate James came to my high school two or three times and watched me play and I stayed in contact with him after that. They called and set up an in home visit and I felt like we hit it off then.
How soon did you know after the offer you wanted to go to Duke?
When they scheduled the home visit I had a feeling that [private] the offer was going to come. So when it did come I had already thought about it a lot. Coach K, Coach Wojo and Coach Capel being in the house and the fact I had already thought about it a lot and after sitting and talking with them it was an easy decision. I just had a feeling Duke was where I wanted to go and after thinking and praying on it, I made the call.
Have you heard from the staff of late?
Yeah. I text Coach Wojo and Coach Scheyer.
So Jon Scheyer is getting involved already?
Are you happy to see a former Duke shooter on the staff now?
Oh yeah. It’s gonna be cool. He’s still a young guy and he was obviously a great player at Duke, so I feel like I can learn a lot from him.
Once in the fold, the staff will tell their future players what to work on. Can you share any of that with us?
They want me to work and try to be a lock down defender and guard multiple positions including the one, two and possibly the three because I will really have to do that at the next level while keeping an aggressive mind-set.
Let’s talk about the impromptu dunk contest you guys had in between drills. You took off from the free throw line and flushed a dunk down. Can you talk a little bit about that?
It feels really good. (grinning) All I can say is that it was God-given because my parents weren’t big athletes or anything. My Dad played a little football and basketball.
Is it me or do you have some big feet?
I didn’t know if it was just my vision or the yellow sneakers you were wearing.
Big feet and hands. I wear a size 16 shoe.
Wow! Does that mean you’re still growing?
Yeah, that’s what the doctors tell me. I have had some problems with my left knee. That’s the knee I jump off and the doctor said it’s (I tried to transcribe what it was called but never quite got the translation), so he thinks I could be 6-6 but I could be full-grown, I don’t know for sure.
Will you be attending any skills academies? What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
I’m going to the Kevin Durrant one for sure. I will be going to the Peach Jam and the Super Showcase and then I am not sure what my team will be doing. We have a free week, but it’s a live period for the college coaches so we’ll do something.
The following are some additional comments when another site entered the interview -
On what he’s currently working on …
Right now, I continue to work on my ball handling and consistency on my shot. I had a little bit of an off weekend, so I need to work on consistency there. As a ninth grader I had that kind of chicken wing shot.
On playing with some NBA types …
You might watch some of these players on T.V. and think I can take them, I can take them but being out here with them is a reality check. They are way, way, way ahead of us and we have a lot of work to do.
On his impending workouts …
When I get a little bit of free time this summer I already have trainer and a workout program to start on and lift some weight to prepare for the next level and college.
On rooming with Kavon Looney …
I’ve been in his ear a little bit concerning Duke, we talked about it some.
You said yesterday, you were trying to be low key.
Yeah, he’s a great player who can stretch out the defense.
Thanks for your time.
Yes sir. Thank you.
Talk about this interview on the BDN Premium message board where I give my analogy on his game. [/private]
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO—Traditional, back-to-the-basket big men of elite caliber are becoming synonymous with rare across the basketball landscape. And that’s precisely why Jahlil Okafor—the top-ranked player in the class of 2014 according to ESPN—is one of the more unique prospects to come through the prep ranks in recent years.
The Chicago product has been a known commodity for years, garnering high-major offers as an underclassman. The Duke coaching staff pulled the trigger abnormally early by extending him a scholarship during the fall of his sophomore year.
Increasing hype and media attention has been the norm since then, but for good reason. The Whitney Young High School superstar is a throwback center with a wide body, soft touch, impeccable footwork and a diverse arsenal of scoring moves on the low block. He possesses legitimate NBA size and power for the center position at 6-foot-11 and 270-pounds. To top it all off, he’s an intelligent player who predicates his game on winning rather than individual achievement.
The Blue Devil coaching staff has swung and missed on a handful of its priority big men on the recruiting trail these past few years, which makes its chase for Okafor all that more important, as well as [private] compelling. Fair or unfair, there is a widespread stigma of Duke’s inability to utilize and produce quality post players circulating around the college basketball landscape. For years, Blue Devil fans have pegged Okafor—who has unofficially visited Duke twice in his high school career—as the player to change that perception in Durham. To up the stakes even more in the recruitment, Okafor has strongly contended that he will attend the same school as his close friend Tyus Jones—the top-ranked point guard in the class of 2014.
Eight schools occupy Okafor’s list of prospective college programs: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Due to a recurring ankle sprain, Okafor has been forced to miss much of the action of this spring on Nike EYBL circuit with his AAU team the Mac Irvin Fire.
Along with fellow prepster Justise Winslow, the almost fully healthy Okafor is one of just two high schoolers vying for a spot on the U.S. U-19 National Team, which is headlined by mostly rising sophomores in college. During practices, it was evident that Okafor was one of the best players on the floor and will likely centerpiece of the team hungry to claim the gold medal.
Following Monday morning’s practice, Okafor sat down to update Blue Devil Nation on his experiences with the U.S. U-19 National Team and with where things stand in his recruitment.
Question: We’ll start with the U.S. U-19 team experience. You are one of the youngest guys in the gym here. How has playing up help enhanced your game this week?
Answer: “It’s been great. You know I have improved so much this week going against these top college players. The coaches in Billy Donavan and Shaka Smart are really helping me develop. I have improved a lot over these last four or five days.”
Q: Who are some of the tougher matchups you faced one-on-one here at the training camp?
A: “All these big men are tough. Jarnell Stokes [of Tenneessee], [Mike] Tobey [of Virginia], Montrezel Harrrell [of Louisville]. You know everybody here is tough. They are really strong, but it’s a lot of fun. And it’s very competitive.”
Q: Have you learned anything new about your game having gone up against these more mature players this week?
A: “Just that I play better when I play with other great players. It helps me elevate my game. So the better the players are around me, the better I play.”
Q: Looks like you have lost a little bit of weight since I last saw you in Hampton, Va?
A: “Yeah, I have lost a little.”
Q: How has that helped benefit your game especially since it appears that this U-19 team will use a fast-paced, full-court pressure style of play as much as possible? And is that style a little bit different that what you are accustomed to in high school?
A: “Yeah, definitely. I like it. It’s something new. My AAU team, we get up and down. I have been getting in shape to get ready for this experience, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Q: And what is your official height and weight at nowadays?
A: “I’m 6-foot-11, 270 [pounds].”
Q: I understand that you have been rooming with Justise Winslow and Rasheed Sulaimon. What has that experience been like with those guys?
A: “It’s fun. We just talk a lot, crack jokes. It’s a lot of fun.”
Q: Is ‘Sheed doing any recruiting?
A: “No. ‘Sheed doesn’t do that. He pretty much knows that he can’t really affect our decisions. We’ll ask him questions about Duke, and he’ll answer them. But he doesn’t try to recruit us. If we ever have any questions, he’ll always give us a truthful answer.”
Q: Do you know who you’ll be rooming with going forward on this U.S. team?
A: “I’m not sure at this point. They decide our roommates.”
Q: You’ve had an ankle injury that has sidelined you for a good amount of this spring. How is your ankle doing right now?
A: “It’s doing pretty good. I missed a lot of the Nike EYBL sessions just because it was a high ankle sprain, but it’s doing really good now. I have a lot of great trainers here who are really helping me with it and getting it stronger.”
Q: After this stint with the U-19 team is over with, what are your basketball plans the rest of the summer?
A: “Win Peach Jam. I’m very confident that we can, so after we win a gold medal with this U.S.A. team I want to win the Peach Jam.”
Q: Let’s get to your recruitment. Baylor is one school that is scheduled to receive an official visit from both you and Tyus Jones. What all went behind choosing Baylor as a school that gets one of those five official visits?
A: “I just really like Baylor and what they have to offer. Coach Drew is a very energetic coach and I really like that. Baylor is a Christian school, so you that’s what my family loves so much about it. And the campus is just amazing. I’ve seen pictures and they’ve sent me a little video. I just want to experience Baylor and see what it is like.”
Q: So, have you ever visited Baylor before?
A: “No, I haven’t. Tyus has visited there before, and he just told me that we should definitely go see it because he thought it was really great.”
Q: And does Tyus have a cousin or some sort of relative that is connected to Baylor in some way?
A: “His cousin [Jared Nuness] is a [basketball] coach at Baylor.”
Q: Do you have any other official visits set up? Or do you have any idea as to what other schools you want to take official visits to?
A: “Not really, no. I have been busy and haven’t been able to set any more up yet.”
Q: What sort of criteria will you use to decide which schools get those last four official visits?
A: “I haven’t been able to really focus on that a whole lot on it lately, but it’ll probably be a combination of things: the coaching staffs I’m most comfortable with, seeing what Tyus and my parents are thinking, things like that. We’ll see.”
Q: What’s the communication between you and coaches been like these past several weeks? Has it been pretty busy with coaches blowing up your phone?
A: “It’s been pretty busy. Some more than others I guess. I hear from the coaches about the same as far as frequency. I’ve talked to Coach Capel. Coach K was here [in Colorado Springs] and he spoke with me a lot—not about Duke—just about improving out here and what I should do to get better. I’ve talked to Kansas, Kentucky, Baylor, Michigan State, Ohio State and Arizona here lately too.”
Q: What has Duke and Coach Capel been communicating to you about here lately?
A: “Just seeing how I’m doing, catching up. He was telling me that Coach K told him that I was playing well here. [Capel] was just telling me to keep it up, keep working, keep improving, and don’t have an attitude out here that I’m a young guy. Act just like I’m another player out here.”
Q: Kansas just hired Jerrance Howard, who obviously has a lot of ties to the state of Illinois. Do you have any sort of relationship with him? And if so, how does that affect your recruitment?
A: “You know it doesn’t hurt having him over there. You know he was one of the first coaches to recruit me. When he was at Illinois he offered me a scholarship. I’ve known him since like eighth grade, freshman year. I’m really close with Jerrance and him at Kansas doesn’t hurt at all. I’m happy that he’s there.”
Q: And why wasn’t Tyus able to participate in this Team U.S.A. function?
A: “He had some family issues going on, so he couldn’t make it.”
Q: Are you and Tyus any closer to determining a timetable for a college announcement?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think I had a really solid junior year.
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..
(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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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).
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.
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.
It makes it fun.
It’s that fine tuning of an instrument or tinkering with a machine.
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..
..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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
No, 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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)
For much of the summer there has been debate on who the best player in high school basketball is. The question has been: is it Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or the bull in a china shop, Julius Randle. When watching Randle, it isn’t difficult to see why the burly Texan is in the discussion.
The nation’s top power forward rattled the famed Venice Beach rims as he took home the Elite 24 dunk championship. Randle then proceeded to pour in 27 points on an extremely efficient 13/14 from the field during the Elite 24 game itself.
The highly coveted recruit has slimmed down since his freshman year, but the big man says he doesn’t even lift weights; he simply does some conditioning work. One thing is for sure: while he’s already got a college-ready body, once Randle hits the weight room and gets into a college strength program, he truly will be able to bull his way through most college defenders.
During his busy weekend in California, Randle spoke with BDN about his summer and Coach K, among other topics.
BlueDevilNation: This is your second trip to the Elite 24. You’re one of the senior guys now. It’s definitely a nice accomplishment. How has your experience been so far?
Julius Randle: Oh yeah, it’s been great. It’s the second time I’ve been here so I know a little of what to expect. It’s always fun just to come out here. It’s an honor. It’s great to relax and the game is really fun and something I definitely enjoy.
BDN: How was playing with the pro’s?
JR: Oh it was cool, you know. The scrimmage wasn’t too intense, but, you know, just being on the court with those guys you still can always learn something from those guys, so that’s always cool.
BDN: Earlier this summer you had a pretty difficult matchup with Andrew Wiggins. Can you talk a little bit about that matchup you had? [private]
JR: You know, he’s a great player. He can do a lot of different things on the court. He’s really athletic and skilled. He was a great player to play against. He’s long and it was a fun matchup. It was probably one of the best games of the summer, even though it didn’t go out like I wanted.
BDN: Are you better than him? (sly smile)
JR: (laughs and smiles while talking to Tyus Jones) I believe so. I don’t believe anybody is better than me.
BDN: On the days when you’re tired and don’t want to work out, what motivates you to keep going?
JR: Just me wanting to be the best, you know. If you work every day when you feel like it then you’re not going to get too far. But if you also work out when you don’t feel like it, you’ll get somewhere.
BDN: Comparing yourself from your freshman year to now, you’ve seemed to tone up a lot. Is this something you try to work on?
JR: Honestly, I don’t know too much on what I’m doing other than just eating right and conditioning. But I don’t lift weights at all. I probably just ride the bike and run and just try to eat right.
BDN: Are you still working on those recipes?
JR: (laughs) Ahh no, not too much of that, not too much of that.
BDN: There’s been comparisons between your game and Lebron’s. Not just talent-wise, but more so on your style of game where you play inside and out.
JR: You know, he’s a great player. It’s an honor for people to compare me like that to him. If I can do what he’s done (laughs) then that’s just a blessing and an honor. I don’t worry too much about that. I just want to be my own player, have my own style, and you know, just make my own way.
BDN: Are schools recruiting you as a certain position?
JR: Just like a combo forward really. They don’t even really see me as a position really, they just see me as a player.
BDN: Is that something that appeals more to you than being recruited at a specific position?
JR: Yeah, because I think that’s the type of player I am. I can do multiple things on the court, so they can just play me.
BDN: You had an incredible opportunity this summer to play for Team USA. Could you talk about that experience and what it was like?
JR: Yeah. It’s probably been the best basketball experience I’ve had so far. You know, that was just amazing. It was so much different for me but I enjoyed it a lot.
BDN: Who did you room with over there?
JR: Rodney Purvis. And then when we went out of the country it was me, Rodney, and Marcus Smart.
BDN: I asked Justise Winslow about this, but also wanted your take. There’s been a perception over the years that Texas is a football state, but if you look at the recent high talent coming out of the state it doesn’t seem that perception fits so much anymore. Do you feel that way?
JR: You know, Texas is probably at the highest it’s been in basketball as far as players coming out every year consistently and players being good. So I do think people are really starting to realize that it’s just not a football state, it’s a basketball state too. It’s just our job, and the players that are younger than us to keep that going.
BDN: There’s been some rumors in the past I wanted to ask you about. You can put them at rest if you wish.
JR: (laughs) It’s cool, I already know what it is. The twins?
BDN: Oh, no no. I’ve read that one, too. The rumor was that you’d be transferring from PCA (Prestonwood Christian Academy)?
JR: No, oh no. I don’t know where that came from.
BDN: Alright then. Kind of going back to Team USA, one of the coaches that is recruiting you is Coach K. Obviously with him being with the national team, he wasn’t able to be there. Did that make a difference to you at all?
JR: You know, it does a little bit, but when it comes down to it I got to make the best choice for me. I know Coach K’s proven, I know what he can do with me. He’s done a lot of great things as far as players you know. I mean, what does he have? Like 21 final fours, four national championships, two USA gold medals. His resume speaks for itself. So, you know, I know what he can do.
BDN: Did you keep in contact with him while he was overseas?
JR: Yeah, he texted me pretty much like after every game, so it was pretty cool.
BDN: Did you keep in contact with the assistants?
JR: Oh yeah. I talk to Coach Capel a lot.
BDN: What’s your relationship like with Coach Capel?
JR: Oh, it’s really good. I had a relationship with him while he was at Oklahoma so, you know, it kind of transferred over.
It’s difficult to make any hard and fast judgments about players based on a game like the Elite 24, because it is a glorified pickup game, there is little defense played, and the guys are all just playing loosey-goosey and enjoying it as an end-of-summer outdoor event on the courts of Venice Beach, California. I mean, the final score was 164-138, OK? Nevertheless, there are always things to learn about guys any time you watch them, especially when playing against other elite-level players. Here’s what I saw on Saturday.
First, the “Marques Johnson” team had a huge advantage. Why? Coaching. Head coach for the squad was Duke’s own Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie spent more time on his phone texting than he did strategizing, it was good to see him out there and it was obvious how much respect he has from the guys. At halftime, he spent almost the entire time talking with uncommitted Pennsylvania forward Rondae Jefferson, but he also hung out with Julius Randle too, and they seemed to have an easy rapport as well.
OK to the game. Starting with the kids Duke is known to be recruiting heavily:
Might as well start with Julius Randle. First of all [private], he has a pro body right now. He’s been downgraded in some circles for having short arms, as that supposedly makes it harder for him to finish against length. His arms didn’t look short to me, especially when he was taking over the game in the second half, scoring five consecutive hoops en route to his game-high 27 on 13 of 14 shooting. He also has a very good handle for a guy his size, and likes to utilize it. When he does so and gets into the lane, he’s so big that the defense just sort of parts for him because they know they’re not going to stop that freight train. In real games, of course, guys will step in and try to take a charge, and he’s going to have to adjust to that. But seeing his game and his body, I don’t think he’d have any trouble playing some 5 in college if his team needed him to, though PF will obviously be his primary position.
Justise Winslow also has a very solid body and is much more athletic than I anticipated. He led his team with 21 points and scored them in a variety of ways. He drove to the hoop, he pulled up for short jumpers, he got put-back dunks, and he got out on the break (though everyone did in this game!) for some throw-downs as well. One thing I really liked was Winslow D-ing up one-on-one against stud guard Aaron Harrison and forcing Harrison to retreat after attempting to drive, and then to take a very difficult three-pointer instead. Justise took on that challenge, even in a game like this, and won it.
Marcus Lee out of California is a real string bean. He’s 6’9″ or so, but there’s no meat on the bones at all. He has excellent hops and blocks shots very well, including a big one Saturday against Kuran Iverson right at the rim and another on Austin Nichols as well. But Marcus didn’t display any offensive game at all, scoring only one point in a game in which his team scored 138. He looks like he’ll be better defensively in college than Casey Sanders was, but his body type and his lack of offensive game reminds me of Sanders, including when he airballed a free throw.
When you watch Tyus Jones play, you can tell the Minnesota point guard is an outstanding player. No. Better than that. He’s a special player. But he didn’t have his best game on Saturday. His handle wasn’t as crisp as it usually is, and he never really fully got into the flow of the action. One thing I did note is that when he and Andrew Harrison went one-on-one on a couple of occasions, Tyus seemed to have a hard time staying in front of Harrison when he went to the hoop, but at the other end Harrison bodied up on Jones and made him take tougher shots on his drives. But I wouldn’t be concerned about Jones at all, especially given the setting. The kid is a flat-out stud ballplayer, and Duke would be very fortunate to get him.
Austin Nichols, 6’8″ out of Memphis, impressed me with his athleticism and his body. This kid is not skinny at all. He’s not rocked up to the degree of a Wayne Selden or Justise Winslow, but he has some mass to him, and he’s going to gain more weight this year. He can jump too, though, and he runs the floor very well. He has good hands and finishes well. He didn’t shoot many outside jumpers in this game — not many of the kids did — so I couldn’t evaluate that, but what I did see of his game, I liked.
Other quick takes:
I thought the best player on the floor was 6’7″ Aaron Gordon out of San Jose. This dude has it all. His handle is very smooth, he’s got a strong body, he can shoot it, and he jumps out of the gym. If there was a gym. He wowed the crowd with a series of spectacular dunks midway through this game, and scored his 25 points in a variety of ways. The whole crowd was talking about him all day.
Carolina signee Nate Britt has a real good handle, but his lefty shot is awkward. And he shoots too much, or at least did in this game.
I really like the Harrison brothers out of Texas. Andrew is the point guard, and he has a very smooth handle and gets to the rim at will. He reminded me a little of Will Avery, but maybe even a little quicker. Both brothers are highly athletic but seemed to have kind of a strange affect out there, like they weren’t that engaged. Well, Aaron was engaged enough to score 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting, so I guess he was paying enough attention to do that. Really, though, these twins are killer ballplayers.
Uncommiteds Jabari Bird out of California and Kuran Iverson are both long, athletic, and active, and they both jump very well. While he’s a couple of inches shorter, Iverson, with his body type and his style, reminds a little of Kevin Garnett. A little. [/private]
Few positions in sports are able to control the tempo of a game like a point guard can. For some, speed is the key, while others like to slow the game down completely. Players such as Tyus Jones have the ability to change the pace back and forth, constantly keeping the defender on his toes. Jones has a feel for the game that is far beyond his years.
For Jones the attention he receives is nothing new. His local university, Minnesota, has been recruiting him since the eighth grade, and he has built a great relationship with Tubby Smith and his staff.
The Apple Valley product won a Gold medal this summer with the U17 Team USA squad in Lithuania. He had the chance to share the experience with close friends Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor.
Jones gave BDN a few minutes to discuss his summer and his recruitment, among other topics.
BlueDevilNation: Take me over your summer and how you think it went.
Tyus Jones: I think the summer’s gone very well so far. I enjoyed [private] myself this summer. I had a blast this summer and traveling and everything like that and I think I played well. I think I improved. I don’t think I have any choice but to improve. You know, with the level of competition being as high as it is. So, you know, I enjoyed myself.
BDN: Do you feel you there is a difference in your role in AAU and high school?
TJ: You know, my AAU role, I think the games are different. Minnesota high school ball doesn’t have a shot clock so there’s not as many shots. Some teams will more slow it down and things like that but I think I still have a similar role. I got to score, but at the same time distribute the ball and get my teammates involved. So I think, my AAU team and high school team, I play a similar role.
BDN: You obviously had a great opportunity this summer to travel to the Canary Islands and Lithuania. How do you think that experience changed you?
TJ: It was great, it was great. You know the experience was unbelievable to go to a different country and see what their culture is like and how they do things over there. You know even the game of basketball over there, the fans, and just everything is different. So it was a great learning experience. But, you know, we had fun and played well over there.
BDN: Was there one major difference in the culture that you noticed?
TJ: All of their stuff is more compact. You know, the rooms are real small, restaurants and stores are all real small. You sit real close together. So everything was just compact.
BDN: Compared to here where most things are more open and spread out.
TJ: Yeah, exactly. We were able to walk everywhere there.
BDN: You also had a chance to watch the Team USA Men’s team when you got back. Can you go over that experience?
TJ: That was just crazy. To be in the room of the world’s best of the best right now. It didn’t even feel real. It was a great experience. We were very thankful that they gave us the opportunity to do that, and it was great to see even at that level how focused and intense those guys are.
BDN: What, if anything, did you notice about the players’ interaction with each other? Coaches?
TJ: One of the main things you notice is how much respect the players have for Coach K and the assistants. A lot of times you might think NBA players are on top, so they might not want to hear what coaches had to say, but they were tuned in, respectful and listened to anything they had to say. They were still learning the game, which is good to see.
BDN: Can you go over who’s recruiting you right now?
TJ: University of Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State, Baylor, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas.
BDN: Regarding Duke, obviously Coach K coaches the national team. Is that something that players either talk about to each other or take into heavy consideration?
TJ: I think everything goes into consideration. I think you look at every aspect of it, whether it be big or little. So it’s definitely something you look at and it could vary from player to player how big of an aspect that is from a college standpoint. But yeah, you definitely notice it.
BDN: Does it make any difference to you that he wasn’t able to be there to recruit in July?
TJ: No, I talked to him a little bit right before they left and I was still in contact with their assistant coaches. Obviously he had a much more important (laughs) job so you can’t really hold that against a coach or anything.
BDN: Tell me about the local school, Minnesota, that’s been recruiting you for awhile.
TJ: Oh I’ve got a good relationship with Tubby Smith and his staff. They’ve been recruiting me for awhile since I was an eighth grader, so we’ve gotten close since I’ve known them. They had a good run at the end of the year last year which is good to see.
BDN: Do you have any upcoming visits that are planned?
TJ: As of now I don’t have any officially planned out. I’m going to try and do some in the fall, I’m not sure to where.
BDN: Try and make a Midnight Madness event?
TJ: Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure to where though, but yeah I’m going to try and make some.
BDN: Reading a previous interview with you, I read that you said you wanted to become more vocal during the summer. Do you feel like you accomplished that?
TJ: I did, I did. It’s just something I think a point guard has to have, along with coaches think a point guard has to have. You have to be able to communicate. Communication on a team is key and the point guard being the leader out there on the floor, it starts with them. I tried to focus on that and I think my vocal leadership improved.