Coach Mike Krzyzewski addressed the media today in Charlotte, North Carolina at the ACC's annual Operation Basketball festivities which kick off the season. Mason Plumlee was voted pre-season 1st Team All-ACC and Duke was selected 2nd overall by the media. Check out this video clip with Coach K, and for more exclusive clips, join BDN Premium, our extended subscription service.
DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke men’s basketball team is slated to practice in front of military personnel on Monday, Oct. 15 at Fort Bragg, with ESPNU televising an hour-and-a-half of the practice. The Blue Devils will spend the morning at Fort Bragg going through a military-style training session before conducting an afternoon practice at Funk Gym.
ESPNU will cover the practice live from 1-2:30 p.m. with Jimmy Dykes (analyst), Tom Hart (play-by-play) and Allison Williams (reporter) hosting “College Basketball Live: Duke Practice at Fort Bragg.” The practice will also be available on ESPN3 (http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/id/655774/duke-fort-bragg-practice) and on the WatchESPN app.
Roughly 300 military personnel will be in attendance as Duke adds this unique event to its early season schedule. The Blue Devils also host Countdown to Craziness, featuring the Blue-White scrimmage, a dunk contest and many other activities, on Friday, Oct. 19 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A small number of tickets remain for the event and can be purchased online at https://tkt.xosn.com/tickets/TicketLanding.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=4200&db_oem_id=4200.
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)
Absolutely, thanks again.
You're welcome. I appreciate it. [/private]
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore is not an act, but a habit.
Semi Ojeleye was born in Overland Park, Kansas and his family’s tale is one of the American Dream. His father, Victor, arrived in Kansas from Nigeria, looking to do an internship and residency at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Ojeleye now operates as a family physician in Ottawa, Kansas, roughly fifty miles south of Kansas City, Kansas, with his wife, Joy, a registered nurse.
The Ojeleyes had two boys, Victor and Semi. Victor, the oldest, was heavily involved in community service, became Ottawa High School’s all-time leading scorer, and was valedictorian of his graduating class. After not receiving much basketball interest coming out of Ottawa high school, he opted to do a postgraduate year in North Carolina, where he played under veteran coach, Chris Chaney. It was there that then Kansas St. assistant coach, Dalonte Hill spotted the 6’5″ Ojeleye and ultimately convinced him to walk-on for his home state Kansas State Wildcats. Victor wound up being a reserve player for the Wildcats, led his teammates in Bible studies, and was an All-Academic Big XII winner in each of his three seasons, culminating in this season’s inaugural Dr. Loge Award for the Big XII Conference’s highest academic honor. Last May, he received his degree in Finance and Accounting before joining Koch Industries.
Semi Ojeleye was blessed with the same genetics and work ethic as Victor. He’s been a 4.0 student, but will shatter Victor’s basketball records for the Ottawa Cyclones. The 6’6″ wing averaged nearly nine rebounds and thirty-three points per game this season, never scoring below twenty-five in a single game, while leading Ottawa (KS) to a third consecutive Class 4A State Title game. The high water scoring mark for this season came when he knocked down eight three-pointers and hit all ten of his free throws for a fifty point game and a win in front of Missouri Coach Frank Haith.
Last season, Semi, a devout Christian, played all five positions for Coach Jon McKowen’s Cyclones and knocked down seventy-eight three pointers at nearly a forty percent clip on the season. In the state semi-final game, Ojeyele grabbed fourteen rebounds and scored thirty-two points. In, ultimately, a close 56-52 loss to Basehor-Linwood in the Championship game, Ojeleye, who has tried to slowly convert himself from more of a post player to a perimeter force, scored thirty-two points and snagged twelve rebounds. For his efforts, the 6’6″ senior, who now has 1,811 career points and helped his team to a 24-2 final record, earned an All-State distinction.
This AAU season, the versatile wing first caught the eye of the Duke staff for a half of a single game at the Nike EYBL Minneapolis, but it was his performance at the EYBL Boo Williams that was a turning point. According to Semi, Coach K felt he saw a lot of his untapped potential at this event. Rather than get satisfied, Semi continued to improve, mesh with his Mo-Kan Elite teammates, and was, without any college coaches in attendance, the critical player for a run of EYBL wins in Oakland that enabled his AAU squad to earn a trip to the coveted Peach Jam in July.
When June began, Semi and his family came to the Gothic Wonderland in Durham for an unofficial visit. The trip was meant to provide a bit of due diligence and gauge his comfort level with the staff, program, and University. It coincided with the Coach K Academy, a fantasy camp for charity that pairs former Duke players with fans looking to experience a taste of what it's like to play at Duke. By the end of the weekend, Semi was offered a full scholarship to Duke.
Over the next few weeks, Ojeleye played at the NBAPA Top 100 Camp in Virginia and competed alongside fellow Duke recruits Austin Nichols, Julius Randle, Matt Jones, and Theo Pinson at the elite LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas.
At the Peach Jam, which collects twenty-four of the best AAU teams in the country, Semilore Ojeleye elevated his undermanned team to new heights, catapulting his squad to the semi-finals of the ultra-competitive July tournament. His standout Peach Jam game was against Detroit's The Family AAU program, which featured a consensus top ten player in 6'6" James Young. After holding Young, a talented wing, to a woeful five for twenty shooting game by "bodying him up" in a win over The Family in Oakland, Semi once again out-dueled the well-promoted wing in a win at the Peach Jam. In this playoff game, Ojeleye would score a whopping thirty-three points in twenty-nine minutes on a highly efficient ten of thirteen shooting (four of six from beyond the arc) and a perfect nine for nine at the charity stripe, grab eight rebounds, and hold Young to seventeen points.
Semi Ojeleye was the first person that Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke was scheduled to make an in-home visit with. Yesterday, shortly after the visit with Coach K and Coach Steve "Wojo" Wojciechowski, Ojeleye told the staff that he would like to join Duke's program. There were some efficiently placed phone calls and texts to various services, but none of the three-hat monte, self-indulgent forty minute speeches, dancing cheerleaders, awkward satellite interviews with cable services, or amateurish "off-broadway" productions with teammates that have become somewhat customary amongst elite-level players. This "old school" way of handling your recruitment was not surprising for a player that is concerned more with the collective measure of success, wins, than his individual game totals.
Duke is getting a cerebral, physical 6'6" wing who has the versatility to defend tall shooting guards, athletic small forwards, and even undersized college power forwards. Offensively, unlike some wings, he brings a comfort level with playing on the inside that speaks to his natural and earned strength, former responsibility as an interior player as a younger player, and fearlessness to the physicality that is relatively commonplace among interior players. He's got good elevation on his jump shot and, although streaky, has improved his three-point shooting to the point that he must be guarded at all times. As a hard worker on and off the court, Semi undoubtedly will continue to work on conditioning as well as skill development, including improving his mid-range game, his left hand, and making his three-point shooting more consistent.
After leading Team USA to consecutive Olympic gold medals, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, along with assistant coaches Chris Collins and Steve Wojociechowski will return home to Durham at approximately 5:30 PM today, arriving at Terminal 2.
It should be easy to write about Coach K and his career, right? Well, it isn't. The problem with writing about Coach Krzyzewski and his vast and varied accomplishments is the sheer volume of them. And this Duke beat guy has seen them all, from the day in 1980 the relative unknown was first introduced as the next coach of Duke Basketball to his righting the ship for the national program and leading our country to those consecutive gold medals.
I cannot even begin to list all the successes he has enjoyed in between, be it all the thrilling victories on the court -- he does have the most wins in the history of college basketball and four national championships -- or all that I have seen him do behind the scenes as a steward for the game of basketball, not to mention the genuine caring he has for his fellow human beings.
Frankly, my head swims when I go to beat out words trying to capture this man, for his career is still fluid, still a work in progress, and that means the train keeps a-rolling. That roll has been nothing short of amazing, and it's a ride I feel fortunate in having shared. While I didn't go to London to cover his latest golden achievement, I was there in spirit, and the tension I felt was due to my so wanting him to succeed.
Coach K is more than just the Duke coach now. He's the man who changed the culture of a USA Basketball program that, frankly, was struggling. He's the coach that got rich and famous athletes to put their substantial egos aside and come together for a greater cause, that being the red, white and blue. He's a coach that has acted as an ambassador for the game, challenging silly rules and seeking constant betterment of the game he loves.
If Mr. Naismith himself were alive today, he'd have been proud of what Coach K has given back to the game he created. Even one of the most famous coaches ever to grace the hardwood, his one time rival Dean Smith, the legendary coach of North Carolina said, "There is nobody who can connect with the players better than Coach K."
When Jerry Conalgelo went searching for the right coach to lead USA Basketball back to its spot atop the basketball world, he made the call to Krzyzewski. The coach responded, in his words almost jumping through the phone for the opportunity. There was never a second thought for Krzyzewski, who is a patriot in every sense of the word. Nothing, not even Duke Basketball, would keep him from serving his country. At the time, Krzyzewski was an extremely experienced and accomplished college coach, but he quickly developed relationships with all the nation's top players, and the rest is history.
My vantage from Blue Devil Nation has provided me an opportunity to see many sides of Krzyzewski over the years, and to learn many lessons. I have rarely missed a chance to talk with him when that time presented itself. I have many stories I will share one day when the time is right, but one thing the Duke head man has taught me is to not bask in the accomplishments to date, for the story has yet to be finished.
True to his word, when he is asked to reflect on his records and achievements, Coach Krzyzewski will quickly deflect the question, and for good reason. He is not a man that wants to rest on his laurels. He's a man who still has plenty of hunger and love for the game of basketball. Even now, somewhere over the Atlantic on his flight back to the Triangle, Coach is likely to have been charting out recruiting plans with his assistants, while reviewing his 2012-13 roster and preparing for fall practice.
And that's the beauty of it all to his fans, be they fans of the Blue Devils or of the U.S.A., or both. Krzyzewski is not finished.
Blue Devil Nation was the first to have an exclusive one on one interview with Rodney Hood after he transferred to Duke from Mississippi State. This interview ran for our BDN Premium members in early July and we are now opening the article up for the public to give you an idea of the articles you will find in our extended subscription service. Enjoy getting to Rodney Hood -
In early April, Rodney Hood announced he would transfer from Mississippi State after his freshman season. It was a tumultuous year, one in which Hood, along with recent NBA lottery picks Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Brad Beal, earned SEC All-Freshman honors, but which also ended with his Bulldogs getting knocked out by UMass in the opening round of the NIT.
With Hood looking for a fresh start, Duke, a program that had recruited the former McDonald's All-American in high school, quickly rose to the top of his new list. In early June, the Meridien, Mississippi native made the journey up to Durham to visit Duke and to meet face-to-face with the coaches. Basketball was the one constant throughout the visit, as Rodney enjoyed hanging with his prospective teammates -- eating, talking, and of course playing ball. Hood also was impressed by the refreshing candidness of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who watched Hood's game footage at Mississippi State with him. He pointed out things that they could work to improve upon, and also reviewed footage of Grant Hill playing at Duke. The freedom that Grant Hill played with while at Duke certainly appealed to the 6'8" 204 lb Hood.
After narrowing his list down to Ohio State and Duke, Rodney chose to be a Blue Devil. On Wednesday, he officially moved in, and will be roommates with sophomore point guard Quinn Cook. Hood and Cook, a born salesman, talked throughout the recruiting process and have built a relationship. Hood, a good student in high school, has enrolled in classes in Psychology and Advertising during this second summer session at Duke.
Along with Duke rising seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Rodney is one of the select college players invited by Nike to its prestigious LeBron James Skills Academy this weekend. The left-handed wing player shot the basketball very well in the opening session, impressing several NBA scouts with his mix of size, skill, and versatility.
In his first interivew since enrolling at Duke, Hood spoke exclusively with me about a variety of topics, including a NCAA Championship run, improving his body in this coming year, what he will bring to the Duke program, being a competitive teammate, and unpacking his bags.
We’ll get into why you chose Duke in a second, but why don’t we start off with your reasons for transferring? Your dad had mentioned in an article that this wasn’t a last-second decision, that you had thought about this for a few months.
Yeah, it was just a situation where we had a coaching change and there were a lot of changes throughout the program, so I decided to look elsewhere. It was just a personal decision and that’s what I decided to do.
What were your reasons for choosing Duke?
You know, it’s just a high level of basketball. Coach K is evidently the best coach in basketball. It also gets me out of my comfort zone. We are going to have a chance to compete for a National Championship.
I’d like to talk to you about that in a moment, but one of the things that I saw that you had mentioned that you liked in your meeting with Coach K was that he talked about specifics. What did he envision for you?
He just envisioned me being one of the best players in the country on one of the best teams and being able to play there. He was very honest with me. We watched tape and he was honest about my game.
He watched tape with or of you at Mississippi State?
Yes, and he told me what I needed to work on and, for me, there were just a lot of little things that I didn’t know about myself and my game.
And so it was great.
Out of curiosity, did he compare you to any players? I know that sometimes he does that. I remember, for instance, him talking with Kyle Singler about that.
Well, we watched a little of Grant Hill’s tape.
Well, you’re around the same height.
Yeah, we’re kinda the same build, but we’re different kind of players. But the freedom that he gave Grant Hill back in the day, he said he would put me in those sort of situations.
That’s also interesting.
Did you know any of the guys on the team beforehand? Guys like Quinn?
Oh, yeah, I’ve been on campus already since Wednesday. I room with Quinn and we talked throughout the whole recruiting process. I also talked a lot with Rasheed and Amile and all of those guys.
Well, they’re all very nice.
Oh, yeah, definitely.
What did Coach K say that he would like to work with you on in the next year?
More than anything, my body.
Yeah, not just really adding weight, but adding a whole lot of strength. Just falling in love with being in shape.
Yeah, I think if you just got a little more developed in the upper body and keep working on your ball skills, you’d be pretty unstoppable at this level.
Yeah, that’s what we talked about. We talked about falling in love with being in shape. You know, if you can get into shape, you can do a lot more things and it just elevates your game..stuff like that. Oh, and obviously skill work, but more just about getting my body in shape.
Now for you is it more about strength or conditioning or, frankly, both?
Yeah, it’s really both, really. You know, KD, Kevin Durant, he runs all of the time, and he’s not the strongest guy, but he’s effective because he’s mobile and he runs. But you know, I have to add strength to be the type of player that I want to become.
I’ve been watching you a lot in the last two days, and it looks like you make a conscious effort to try to get open. Yesterday, you shot the ball really well, but you're constantly moving without the ball here.
Yeah, yeah, a lot of it’s just repetition, just staying in the gym. Just focusing on getting better.
For fans who may not have seen you play at Mississippi State or in high school, what are you going to bring to the program? There are a lot of fans that are excited about you coming.
I’m a player that can play on both ends of the court. You know, gets out there on defense, and offensively I’m very versatile. I can make plays, I can shoot the basketball, I can post-up.
You knocked down fifty three-pointers.
Yeah, I can do a lot of stuff. I’m just excited to get in there and try to win a National Championship. It’s one of my goals.
As a lefty, what advantages do you have?
You know, there are a lot of advantages. Guys are not used to going against lefties. That’s why Ginobili and guys like that, Zach Randolph, guys are not used to guarding them every single day. I think it gives you an advantage.
Also, as a shot-blocker, you’re facing a lot of righties and you have a natural advantage of being able to block their shot with your left hand.
Yeah, it’s very easy to contest a right-hander’s shot.
What would you say is your go-to move, for fans who haven’t seen you play?
I’d say my go-to move, well, I like to do a lot of jab series. That’s basically my go-to move -- I like to jab.
Where do you like to shoot the ball? It seemed like yesterday it was, like a lot of players, dead center.
Well, pretty much everywhere, but mainly dead center in the middle of the court. I try to get open spaces.
Then today you tried to work on the wing and down along the baseline.
Yeah, I was trying to work on that.
In terms of strength and conditioning, what do you currently weigh and what are you hoping to do in terms of your body?
Well, right now, I’m 204.
Are you 6’8” or about there?
Yeah, I’m 6’8.” Definitely, I'm 6’8.”
Well, what are you hoping to get to?
I want to get to about 212 at least of muscle. I’m not a guy that wants to get real bulky and I’m never going to be that type of guy, but as long as I keep getting strength, I’ll be fine.
You want to add that lean muscle.
Is there a guy you tried to model your game after, when you were growing up?
I love Penny. Penny Hardaway.
He’s another 6’8,” 6’9” guy that was skilled.
Yeah, I watched him play a lot and just tried to model my game after him. The way he makes plays and made his team better.
Do you think that you’re a pretty good passer?
I am. I can make a lot of passes. I can see over the defense a lot. Just like in football, where guys, well, quarterbacks can see over the defense. I can help find the open man.
Yeah, it’s such an advantage if you can. Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself? A little bit about your background. I know you’re from Meridian and your dad played ball.
Yeah, I’m from Mississippi, born and raised. I love it there, but I also love to have fun. I’m a regular kid. I’m not going to get in no trouble..on purpose. You know, nobody’s perfect, but I just love to have fun.
You’re not going to be a knucklehead off the court, right?
What about your family?
Yeah, my mom and my dad both played ball, my brother and sister both played ball on the Division I level. My dad played pro overseas.
Are you the youngest?
Yeah, I’m the youngest, so it’s good having that knowledge in front of you.
It probably helps a lot, coming from a basketball family.
What are you hoping to accomplish at the skills academy?
Just getting better by playing against the best wing players and the best players in the country. Just getting better every single time you step on the court.
Can you recap the visit to Duke?
It was mostly just basketball, really. You know, we talked basketball almost the entire time. We ate, we talked basketball. We played, we talked basketball. We talked basketball afterwards. That was pretty much it. (laughs) I liked it.
You mentioned before that you're looking to make a title run in 2014. You guys might be stacked.
Yeah, definitely, we’re going to be pretty good. You know, in that year, we’re going to be pretty good. I’m just anxious, you know, the freshmen that are coming in now are going to develop and we’ve got some guys that will come in next year.
It sounds like recruiting’s going pretty well.
That’s what I hear. I think we’re also going to be pretty versatile as far as defense and, well, offensively, too. It’s going to be pretty exciting.
What’s your schedule for the rest of the summer?
I’m going to be at summer school at Duke.
The second session?
Yeah, I may be at a couple of more camps, but I’m not sure yet.
Since you just mentioned it, defensively, what are you going to do for the program?
I’m just a guy that can get out there and guard your 1, 2, or 3, and at the college level, even a 4.
That’s impressive versatility on defense.
Yeah, it is.
On the AAU level, I always thought that you were a really good teammate.
Yeah, I just love to compete. I think I bring the best out of my teammates, you know, challenging them every single day and, well, they’re challenging me too.
It’ll be great in practice this year.
Yeah, it will.
What about your major? Have you thought about that at all?
No, not really.
Well, it’s still early for you.
I’m taking an advertising and psychology class right now for summer.
I remember you were a good high school student.
Yeah, I was.
What are you interested in doing when you stop playing? Have you thought about that at all?
Well, I still want to be involved in basketball.
Coaching or announcing?
I don’t know about coaching. There’s a lot of personalities (laughs), but we’ll see.
Did you have a favorite team growing up?
You mean NBA team?
No, not really.
I didn’t know, growing up in Mississippi, which direction you would be looking.
Yeah, I didn’t really have a team.
One person had told my privately that they thought you were really disciplined growing up. Is that true?
Yeah, my high school coach really instilled in me discipline, you know, on and off the court. You know, doing the little things can help you go a long way. It’s been paying off so far. I just got to keep focussing on doing the little things.
What do you like to do for fun off the court?
Play video games, card games, just regular card games. (laughs)
Have you had an opportunity to see any USA Basketball this weekend? Will you get to?
No, but I think we're going to go see them tomorrow. I’m very excited to see them.
You’re obviously a very good shooter. How are you trying to develop that?
Just repetition. You know, as a shooter, I’m just always trying to add repetition.
In one of the articles I read for preparation, one of your ex-teammates said you might be a one-and-done.
I never said that.
It was your ex-teammate, Moultrie, who said it.
Oh, no, it’s however long it takes to be ready. I never think of it that way.
So, you’re “unpacking your bags,” so to speak?
Yeah, I am.
Thank you so much for doing this.