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.
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.
In today’s recruiting world, some recruits are targeted as early as the eighth grade. Those recruits largely have a target on their backs from the moment they enter the world of AAU and high school basketball. On the other hand, some recruits blossom later on in their high school careers and the attention can feel like a whirlwind. For Austin Nichols, his recruitment blew up as recently as April when Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to the 6’8" big man from Memphis.
Nichols, who described himself as more of a small forward/power forward, has recently cut his list down to six schools: Memphis, Auburn, Tennessee, Duke, Vanderbilt and Virginia. Nichols plans on taking all of his official visits at this point. His official visit to Duke has been set for [private] October 6, when he will also get a chance to take in the Duke vs. Virginia football game as well as meet with academic counsellors to see what his future at Duke could look like. This follows Duke's in-home visit with Austin, which has been set for September 10.
The lanky forward, who plays for NBA player Mike Miller’s AAU team M33M, ran the court extremely well at the practice this week at the Elite 24, helping him to many easy buckets. His large 7’2" wingspan helped him protect the paint, and he also got his giants paws on lots of loose balls.
Nichols was kind enough to chat with BDN and discuss his summer, his upcoming visits, Duke’s pitch, and more.
BlueDevilNation: Let’s start off with how your summer has been so far?
Austin Nichols: Really good. It’s been really busy. I just narrowed my list down to six. But yeah, it’s been crazy and a great experience for my last summer.
BDN: Could you just go over that list for the readers?
AN: Memphis, Tennessee, Auburn, Duke, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
BDN: Do you feel there is a difference in your roles in AAU and in high school ball?
AN: Yeah, there is a little bit of a difference. I guess you could say in AAU I have a little bit more freedom where I play the 3/4. In high school I’m mainly a 5. But, you know, it just teaches me to play different positions.
BDN: It must be an honor to be selected to the Elite 24 amongst all these talented players. What do you think of the gear that they hook you guys up with?
AN: Oh yeah, I love it. I’ve never actually worn Under Armour stuff, so for it to be my first time it’s great. I love it.
BDN: What’s your current height and weight?
AN: 6’8 and 210 pounds.
BDN: You’re going into your senior year at Briarcrest. Will there be any difference in the way you take on your role?
AN: Being more of a leader since I’m a senior now. And just coming out every night ready to play. Just try and lead my team to a state championship, you know, that’s the main goal.
BDN: What was it like to play with the pro’s last night?
AN: Yeah, I actually played with them, not against them. That was really great. Brandon Jennings, James Harden, Will Barton and those guys.
BDN: That sounds like fun.
AN: It was. It was great and a really good experience. I loved it. They’re hilarious. I had a lot of fun and a great experience.
BDN: What do you feel separates where you are from where they are?
AN: I mean there’s definitely a huge difference. I mean they’re pro’s and I’m only in high school, but time will tell once I get into college and take a few years, maybe I’ll get up to their level.
BDN: You said your role changes from high school to AAU. What do you view yourself as now that your game has evolved and gotten better? And where do you like to be on the court?
AN: About 15 feet and in. Yeah, I like to hit those jumpers, hook shots, I like to run the floor and offensive rebound, push the ball. I think I see myself as more of a 3/4.
BDN: Your recruitment really started blowing up over the last five months or so. How have you handled it?
AN: I just take it day by day and stay humble. Don’t let it get to my head and, you know, just have fun with it.
BDN: Can you just go over your experience of watching the Team USA practice in Vegas?
AN: Yeah, that was great. We were at the Lebron camp and we actually watched them practice at UNLV so that was great. And of course on TV I saw them just about every night they played.
BDN: What did you notice, if anything, between the interactions of the players and coaches?
AN: Camaraderie. They were really close to each other and intensity in practice. They try to bring it every day.
BDN: For your upcoming visits, is it a case where you are definitely taking all of them or could you perhaps decide early if it feels right?
AN: I’m planning on taking all of them. You know, Virginia I have the 8th of September, and I have an in-home visit with Duke on the 10th. On the 15th I’ll be going to Vanderbilt, and I’m not really sure other than that.
BDN: Speaking of Duke, you also have an official visit with them on October 6th. What are you looking for on that trip?
AN: Just, you know, to see how some of the players are practicing, see how the coaches play them. See the campus and everything and just see what the college life is like. I know how Coach K coaches and I’d like to see it in action.
BDN: Will you have a talk with the academic advisors?
AN: Yes, oh yes. In all my visits I’ll try and go meet with the academic part.
BDN: What’s their pitch been like to you?
AN: They said that one of the Plumlees will be gone and Ryan Kelly will be gone so maybe I can step in there and maybe play a pretty good bit as a freshman. But we’ll see. I have to get on campus and see what it’s like first and then we’ll go from there.
BDN: I’ve read a lot that you have a very big faith. Could you tell me how it helps you either on the court or off the court?
AN: Well on the court, I always like to walk through Him. Off the court, if I have no one to talk to I can just pray. You know, I like to keep my bible real close to me. I go to a Christian school and so we read it once in a while. Like I said, if I don`t have anybody to talk to I can just pray and tell him everything. He`s sort of my happy place I go to.
As the AAU season winds down, here is yet another BDN Premium Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update for our members. Are you ready for a few thousand words on the latest? If so, keep reading and be sure to join to get all the freshest info. In this edition I reveal some new names on the radar, give an in-depth recap of the Duke targets from the recent Nike Peach Jam, and more. Know that this is the perfect time to join BDN Premium in that we have recruiting analyst Andrew Slater reporting from Las Vegas all weekend long.
Let's start with a recap of Peach Jam happenings :
Semi Ojeleye - What you see is what you get, and that is consistent effort. Ojeleye has a college-ready body, and he uses it to his advantage. In Augusta, he struggled a bit from the outside, and never really found his rhythm, but nevertheless he is a versatile stat stuffer who guards multiple positions, and who plays team basketball, so what's not to like? Semi is a classy young man on the court and off, and is a perfect fit for the Blue Devils -- and some of the Duke staff feel it is just a matter of time with Ojeleye. I think he's a real Duke-type kid, and a player I would love to see in a Duke uniform.
Julius Randle - After his first game in Augusta, I was ready to proclaim him the top player in his class. He dominated that game, but in the rest of the tournament, though his overall numbers were strong, [private] I saw him miss an unusually large number of chippies. Part of that may be because, while he's a real physical specimen, he's not a great leaper. Also, he moved outside more than expected. He plays for a Texas Titans team that runs a three guard lineup, so it seemed unnecessary for him to handle the ball on the perimeter as much as he did. Randle is great with the ball in his hands, but he will not be used that way in college unless he goes to a team with little talent. Which is highly unlikely. When he takes it to the hole, he finishes with authority and when he draws fouls, he is a decent free throw shooter. When Randle does go down to the blocks, he dominates, and while I realize he is trying to broaden his game, in my opinion he needs to go down in the low post more often, as at this point on the AAU circuit he is a man among boys down there. He is also an intimidating defender down low.
I will say, however, that when Randle went against better competition, he struggled a bit. He has the propensity to be a little foul prone; he is like a bull in a china shop, almost inviting contact on every play, and when he's out of control, it gets him in trouble.
The gym was packed for each Titans game. Coach Capel missed only one, and in that instance Nate James was there in his stead. The highlight was the matchup with CIA Bounce and stud forward Andrew Wiggins, in a game for the ages. Wiggins got the better of Julius, but not by a wide margin. Randle struggled getting his shot off when he went one-on-one versus the ultra-athletic (though smaller) Wiggins; Randle also was saddled with two early fouls, which did not allow him to remain aggressive down the stretch, and ultimately he fouled out.
While Randle may have fallen to #2 or #3 in the imaginary rankings, he can reclaim the top spot by simply taking his team far in Orlando over the next several days. Make no mistake, Julius is a special talent, and is one of the four best players in high school basketball. He's going to be an immediate impact player at the college level. Randle, quite simply, is as likely as anyone to have a one-and-done type of freshman season.
Matt Jones - Matt has improved his game. He is better off the dribble, he is a good (but occasionally streaky) shooter and he now loves to mix it up on put-backs and other plays underneath. He has improved defensively as well; he checked Andrew Wiggins for much of their matchup and did a great job on him on the perimeter despite giving up some size. In fact, most of Wiggins's hoops came on angles and also off of steals and breakaways, meaning there were few times when he faced up Jones for a jump shot. Jones tried to carry his team after Randle fouled out, but a dribble off the opponent's foot derailed that. It was clear that he was the go-to guy when Randle was out. Matt erupted for a couple of 25+ point games during the event, and overall played very well.
Jahlil Okafor - There is always a game in each tournament when he is just not impressive, but he always bounces back. As I've mentioned before, Okafor continues to be plagued by the fact that his Mac Irvin teammates simply do not look for him in the blocks as they should. The result is they get dusted. It didn't help that Jabari Parker did not play for Mac this past week due to his foot injury, and that certainly changed the team's dynamic. It took them awhile to adjust as a team, but when they finally started going inside to Okafor, he answered the bell, shooting an efficient 7 of 8 from the field and grabbing 13 boards. In the team's remaining games, his teammates continued to feed him, and Okafor really responded with solid numbers the rest of the way. His body is still a work in progress -- it is truly frightening to think what he may look like once all the baby fat is off.
Marcus Lee - Two words. Foul prone. In three of his games, he landed on the bench with five fouls, and his numbers were down due to the reduced minutes. But when he did play, he was good, and he did save his best two games for late. But overall, I was disappointed by his play and that of his team, as California Supreme layed an egg, winning (if I'm not mistaken) but a single game. Lee is athletic and long, but tends to disappear for stretches. Personally, I think he hurt himself here, and he is not what I consider to be a super elite player. The staff watched some of his games, but to be honest, most of them were a bore.
Theo Pinson - Pinson is steady and he's been that all summer long, and in the process he has solidified himself as one of the very best players in his class. His jumper is ugly but it works for him, and his slashing ability is quite nice. He's getting better and is just starting to get a bit more serious in thinking about schools, which is good because he and his dad have been talking for a long time about having a lot of time to decide. Make no mistake, the offer to Justise Winslow did not go unnoticed by the Pinson camp. While there was some concern, the fact is that Pinson has visited Duke, played at Duke, been to games at Duke, and he stays in contact with Duke, so there are no real worries. I have to admit, it upsets me that I cannot share more about this, but the reason is the unwarranted knee-jerk reaction from some on the board who state that there has been no TLC for Theo from the staff, when in reality, that is hardly the case. Again, Pinson has just not been that serious about his recruitment. So why should Duke be all over him if he hasn't been that focused on it? Duke has done its due diligence; Theo has an offer and has had an offer, but it simply got lost in translation. Sure, he was excited by the UNC offer as well, but he and his dad know Duke features wings, so some members need to chill out a bit and try not to go into "sky is falling" mode when you really have only limited information on the details. Pinson likes Duke and Duke likes Pinson, and thus the offer. For now, enough said.
Justise Winslow - I love his game and I liked his demeanor during my interview, as he was respectful, he took his time with each response, and he said all the right things. Justise is another kid who would be a great fit at Duke, as his education truly matters to him. On the floor, in addition to a terrific skill set, he plays bigger than his size at times and he is ultra-athletic. He is also a leader. It's no surprise that so many analysts are raving about him now and all the top coaches are at every one of his games. It was truly ridiculous the lengths that some coaches went just to be seen by him. Anyhow, the Winslow offer is exciting; I would take him on the spot. But then again, I would take Pinson too. There is room for one of them, but not both, at Duke.
Tyus Jones - He is the best PG in his class. He is a winner. He is a team player. He is a scoring point, but an unselfish one, and can put his team on his back despite their lacking much of an inside presence. While Jones is not super athletic, his feel for the game is a thing of beauty. Tyus is also a young man of character and maturity, and he will make any school he attends an immediate Final Four contender. Lastly, every coach in America wants him. Did I mention his feel for the game? Give him the ball, surround him with talent, and take home a trophy. I hope Duke lands him.
Damien Jones - One assistant told me he was a long shot, so I did not pursue him initially. I sat with Johnny Dawkins and Mark Madsen for a game, and they love him -- it's not surprising that a good ballplayer and good student like Damien would draw interest from the likes of Duke and Stanford. Now Duke is a little more interested, so I am setting up an interview. He's rising in the rankings, but it's hard to rate his game because he plays on the Texas Titans with Matt Jones and Randle, and as one coach said, it's hard to figure out just how good anybody is on the Titans because of Randle. At this point Damien Jones is solid but not spectacular; he's a bit slender and needs to put on some muscle. But in a class with few quality bigs, he has suddenly become a hotter commodity. He told me he liked Duke a lot and that he would be open to them if they came calling. Duke is evaluating him and will take another look in Orlando.
Peach Jam tidbits - I had a pretty incredible seat in between Bill Self and Leonard Hamilton for the classic matchup between the Texas Titans and CIA Bounce. I cannot begin to tell you how entertaining this back-and-forth game was, and how good Andrew Wiggins looked. Several times he drew the "wow" from the coaches seated next to me. I had a good conversation with both. Self, of course, was checking out Julius Randle and joked several times about all the ACC guys on his trail, not forgetting that he lost Matt Jones to Duke. We discussed recruiting a bit, and he said that one of the challenges at Kansas is the lack of much local high school talent. Still, kind of hard to feel sorry for him. Hamilton warmed up and talked about last season as well as the future, and he seems happy that Syracuse and Pitt are coming into the league. He also feels that football needs to be better in order for hoops to be. Not sure I agree, but he's a good guy and a heck of a coach, one who is getting a lot out of the pool of players he works with. He seemed to have a quiet confidence that the rebuilding job this season would be ahead of where most media and fans might think. I sat with Coaches Capel and James as well. While I try not to talk about that kind of thing too much, it is always cool to be near any of the Duke staff and just hang out and chat. The gym was brutally cold and most coaches had on long sleeve shirts or jackets, including our guys who were both probably glad to get home and thaw out -- as was I. Capel had a nasty bug and sure enough I caught it the last day as well, and it has slowed my reporting. Thus the late update.
But the one thing that may tickle members is the musical chair show that Calipari and UK assistant Orlando Antigua played. Word is Kentucky covets a big-time PG. So the two strategically scoped out and sat on the corner seats with the partition in between them in back to back seats while PG prospects Joel Berry and Tyus Jones were playing on opposite courts. The two coaches would switch back and forth in an unapologetic fashion, literally pushing other coaches out of the way in an SRO crowd. Antigua nudged a Western Kentucky assistant to the side without even a look, much less an apology. They were by no means breaking any rules, but still. Not cool. Oh, and yes Virginia, Kentucky did start that rumor via Adam Zagoria, who sat beside me in the media area for most of the event. If you missed it, they used Zagoria to put it out there that Duke leads for Jabari Parker, probably trying to sabotage it somehow. As for Zagoria, he's a nice enough guy, but if you are being lured in by his sensationalist blog, you are not getting an accurate picture of what is really happening, for he is simply going for hits and hits alone, accuracy be darned. Coaches know which media members to go to when they want to propagandize, and Zagoria is but one of many. Other coaches leak a kid's secret on where he will go to school and ruin his big moment out of spite, even after the kid has the decency to make a courtesy call to show some respect to the coach who has lost out. And some coaches even leak when a kid verbals to them in an effort to keep him from changing his mind. You gotta love recruiting!
What happens in Vegas, goes on Twitter - Andrew is in Las Vegas and will be bouncing to various tournaments while following the nation's elite prospects. Be sure to follow our site updates and our Twitter feeds for the latest information. I have turned up a few names of kids catching the Blue Devils' eye, and one of those is Austin Grandstaff, a 2015 guard from Rowlett, Texas, whose father coaches his Team Texas AAU team. He will be visiting Duke. I originally kept that on the down low to avoid other local schools trying to get him on their campuses for an unofficial while he's in the area. Grandstaff's teammate Elijah Thomas caught my attention too, and that of Coach Capel as well. Thomas wasted no time retweeting our interview with him just moments ago. Duke is evaluating a lot of young talent in an effort to lay early groundwork. I will be checking in with Grayson Allen, who is a 2014 shooting guard that has contacted Duke and grew up rooting for the Blue Devils. He carries a 4.0 GPA and played in the Peach State Classic down the road from the Augusta in Aiken, SC this past weekend. He does not play for a big-time AAU program, so like Robert Hubbs, he has flown under the radar. I have two other names I need to keep on the down low until I can talk to them, but they will come out soon as well. Once we put names out there, everybody jumps on them.
Orlando - I elected not to go due to the overall lack of #Duke prospects as well as the cost. But Coach Capel is following the Texas Titans targets as well as a couple of other kids. As Andrew has mentioned, Nate James is in Vegas. We will surely be hearing a lot from the weekend as it's a loaded event out there, and Andrew is sure to do his usual excellent job of reporting.
A lot going on - I thank all members for their patience as we have been beyond busy. More members means more content, so encourage others to join. I am in the process of doing whatever it takes to make BDN better, and will leave no rock unturned as we move towards making the promised changes actually happen.
Pro Am - Tonight is apt to be the last night Duke kids play, so take note. I will let you know if something changes. Some have asked if Murphy will play. I think he'll be resting up after a long trip home, but we'll see.
ESPN U - will carry some games from Orlando, so check the listings.
Please note: I recently had to remove some information because the reaction to it was basically negativity and excessive paranoia. I have said it before and will again: do not read so much into every little thing you see and hear on the Internet, and don't believe every little thing either. After all, the reason you subscribe to BDN is to get accurate information that you can bank on.
Thanks to all of you who make up the Blue Devil Nation, and remember, Members, to check out Andrew Slater's work all weekend long. Let's go Devils! [/private]