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Unscathed: Through The Fire With Jabari Parker

 

Incoming Duke Freshman 6'8" Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater
Incoming Duke Freshman 6'8" Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

  "This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man."

-Polonius, Hamlet by William Shakespeare

 

 

With the upcoming Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon left as the only major event in the high school career of one of Chicago's most celebrated basketball players, Jabari Parker, the 6'8" 220 lb. wing from the Windy City's South Side, has managed to avoid the familiar pitfalls of contentment, sloth, greed, entitlement, and violence that have claimed the lives of many a schoolyard legend. Playing in America's third largest city, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, having a father who played in the NBA, and being touted before he ever suited up for the Simeon Wolverines, Parker has been under the microscope arguably as much as any high school basketball player in the age of social media. In an area of a city rife with gun violence, Parker has walked through the fire unscathed, earning the ear of Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emmanuel. Jabari has served as the prototype for how to remain dignified, spiritual, loyal, and a legitimate student-athlete in an age of adulation and scrutiny.

 

Everybody's All-American, Jabari Parker of Simeon Academy, Photo by Andrew Slater
Everybody's All-American, Jabari Parker of Simeon Academy, Photo by Andrew Slater

Over the past four years, Parker, a devout Mormon, has transformed his physique from a somewhat chubby wing into a lean, athletic hybrid-forward. The Chicago Bulls' young star, Derrick Rose, played for Coach Robert Smith at Simeon Career Academy and won a pair of state titles. Jabari followed in Rose's footsteps to the vocational school on Vincennes Avenue, but raised the bar for future wunderkinds by winning an Illinois State Title in each of his four years and compiling one hundred and eighteen wins, including a 93-6 record over his last three seasons. During the past two summers, Parker has teamed up with his friend 6'11" Jahlil Okafor, a fellow Chicagoland product and Duke recruit, to form a potent one-two punch for both the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program and, in international play, with USA Basketball, including earning a gold medal after winning the FIBA U-17 World Championship in Lithuania last July.

 

Among the lengthy list of accolades that Parker has received includes Mr. Basketball for Illinois (twice), Gatorade National Player of the Year, USA Basketball Player of the Year, Parade All-American, USA Today All-USA First Team member (twice), McDonald's All-American, and most recently, MaxPreps High School Player of the Year. If he continues on this trajectory, Jabari "J.P." Parker, a polished interviewer, will be able to turn down endorsement deals from companies looking to be associated with the hard-earned image of a clean-cut winner with a disarming smile.

 

Father and Son: Sonny Parker and Jabari Parker Catching a Game at Duke, Photo by Jeanne Slater
Father and Son: Sonny Parker and Jabari Parker Catching a Game at Duke, Photo by Jeanne Slater

Relaxed and focused, Jabari arrived in Gotham with a fresh hair cut and a sense of relief, something that this year's Jordan Game offered that the more celebrated McDonald's All-American Game, which was played less than twelve miles from his high school, could not, due to the palpable feeling of hometown pressure and dissection. Parker arrived with Coach Smith, who served as one of the three coaches for the West squad at the Nike event. The incoming Duke freshman was intrigued by playing for the first time in the Barclays Center, an NBA arena that was partially owned by and located in the borough, Brooklyn, of his favorite rapper, Jay-Z.

 

Although not quite Ringling Brothers and, perhaps, a little messier, the ecosphere of high-level high school basketball can feel like a bit of a circus, performing in a new town each weekend. This weekend, it included stops at Pier 36 for practices at Basketball City, Junior's for cheesecake, a red carpet meeting with director Spike Lee, performing in front of a Cy Young winner as well as an assortment of rap, R&B, and basketball stars, and concluded by a concert with the performer, Drake.

 

Michael Jordan, the iconic quinquagenarian figure who was born in the County of Kings, NY and raised in the coastal region of North Carolina before winning Championships at UNC-Chapel Hill and with the Chicago Bulls, was at the Barclays Center.  The event's namesake had to sit in a box far from the court and other celebrities, observing the next great Duke star score sixteen points, snatch seven caroms, and capture the MVP award for his squad, which won 102-98.

 

Duke Rising Freshmen, Jabari Parker and Matt Jones, at the Jordan Brand Classic Practice, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Rising Freshmen, Jabari Parker and Matt Jones, at the Jordan Brand Classic Practice, Photo by Andrew Slater

While this was largely the culmination of one chapter of Parker's life, the multi-day event enabled a pair of future roommates on Duke's East Campus, Matt Jones and Jabari Parker, who had merely crossed paths with one another, to lay down some kindle and truly get to know one another last Wednesday night at a Westin Hotel in Manhattan. Jones, a 6'4" guard from the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, said of Jabari, "He's great. He's so funny and it's amazing how down to earth he is, considering what kind of a player he is. I mean it's kind of shocking, but he's definitely a down to earth and humble kid."

 

Although he is now eighteen and has earned more than his fifteen minutes of fame, Jabari is largely the same young man that I encountered for the first time a few years ago: driven, open-minded, reflective, generous, and largely unencumbered by trappings of fame. His father, Sonny, said at an EYBL event last May in the Bay area of California that Jabari was "wired differently" than he was at that age and most young men are. It was a keen observation from a man that has helped many of Chicago's youth, but, hopefully, Jabari, like his favorite MC, has provided the blueprint for others to follow.

I spoke with Jabari Parker most recently at the Jordan Brand Classic.

 

What has the experience been like playing both here and at the McDonald's All-American game?

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I think the Jordan game, well, the experience so far, has been great. I get a little bit more time to focus on what I really want to do. So I feel like there are no distractions because I'm away from home. Really, I get the chance to have fun and I love NY, I love the whole atmosphere.  

I remember you've come here before. Do you do anything different in terms of approach? Play within the game, become more aggressive? How is your mentality different here than there?

I'm going to run up and down and feed my teammates as much as possible. I just want to use that style to build chemistry with other guys.

 

Including #2 on the team, Matt Jones?

Yeah, Matt, me and him, and I just want to get the win. Most importantly, play a team game and that's what it's going to take. 

It looks like you've gotten leaner.

I've been working out and I've gotten a little bit thinner, I'm staying away from weight room. I don't want to be as heavy running up and down the court. I'm trying to work on my footwork, I'm trying to trim down a bit, and really just work on my wind.

You just won your fourth straight state title. How is this different than the other ones?

It's just been a very good experience. The best so far out of my career. There was so much hard work and dedication that went into that whole thing. Just to do it for my high school and to do it for my team. I never tried to take it in vain. 

 

Did it feel different this time, knowing that this would be your last run, no matter what the outcome?

Yeah, and there was no coming back. All of the years of hard work, that was just the way I wanted to go out. But yeah, definitely, it felt different and it was in the back of my mind. Yup.

 

How would you characterize your senior year overall?

 It's been a great experience for me. I've been working hard, getting back to my game. It's given me a little bit more character and it helped build me into a stronger person and I think it was because I endured a lot. 

 

You've become more athletic and explosive. 

Oh, yeah. I think that came with maturing and slimming too. I'm a late bloomer. I'm, well, I really didn't start dunking until my sophomore year. 

Your father was a leaper. He was explosive.

I felt like, well, I didn't start dunking until my sophomore year, I wanted to become more explosive. 

 

I'm sure guys come up to you all of the time and ask you for advice. What is some advice that you often give to the younger kids who are looking to make it like you have so far? What do you tell them?

Just have good character, be a good person, and always want work. I think you need to have a good work ethic. And most importantly, probably, is to be hungry. That's pretty much it.

 

What are your expectations next year for the team and for you?

I want to win a National Championship. With the guys, I think that we can get it done. I think we can get it done with the group that we've got coming back.

 

Some great wings.  Have you thought about what uniform number you want to go with?

Yeah, I wanted either #1, #13, or something in the thirties. 

Those are your lucky numbers?

(laughs) Yeah.

 

I've got to start playing the lotto. In terms of position, are you looking to play the three, the four, or even the two?

Yeah, the two/three/four. 

 

Looking to take advantage of your versatility?

Yeah, exactly

 

Are you recruiting anybody?

(laughs) No, I'm not recruiting anybody. That's the coaches job. 

 

What did you and Matt Jones talk about at the hotel? He said you and he got to know each other.

Oh, just personal things. 

Oh, I'm sorry.

 (laughs) No, no, it's just a chance to get to know each other. We got a chance to know each other after playing with each other. We asked about our lives and our families, those kind of things. 

 

He's going to be your roommate next year?

We don't know yet, but I think so.

 

What has Coach K asked you to work on?

 Being a basketball player and having an aggressive instinct. I was approaching it that way, be aggressive. 

 

In terms of Brooklyn, I know you're a big Jay-Z fan. Is there any appeal about playing in Brooklyn?

It'll be a great chance to play in the arena where he's a part owner. It's a great foundation where basketball can be built up to, whatever that means. 

 

How do you assess your defense at this point?

It's getting better, but I need to keep focusing on it. 

 

Have you thought about what you'd like to study at Duke?

No, not yet. 

 

Where do you think Jahlil will go? Have you given him any advice? I'm sure you talk to him all of the time.

Yeah, I talk to him all of the time, but no, I just leave that up to him. It's a personal decision. What's on him is on him. 

 

What's your current size?

6'8", 235.

Have you been working on your diet and doing a lot of cardio?

Yeah, I've been trying to work on both things.

Has Derrick Rose given you any advice?

No, not really. 

 

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Post-game press conference:

 

 

This was your first time playing in the Barclays Center. What did you think of the arena and the atmosphere?

I was just glad that had it in New York again. The Mecca of basketball. It's always great playing here. It was a chance to get some exposure, playing in front of different types of people. It was a great experience overall.

 

Did you speak to Amar'e or Carmelo?

It was a great experience to play in front of both of them, particularly Melo. I don't really have a personal relationship with both of them, but, as soon as we saw them and they met the team, they gave us a lot of respect. It was an honor to play in front of them.

 

Does this kind of come full circle for you? You start off the year with an injury, then you get back healthy, and here you are, at the Jordan Brand, game winning MVP?

It's okay, but I don't want to take it in vain. I just want to win. That's the only thing on my mind. I really don't go for individual accolades, but, today, I was very grateful to get the opportunity to be in the right situation and the right place at the right time. Anybody on the team could've won, but it just came to me and I was grateful. 

 

What have you seen from the Canadian players both out here tonight and in international competition? Guys like Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis were out here tonight, but what do you think about this wave of Canadian players and, in particular, those from the Toronto area?

Well, basketball has become a really international game and it's played at a high level all over, but luckily America…really North America still has the best players. We compete, but we're all a family. It's no different from the United States. It's Canada. We're basically the same. They have great talent and they're real good people. Good players. 

(Brian Fitzsimmons)You mentioned this week that you're thinking about staying at Duke for more than one year. Is that the type of decision that will weigh on you in any way? Will it weigh on you over the course of the year?

Probably not. I just want to go to school and going to Duke is really special for me because people around my neighborhood …well, they probably wouldn't even have thought of getting an education and so I'm just looking forward to taking advantage of different opportunities where I can grow. I don't know where it's going to be, but I always keep my eyes open and my options.

 

What was it like in terms of the process of coming back from the injury and trying to get back into shape?

Well, I mean I feel good now, but it's been building. Thank God for my parents and the people around me. They've been helpful and supportive to me..trying to get me to go to rehab. Staying around and doing extra work. It's not all me. It's all of them. I felt like if I was going to go out there on the court then there were no excuses. If I couldn't play, then I should sit down.

 

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From an earlier event:

 

 

Were you glad to get the decision out of the way?

Oh, yeah, it made it easy. I didn't have to worry about anyone bothering me (laughs). It's been fun.

(Jim Halley) How much of a bother was it?

Well, it was necessary. That's probably the right word to say. It was necessary for me to go and talk with the coaches and get on the phone with them because you've got to do your research. You've got to do your research and figure out where you want to be for the next couple of years.

(Evan Daniels) Why Duke?

Well, you can't go wrong with Duke. I just felt that it was the perfect fit for me. They always win. It's a private school so I won't have any distractions. It's not too far away from home and that contributed to my decision.

Did you enjoy making the announcement? I'm sure kids were coming up to you all the time and asking you where you were going.

Oh, yeah, it was fun. It was a real fun experience. It was great because eI had all of my teammates, who supported me, around me for the announcement. It was great for them to be able to be on ESPN and share with me the experience.

(Jim Halley) The night before the announcement, did you sleep well or we're you up all night?

Oh, no, I slept good. I got like twelve hours of sleep. It really wasn't that big because I already had my decision made and all I needed to say was the words and be prepared. In terms of the media, it's been easy since then.

What are you trying to work on and get better at?

Rebounding, always being on the attack, and improving my athleticism. When you see guys like LeBron, Kobe, or KD (Kevin Durant), they're always on the attack and, well, I'm just trying to get like that. You know keeping the defender on his toes. 

 

When that shooting occurred after the game against Morgan Park, I was wondering if you worried at all about your safety or health?

Oh, no, I knew that I'd be fine because I'm always away from all of that stuff. I'm never really outside, but, for me, it was kind of emotional to see my city going through such turmoil and then everybody worrying about themselves. Then again, you know I have to do my job so that I can make it one day. I want to be a community activist and help people. 

 I know that you're friendly with Mayor Emmanuel. Out of curiosity, have you made any suggestions to him about gun violence or anything like that?

Oh, no, I honk he's got everything handled. You know it's just always like this. You know that a couple of years ago it was just like this.

You think it's just another wave.

Yeah, but every city has their problems and we're just going through ours now. We'll be good.

(Bryan Horowitz) You mentioned after you committed that your visit to Duke was actually your most boring visit and yet you committed to them because of the substance. There must've been something that you really liked about the school.

I think everything was necessary even though I didn't understand it at the time. At that time, I saw the campus and it's pretty nice. They've got great resources and a tremendous coaching staff that working twenty-four hours a day to help the players. Those were some great things. As a player, you always want to go to the Tournament and, at Duke, you're always going to the Tournament. They're always going to give you the opportunity and you just have to be able to handle resources from there. 

(Bryan Horowitz) Do you see yourself being able to step in next year and be a leader?

Well, I just think that I need to step in and be hungry. I need to be twice as hungry next year. Of course, I want to be a good teammate. That's all. I know it's going to be a little difficult accepting me as a player, but I'm going to learn my role and not try to step on anybody's toes.

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The Consigliere: Tom Konchalski on Duke Recruits

Legendary Scout Tom Konchalski
Legendary Scout Tom Konchalski, Photo by Kevin Armstrong

Tom Konchalski is a 6'6" sexagenarian who can walk into a basketball gym from South Side of Chicago to Harlem and South Florida to Maine and be enthusiastically greeted by coaches at all levels, anxious players, and grateful parents. Modest, focused, loyal, industrious, pious, honest, and generous, Mr. Konchalski embodies all of the qualities that his heroes, Mother Theresa and C.S. Lewis, championed.

For the better part of five decades, the Queens, NY native has analyzed recruits, coached players, and advised coaches, parents, Athletic Directors, and players. A devout Catholic, Mr. Konchalski has prayed on the behalf of everyone from the '69 Mets to Coach Jack Curran, his high school gym teacher and future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who passed away last month at the age of 82.

A consummate workaholic, Mr. Konchalski travels via public transportation and the generosity of his legions of friends to observe recruits on an almost daily basis with the ferocity of a hungry lion eying cheetahs. His omnipresent yellow legal pads and Bic Cristal pens have been the tools of choice to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of everyone from LeBron James as a freshman to seniors looking to catch on at a Division-III college. In a world of three-minute YouTube highlight videos misconstrued as scouting tapes and fly-by-night internet recruiting charlatans looking to broker players, Mr. Konchalski is refreshingly anachronistic.

Three days ago, a pair of his friends, Bernard King, who invited Mr. Konchalski to join him on his official trip to the University of Tennessee, and Rick Pitino, who worked closely with Mr. Konchalski as a counselor at the Five Star Basketball Camps, were announced as inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Author John Feinstein '78 once wrote that Konchalski, the publisher and editor of the HSBI Report, was "the last honest man in the gym," but the statement doesn't quite convey all that he has done for this game and the people involved in it at all levels.

Recently, Mr. Konchalski, a friend and mentor, gave his assessment of the 2013 Duke commitments and some Blue Devil recruits.

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Duke Incoming Freshman Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Incoming Freshman Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Jabari Parker: Well, obviously he has a great combination of size, skills, athleticism, and savvy. To proclaim him the best player since LeBron as Sports Illustrated did last year is that it raises the one question about him that I have which is whether or not he can be an assassin. LeBron was an assassin. Kobe was an assassin. I think he was better as a junior than Kobe was. I saw Kobe a lot. Kobe was always an assassin. Obviously, he has great skill, size, and athleticism. He's productive and has a very mature understanding of the game. He's also got very good character and he's coachable.  He's thinking about staying two or three years. It would be a wonderful thing if he did. It would be a breath of fresh air. It would be a tremendous thing for college basketball if he did. I would say the closest player to him at Duke would be Grant Hill because they're forwards, they're both big forwards. Eventually, he's going to be a three-man. He's a hybrid forward right now. He's closer to being a three-men offensively than he is being a three-man defensively. He's just a forward right now, a hybrid forward, that's got to tighten his body.

I'll tell you what he did. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he really tightened his body. He lowered his percentage of body fat. He became much more athletic and much more explosive. He's got to continue to streamline his body, maybe see a nutritionist, and get on an exercise regimen. I guess the closest comparison would be Grant Hill although Grant Hill was a different physical type, but overall, Grant Hill is the closest comparison in terms of Duke players.

The one reservation I have about Jabari...here's a guy who has an obviously high basketball IQ. When he's in shape, he has good athletic ability. He had improved his athletic ability towards the end of his sophomore year and towards the beginning of his junior year and he has skill. The one reservation that I had was whether he had a killer's instinct.  I didn't know if he's an assassin. He's developed more of a disposition to take over games and to be assertive in the last year.  Now, that's something that I think runs contrary to his nature. He's got to overcome his off-the-court temperament. He's got to be bipolar or sort of a schizophrenic to be a good basketball player. You have to be a lot meaner on the court than you are off, but I think he's making strides in terms of his aggressiveness and assertiveness and willingness to take over games, not to defer to other teammates and whatever..to be the go-to guy..and that's what he's got to do because I think Kobe always had it and LeBron always had it, but, for the most part, it's something that you're born with..that kind of toughness and aggressiveness and wanting to really take over games. Crush the opponent and when they're down to sort of put your foot on the neck and that sort of thing. And I think he's made strides in that regard. I hope he gives serious thought when he goes there not to be an automatic one-and-done. Not that it may not happen, but he should have an open mind in that respect.

Semi Ojeleye, Photo by Andrew Slater
Incoming Duke Freshman Semi Ojeleye, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Semi Ojeleye: Semi Ojeleye..his win or strength is his versatility. He can defend multiple positions. Now, I think he's going to be even more valuable to them on the defensive end of the court. He's an inside-outside player who I really liked. He plays a lot much more for result rather than effect. He's not a guy who goes out there to showcase his different skill sets. He'll step out and hit the three, he'll handle the ball, he'll play a little bit on the perimeter, and he can go inside and bang a little bit too and generate some points inside. He's really..I'll tell you what he does..he plays quick. I really think he's going to be a terrific Duke player because I think it's more likely that he's going to be a three or four year player. He'll really stay around and help them on the defensive end and he can guard the four-man, he can guard the three-man, even at times be able to guard a two. I really think he's a major recruit for them. I hadn't really paid attention to him at the Boo Williams, but you had mentioned him and I didn't really remember him, but when I saw him down at the Peach Jam, I really, really liked him.

Duke Recruit Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Matt Jones: Matt Jones has a very unorthodox shot. He's a bit streaky as a three-point shooter. He's long and lean, he's got to get a little bit stronger. He's a big guard who I think has growth potential as he gets stronger and shoots the ball. You know, he doesn't have good rotation on his shot. He has an awkward shot, but it puts the ball in the basket. For the most part, it's been effective for him. He's another guy who's going to be a three or four year player with them. Hopefully, Jabari will stay for more than one year and if you get a Jabari, you've got to take him, but you've got to build the program more around guys that are going to be there three or four years. You've got to have balance.

 Jahlil Okafor: Jahlil is a guy who has terrific skill for a big guy and another guy who is a very intelligent person like Jabari. And, you know, he's not an explosive athlete, you know he's not a bad athlete and he runs okay. Obviously, I think he can really streamline his body and, when he gets to college, people are going to get him into the weight room. He's going to do an awful lot of work. His percentage of body fat with drop dramatically, but he has terrific hands and really good skills for a post player. You know that he can step out, shoot the elbow jumper, he's a good passer, he can pass out of the post, and he's not quick-reacting to the ball, he's not quick moving laterally to the ball in the lane around the basket. That's what I think he's got to work on- his body and also his lateral movement. But just in terms of overall, he has a big strong frame, he has a superior basketball IQ for a big man. Usually big, young guys don't understand the game as well as he does. He's very intelligent and, you know, another nice guy who can be, you know, because of his size, he can be down the road, you know, I'm not saying he's more skilled than Jabari Parker, but because he's 6'10", 260 or 270 or whatever he is, I think he can be an even greater influence on the game than Jabari Parker. I would say he's about 6'10", they list him at 6'11". I think he's a legitimate 6'10" when I stand next to him. He's a major weapon both on the high-post and the low-box. He can be a major, major factor in college. On the defensive end, I don't think he's as much of a shot-blocker. He impacts the game through intelligent positioning.

Quickness is comprised of two components. It has a physical and an extra-physical component. The physical component is just how naturally quick you are. The extra-physical component is, first of all, mental preparation and correct technique. You could be quicker just by being mentally prepared and alert. And the other part using correct technique, but I think he's a guy, I think any big guy, ought to live with a jump rope. Both those guys, in particular, should live with jump ropes. They both have the kind of bodies where they can put on weight and where, if they're not careful, but I think both of them should live with it as their daily routine for both of those guys. They're both guys who are extremely intelligent and have very good skill and they both, I think, can be really dominating players at the college level if they stay around long enough and possibly dominating players at the level beyond that. I think at the college level, Okafor is a center. He's a center because he's a force. If a college coach can fill the middle of his lineup with a point guard, a leader, someone who's going to run the team and with a quality post-man like that, well, then that's the team. Everyone wants that one position down...Fives want to be fours, fours want to be threes, threes want to be twos, twos want to be ones, and ones probably want to coach the team. But if you look at even a great team, they're teams that have dominating big men and great guards. The wings fill in around those players, but that's what you need. You need someone that's going to run the team and organize the floor, hopefully contain the point guard at the other end of the court. Hopefully contain the ball at the other end of the court. Stop dribble penetration from their point guard and you need a big guy in the post. You need to be able to score easy baskets.  And even the thing is, even as 3 point arc-oriented as most teams are and as many college teams are, and how Duke has become increasingly, still, the more post-offense presence you have, forget about even on the defensive end, the more open 3's that show up. Most 3-point shots are shot off of inside-out action or relocation. Things like that. Just in terms of the half-court, the more you can draw the defense in, the more you can open up the spot-up outside shooters. In the past, Duke sometimes has become too reliant on that and not as much of an interior offensive presence. Both of those guys are going to be terrific players.

 Trey Lyles: Trey Lyles is a 6'9" kid with good skill, good body, and the guy who has a real good feel for the game. He has a high court

Duke Recruit Trey Lyles
Duke Recruit Trey Lyles

IQ. Usually that's a term that's more applied to perimeter players. When you talk about guards..especially point guards...in terms of high court IQ, but he plays for result rather than effect and he's very efficient. You know he can score. He doesn't need to have the ball on the floor in order to score, although he can put the ball on the floor some from the high post. But the main thing is that he's very efficient. He does an awful lot offensively without the dribble. And he's a guy who, you know, can score. Can score from the high post and down in the low box. When he went to Basketball Canada when they had their camp at the end of the summer and they had Steve Nash, who's the Jerry Colangelo of operations of Basketball Canada right now, they had all of their guys...Jamaal Magloire came in to work with the big guys and everyone was there and they had all very good young players. Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo, then they had Andrew Wiggins, and Tyler Ennis, and Trey Lyles. Trey Lyles, from what my brother told me, is as impressive as any player that they had in their program.  They are really, really high on him. When they played down in South America in FIBA Tournament, you know, he had a very good tournament. When he came back, people in Basketball Canada are as high on him as they are on Andrew Wiggins. He doesn't have quite the athleticism that Andrew Wiggins has, but what really, I think, makes him different is his understanding of the game and his efficiency for a big guy. Usually, big young guys aren't as..well, they don't have the feel for the game that he does and they don't play with the degree of efficiency with which he plays.

Duke Recruit Tyus Jones, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Tyus Jones, Photo by Andrew Slater

 

 

Tyus Jones: He's a point guard, combination guard, a high scorer. He can handle the ball, control the tempo, he plays at different

speeds. He's very good. He has a very good tempo to his game. He has a very good sense of ball security with his game.  He shoots the ball extremely well.

 

 

 

 

Kevon Looney: He has size. He was 6'7", 6'8" when I saw him in Chicago. He can play on the

Duke Recruit Kevon Looney, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Kevon Looney, Photo by Andrew Slater

perimeter and in the low-post, he can defend. He's probably a better low-post defender than he is a perimeter defender right now.  Well, certain players he can defend on the perimeter. He's got a nice stroke, he sees the floor well, he's a good passer. I really think he can be an elite level player. Now, I've only seen him once. I can't think of any more skilled power wing players in the class of 2014.  In terms of position, assuming he grows, I think he's more of a perimeter player..because I think at that size with his skill set, it makes him more valuable.

 

 

Duke Recruit Theo Pinson, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Theo Pinson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Theo Pinson: Pinson is a big kid with a lot of quickness. He's got good skill level, he can shoot the ball, he handles the ball well, he uses his great athleticism to defend multiple positions. I don't think he's a knock-down shooter, but he's pretty good.

 

 

Duke Recruit, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit, Photo by Andrew Slater

Justice Winslow:  He's a lefty from Houston Hoops. He's an intense competitor. He's versatile. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths. He's strong enough and athletic enough to post and score inside. He can rebound. I don't think he's much of a three-point threat right now, but he has a good mid-range game. He's a pretty good passer. He's a kid that's very strong, great body, and he really uses his strength to post-up in match-ups against others. He's really a very difficult matchup because of his versatility and his range. He's also very skilled with the ball. He can get to the basket. He's a very difficult matchup because of his strength, his quickness, and his ability to get the ball to the basket. He really plays hard. He's a very intense competitor.

 

 

 

Malachi Richardson, Photo by Andrew Slater
Malachi Richardson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Malachi Richardson: People talk about him being a second guard, but I don't really think that he quite is now. He can shoot the three and he's a very good three-point shooter, but he's, you know, a big wing who's probably more of a 3/2 than a 2/3 right now. He's a guy who has a great touch, who has a lot of athletic ability, and has a good body. You know he's grown an inch since his freshman year at Trenton Catholic Academy and he's got a lot of potential. If he wants to be a two guard, he's got to be a little better playing off of the dribble, a little better playing with the ball, and he's got to work awfully hard at guarding a two guard because, right now, his better defensive nature is as a three man. What he is right now is a skilled wing with good size and a lot of athleticism..and at an early age, in terms of only being a sophomore, so he has an awful lot of potential.

 

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6'3" Isaiah "Boogie" Briscoe, Photo by Andrew Slater

Isaiah Briscoe: Well, I mean, he played terrific against St. Anthony's and didn't play like a sophomore. He was very assertive, he was very aggressive, looking to take the ball to the basket, and really forced the issue. Here's a guy who has size, can shoot the ball, he has aggressiveness, he is not intimidated at all. The one thing here, I think, about him is that he's got to be very careful about his body. It's going to be very imperative for him to get on a good diet and to stay in as good a condition as he possibly can because he has the kind of body type where he can put weight on. He's a decent athlete, but he's not a great athlete. He's not a tapered athlete. He's not someone that when you look at him you think "athlete". When you look at him, you see someone who is a scorer and a guy who scores primarily on his aggressiveness, which is based on his temperament. He has a scorer's temperament. He doesn't defer to anyone. He's ready to play against the best teams in the country right now. He won't be intimidated. He won't back down.

He's about 6'3". I don't think he's really a lead guard. I think he's a combination guard right now, but he can handle the ball. You know what they try to do. They try to take anyone who can dribble the ball three times without kicking it into the seventh row, they try to call him a point guard or a lead guard. That's not it at all because, first of all, not only do you have skill with the ball, but it's more of an attitude. It's more of a temperament, it's more of a disposition to try to make other people better, and really, you know, a real good leader. A real point guard or a real lead guard is someone who thinks, he probably thinks pass before he thinks shot and I think that's not the case with Isaiah. You know, he's a guy who can handle the ball and will make plays for some other people, but his first instinct is to look to score himself. Almost by definition, there are more piano carriers than there are piano players, so I mean, anyone that can score like him, you don't want to take that away from them. You don't want to domesticate him too much and it's easier to find someone to set the table than to find someone that will put the ball in the basket. Coach Taylor is probably going to give him the opportunity to display with the ball in his hands next year, but I don't think there are many synthetic point guards or lead guards. I think it's more something that you're born with. Leadership and temperament are what makes a true point guard. [/private]

BDN’s Duke Basketball Notebook

RCP_2850Duke finally gets a break

I will be th first to admit that I expected a bit more from last nights Duke win over Virginia Tech. Perhaps I expected too much in that Duke was celebrating the last game in Cameron for what has been amazing careers for Mason Plumlee. Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. A sportswriter friend of mine said he thought it would be a trap game, while i expected a blowout, but we got something sort of in between. Duke was only six points well into the second half before they hit the gas and coasted to an 85-57 win but their performance was at times mildly and surprisingly uninspired. But then came the reality that this was indeed a trap game where they were playing this game just hours after and emotional home win over Miami in a game the nation seemd to be watching per TV ratings released today. I really think this Duke team was a bit spent with the mental aspects of the game and after all, UNC lies ahead and they have not lost since the last time they faced Duke and they deserve some attention and a ranking at this point. Anyhow, they now know whwne they are playing having sewed up the second seed in the ACC Tournament and the team took today off before prepping for UNC on Thursday. They should be revitalized as a team and will likely leave it on the court Saturday evening in Chapel Hill knowing they have a six day break before the ACC Tournament begins.

39Kelly continues to prove his value

Of the three senior day speeches, Kellys was by far the best in my humble opinion if for no other reason than he propped his parents and even his girlfriend. There were times when Kelly looked exhausted, yet he pushed through fatigue to score a critical 18 points but that killed his average. I mean in the last two games since his return he is only averaging 27 ppg now and I hope you can detect the tongue in cheek sarcasm. Anyhow, Kelly is once again allowing for more opportunities in that he stretches the court with his ability to hit the three point shot and his defense is very, very underrated. Too bad Kelly didn't play all season long for he would likely be getting some first place votes for All ACC this coming Sunday evening. I am still in awe of his performance against Miami where he dropped 36 points. In short, there are not enough words to properly describe that performance and it's not like we can stop time long enough for it to come to us.

It's the end of the world as we know it

If you are keeping up with the latest news, it looks as if Notre Dame could join the league next season alongside Pitt and Syracuse. I have already warned people that ACC Tournament tickets will once again be a most coveted thing once the other teams are in, so this is the last season we will go down a familiar path with the tournament. Winning the regular season will be a bear of a task moving forward and yes indeed, the ACC can truly be called a basketball conference again, especially once Louisville comes in. Just take a moment to imagine some of the ACC matchups next season. And for Duke, they'll be a very talented but young team.

37Mason still has a shot at ACC Player of the Year

Mason Plumlee has not had his best games of late. In fact, many felt liek he has played himself out of the ACC POY race in the last three games but take him away from Duke and how well would they have done? And unlike, say, Erick Green, there are a lot of other capable players to take shots away from him on the Duke team. Shane Larkin is making a strong run for the award and me personally? I will wait to see how the last two games shake out for I still see it as a close call. But make no mistake, Mason needs a monster game against North Carolina for the aforementioned to happen. My mailbox is full of ACC SID's pushing their players and for me past three players on first team, nothing is especially clear. That's why i need to see how the teams finish and it will go down to the midnight hour before my votes are turned in.

I will truly miss our seniors

People can accuse me of being a homer all they want, but Duke really recruits classy young men with great character. I continue to b impressed with the type of players the program brings in and as most of you know I am very active on the recruiting trail. This allows me to gt to know prospects or players before they ever set foot on campus if they do at all and sometimes you meet their parents as well. I will sit down later and talk of all the seniors but for now they seem to have more work to do and they hinted as such last evening during senior speeches, but I will especially miss Mason and Ryan who I have known since they were barely old enough to drive. Each of them are high quality young men with bright futures and it was a pleasure to have watched them grow and get to know the parents who raised such fine young citizens.

Tidbits

Coach K won his 401stcareer ACC game and I can honestly say that I have been around for all of them. What a ride and it's not over! Duke won it's fifth straight game over a top 5 opponent over Miami this past week. Duke will play in the 7:00 game next Friday in the ACC Tournament and most folks are hoping to stay in the east in the NCAA Tournament. Duke went undefeated in Cameron this season and the Blue Devils remain the only team in the AP, Coaches polls, the NCAA RPI and strength of schedule.

Anthony Boone is ready for the challenges ahead

Image by Blue Devil Nation
Image by Blue Devil Nation

Spring is in the air around Wallace Wade Stadium as football practice begins for the 2013 season.  One of the things sure to grab more than a little attention this spring is the battle at quarterback.  Anthony Boone is currently penciled in as the Duke starter but spirited practices lie ahead and he'll have to earn his job.  During todays' press conference at Duke, David Cutcliffe said that Boone was a natural born leader and that he felt he adjusted well in the opening practice.  Blue Devil Nation caught up with Boone for the following video interview -

Book of Malachi: The Malachi Richardson Interview

6'5" Malachi Richardson of Roselle Catholic, Photo by Andrew Slater
6'5" Malachi Richardson of Roselle Catholic (NJ), Photo by Andrew Slater

Named after the prophet who wrote the last Book of the Old Testament, 6'5" 195 lb wing Malachi Richardson is one of the top wing prospects in the class of 2015. Noted for his three-point shooting prowess, the sophomore guard, given the nickname "Shoota," has expanded his game by scoring more off of the dribble, rebounding better, and an improved commitment to defense.

After a solid freshman campaign at Trenton Catholic, the Hamilton, NJ native decided to join a talented Roselle Catholic squad (19-5) with, at least, four high-major players, including 6'8" Syracuse-bound Tyler Roberson, Richardson has more than carved out his niche, averaging more than fourteen points, five rebounds, and four assists per game. Although affectionately given the nickname "Country" because of his slightly less urban, Central Jersey roots, Richardson has assimilated well into his new school and lives an hour's drive north in nearby East Orange, NJ. This past October, he and his 5'11 Roselle Catholic teammate Asante Gist, a freshman, were among the forty-six players selected nationally to head to Colorado Springs, CO to participate in USA Basketball's Men's Developmental National Team Mini-Camp.

Malachi, which translates loosely as "My messenger" in Hebrew, credits his mother, who was a point guard at Virginia State, and grandparents for instilling in him the importance of doing well in school. As a result, he's been an honor roll student throughout high school.

The self-professed Kobe Bryant fan has already accumulated eight formal scholarship offers, including Ohio State, Indiana, Miami, Rutgers, and most recently Southern Methodist, and generated interested from Syracuse, North Carolina and recently Duke University. Coach Chris Collins of Duke, who has successfully recruited New Jersey for more than a decade, called Coach Dave Boff of Roselle Catholic to speak with him about the Blue Devils' interest in the sophomore wing.

Recently, Richardson felt some lingering discomfort in his legs and was sidelined for what was feared to be, at best, shin splints, but an MRI has cleared him to play as the Roselle Catholic Lions are poised to make a playoff run in the New Jersey state tournament and eventually for Nike's Team Final on the AAU circuit.

After a recent game, Coach Dave Boff spoke about Malachi Richardson, the person and player. "Malachi is one of the best players in the country in his grade for a reason. He does a lot of things well: fantastic shooter, great passer, makes his teammates better, and, you know, as a person, he's a fantastic kid. He's an honor roll student and very excited about his grades and works hard on his grades. He's a very good teammate and really just does all of the things that we ask of our players. He's very coachable and, like all young kids, he has his moments where you wish he would be a little bit more focused, but overall he's really just a pleasure to coach and a fantastic teammate."

On things that Coach Boff would like to work with Malachi on in the coming years: "The things that I'm going to talk to him about in the offseason are continuing to improve his on-the-ball and off-the-ball defense, which I think all kids can do that. That's a staple for us. Then, in terms of his offensive game, I think he needs to be able to break people down off of the dribble a little bit more. We're going to work with him over the summer on getting his shots against different types of people. As far as his overall game, I think he does a lot more now, but I also think he's only scratched the surface of the things that he can do offensively. You know, right now, I'd even like to see him get in the post and use his strength and his size. That's something that he doesn't do as often as I'd like to see. So, as talented as he is and as good as he is, there are some things that I think we can do to take him to the next level."

"I think he's a two, a straight two, no matter how tall he gets. I think he's hopefully going to grow a couple of more inches. I think he's a straight two man no matter what because he shoots it so well. Like I said, he can make plays off of the bounce and those are some things that we'll work on in the offseason."

"He's also working on his strength and conditioning, which all of our kids do. You know there are some that work on it harder than others, but being stronger and quicker makes guys not only player better, but have more confidence. When you know that you're stronger than the guy that you're playing against, you take to the court with a lot more confidence on both ends of the court."

Roselle Catholic Coach Dave Boff on his conversation with Coach Chris Collins about Duke University: "We kind of thought that he was a kid that might be able to fit in to the type of style that they play and, you know, Coach Collins seems to agree with us. He's going to come and watch him play a couple of times and hopefully Coach Krzyzewski will come up and watch him play, but I think everyone looks at him and thinks he can play in a Duke style of system. He's unselfish, he shoots it, he's got good length, he's got good strength. He does a lot of things that it seems, you know, watching them on TV that those kids do well. He can shoot the three, plays well in transition. He also now, you know, he's a part of USA Basketball, as is Asante Gist, another player on our team. I think that with how hard Coach Krzyzewski has worked to take USA Basketball with the types of kids I think it says a lot. I think it also says a lot about our program that a couple of our kids are able to be in the USA Basketball program. I think that they are trying to get kids into USA Basketball that are not only great players, but good people and good students. With Malachi, he certainly fits that mode."

Legendary scout Tom Konchalski of HSBI Report on 6'5" Malachi Richardson: "People talk about him being a second guard, but I don't really think that he quite is now. He can shoot the three and he's a very good three-point shooter, but he's, you know, a big wing who's probably more of a 3/2 than a 2/3 right now. He's a guy who has a great touch, who has a lot of athletic ability, and has a good body. You know he's grown an inch since his freshman year at Trenton Catholic Academy and he's got a lot of potential. If he wants to be a two guard, he's got to be a little better playing off of the dribble, a little better playing with the ball, and he's got to work awfully hard at guarding a two guard because, right now, his better defensive nature is as a three man. What he is right now is a skilled wing with good size and a lot of athleticism..and at an early age, in terms of only being a sophomore, so he has an awful lot of potential."

After a pair of recent games, I spoke with Malachi Richardson.

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BDN:Duke has recently expressed interest in you.

Malachi Richardson: I haven't really talked to them yet, but my coaches have gotten in touch with them recently. So, I really can't say too much yet about how interested they are in me. I'm sorry.

What do you know about their program and about Coach K?

Coach K, I mean, he's the Man! (laughs) I know Kyrie. He's one of the best players. He's just tremendous. I mean they've got a great program and have been good for a long time. They've also had a lot of great players that have made it to the NBA.

You're still just a sophomore, but recruitments tend to vary a lot. You've already earned some scholarship offers, but what's the latest in your recruitment and how do you feel about the process overall?

Well, I've been receiving a lot of interest from a lot of schools, but I had seven offers from Indiana, Ohio State, Miami, Rutgers, Seton Hall, James Madison, and Cincinnati. Then, recently, I just got an offer from SMU.

Oh, congratulations.

Thank you.

That's an impressive list of offers. In terms of your overall timeline, where do you feel that you are in the process? Is it still early?

Yeah, it's still early.

When you played in that tournament in Columbus, I believe that you visited Ohio State, but which schools have you visited so far and do you have any plans to visit any in the near future?

Oh, I've visited Ohio State, Rutgers, and Seton Hall so far.

What have you seen, so far, as they benefit of coming to Roselle Catholic from Trenton?

Oh, it's been big. It's very different…living in North Jersey. They call me "Country" because it's so different and I'm from down there. 

Oh, really, I thought "Shoota" was your nickname. These guys want to come up with new ones.

(laughs) No, these guys want to call me "Country" up here.

There goes my research. What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses right now?

I'd say that rebounding is one of my weaknesses. Also, my defense. My strength is definitely my jump shot, but I just want to become a total player though so. 

Do you feel like you've gotten better off of the bounce, so to speak?

Yeah, definitely, a lot better.

What are you working on most right now?

Everything. I'm just trying to improve across the board.

Is there a player that you try to model your game after?

A little bit after Paul Pierce and a little bit after Ray Allen

I've heard the Ray Allen comparison a couple of times.

(laughs) Yeah, well..

I was actually looking at some of the basketball diaries that you had written for a site when you were younger and you always signed off as Malachi "Shoota" Richardson. Did that name stick?

(laughs) Yeah, a little bit.

Well, you can still shoot it. Those were actually useful for background material.

Thanks.

In one of the entries, you were writing about how your grandparents would give you a little money if you made the honor roll. 

Oh, yeah, yeah. (laughs)

Are you still a good student?

Oh, yeah, I made honor roll. I had five As and two Bs.

Well, that's good to hear. I know that you were part of USA Basketball's developmental team this past October?

It was a great experience actually. Just being around a great bunch of players and coaches. Just being able to play against the best competition in the country.

Now that I think about it, how was playing in the altitude in Colorado? I've heard other guys talking about having to adjust very quickly and experiencing an almost choking feeling during sprints.

(Laughs) Oh, yeah, that was definitely tough. It was definitely tough. Just walking up to the gym was tiresome. 

Right, and how was the competition? Was it the best you've faced so far?

Oh, it was great. I really feel like it got me prepared for a lot of things, coming up for the high school season and the AAU season. It was an honor.

I know that your taller than me, but what's your current size? 

(laughs) I'm 6'5" and around 195 right now.

Did you grow up a fan of any team, either pro or college?

Oh, I'm a Kobe fan. So, yeah, I'm a Lakers fan.

Check out the kicks (Kobe Bryant sneakers). 

(laughs) Smart man.

(laughs) Well, they're definitely comfortable. By the way, what do you like to do in your free time, if you have any?

Oh, I just like to play ball. (laughs) That's what I do. 

Who do you turn to for guidance? I assume that your grandparents are, at least, among the people that you turn to..

Yeah, my grandparents and my mother. Those are the ones that I count on.

This is more of a recruiting question, but what are you looking for in a college and  a college program, whenever you do decide?

Being able to graduate early. Instead of having to go for four years, I'd like to try to graduate in three. That's something that I'll definitely be looking for.

What about distance, conference, etc.?

Distance isn't an issue, but I'd like to compete in a good conference. So, I'd probably say the Big East, ACC or the Big Ten. But, yeah, distance..I don't see that being a factor at all. 

What would you like the audience to know about you as a person?

That I like to have fun.

Out of curiosity, how did you get the name Malachi?

Oh, it's biblical.

Do you have a little update on your shin injury? I heard "shin splints."

(laughs) Well, I can't really say too much about the shin yet. I don't really know yet, but I'm going to have an MRI.

How long have you had it?

It's been a nagging injury for about a month or so.

I've heard people getting or, rather, suffering from them, but thankfully never had one. Will you be out for a while?

No, probably or hopefully just one game and be back.

So, it's not that bad?

No, it's not that rough. We're just being careful.

Is this your first real injury, if you will?

Yeah, you could say that. I mean the first time I've ever missed a game or anything like that for school.

I didn't ask you before, but do you do any strength and conditioning at this point?

Yes, I've been working out and training over at Adrenaline Sports. Just trying to build up my upper-body.

Another very talented player, who was part of that USA Basketball mini-camp, Tyus Battle, said he was going to be playing for Team Final this upcoming AAU season, will you be back with them? Have you guys ever played together?

Yes, I'll be playing with Team Final this year too. Oh, and I have played with Tyus before. He's a great, young player and he's just gonna get a lot better than he even is now.

You were mentioning before that they call you "Country" sometimes. Do you still live in the Trenton area and commute?

Oh, no, I'm over in East Orange. It's not that far.

You were also mentioning the importance of your mother. Did she play basketball as well?

Oh, yeah, she played basketball in college. She went to Virginia State.

Oh, so, she went to Virginia State. Was she a guard?

Yeah, she was a point guard.

Does she help you at all on the court?

(Laughs) Oh, yeah, she helps me with everything!

Thank you very much for your time.

No problem.

Good luck with the shin.

Thanks.

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