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The Quiet Storm: An Interview With Andrew Wiggins

6’7″ Andrew Wiggins of Canada, Photo by Andrew Slater

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

-Theodore Roosevelt 

 

 

Andrew Wiggins of CIA Bounce, Photo by Andrew Slater

Over the past four months, Andrew Wiggins has helped strengthen his case for being the best young prospect in the world. Blessed with having two parents who possessed the genetics and self-discipline required to be world-class athletes, Andrew has not squandered his opportunity.

This April, at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Oregon, the then high school sophomore captured the MVP Award after he helped lead the World Team Select by scoring twenty points and grabbing seven rebounds to an 84-75 victory over Team USA Select, featuring some of the best American talent, including Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Rasheed Sulaimon.

The 6’7″ Canadian followed that up by bringing his mix of elite athleticism, improved skill, scoring prowess, and competitive gusto to his balanced and deep AAU team, CIA Bounce, where they went on to dominate the Nike EYBL season, winning seventeen of their first nineteen games. Wiggins averaged over eighteen points and nearly six rebounds over the lengthy regular season, which included stops in Oakland, Dallas, Minnesota, and Virginia. In June, the patriotic young wing competed with the Canadian U-18 team in Brazil, where he averaged a team-leading 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2 assists at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships.

This July, he has continued his whirlwind tour by first heading to Las Vegas for the prestigious LeBron James Skills Academy. Even amidst some of the exceptional talent accumulated by Nike for this year’s version of their All-American camp, Andrew Wiggins, who enjoyed the playing style of Allen Iverson, stood out with his performance on both ends of the court. Pressure can break some young men, but, although he later said he was nervous before the game, he shined in front of the United States Men’s Olympic team, including his favorite current NBA player, Kevin Durant, at Durango High School in Las Vegas. After that event, he then headed to Alexandria, Virginia and later Washington, D.C., where he helped lead Canada to the Finals of the Nike Global Challenge. In the Championship game, Andrew Wiggins, who enjoys a 6’11” wingspan, rose to the occasion, scoring twenty-four points, snatching seven rebounds, and creating four steals in a narrow defeat.

Gracious Canadian Star and Duke Recruit Andrew Wiggins, Photo by Andrew Slater

At his most recent event, the Nike Peach Jam, competing against arguably the best AAU teams in North America, Andrew took his game to greater heights. In his seven games in North Augusta, SC, Wiggins averaged twenty-two points and nine rebounds, while leading CIA Bounce to the Peach Jam Finals, before suffering a painful one point defeat, 51-50, to the Oakland Soldiers. In the Championship game, while guarded by a versatile and tough defender in Stanley Johnson, Wiggins generated twenty-three points, nine rebounds, and swatted three shots.

Genetically significant, his father, Mitchell, was an honorable mention All-American at Florida State and a first-round draft pick in 1983 for the Indiana Pacers. Mr. Wiggins, who was born in Kinston, North Carolina, played shooting guard professionally for a span of sixteen years, including six in the National Basketball Association.

Andrew’s mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, originally from Barbados, was an All-American track star at Florida State, where she met her future husband. At age 23, the 5’8″ track star,  won two silver medals, representing Canada, in the 4 x 100 meter and 4 x 400 meter relays at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. More than twenty-five years later, she still holds the Canadian women’s outdoor record for speed in both the 200 meter (22.62 seconds) and 400 meter (49.91 seconds). Although Mrs. Payne-Wiggins didn’t win another medal, she competed for Canada in the 1988 Seoul Olympics as well.

Andrew played briefly in America during the 2009-10 season for Ro Russell and Christian Center Faith Academy in Creedmoor, North Carolina, a thirty-minute drive from the Duke campus. Wiggins’ parents elected to take him back to Canada to go to Vaughan Secondary School, just north of Toronto, for one year. While competing for the Vaughan Voyageurs, the nearly 6’7″ wing averaged twenty points per game. In his only high school year in his native Canada, Wiggins enjoyed a storybook ending, scoring twenty-five points and grabbing thirteen rebounds in the gold medal game to lead Vaughan to a OFSAA AAAA Championship. A year ago, Andrew Wiggins and his family decided to take his talents to Huntington, West Virginia, where he attends school at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School, lives with a host family, and plays basketball for Coach Rob Fulford at Huntington Prep. Andrew liked the improved competition in both practice and games in America, the familiar camaraderie of knowing several of his Huntington Prep teammates through the CIA Bounce AAU basketball program, and the college-level facilities available through Huntington at Marshall University Recreation Center.

Andrew Wiggins, Whose Parents, Marita and Mitchell, Were World-Class Athletes, Photo by Andrew Slater

After a stellar 28-2 sophomore season at Huntington Prep, which included trips to Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Canada, and Washington, D.C., the accolades flooded in for the soft-spoken young man with a loud game. Andrew Wiggins, who very well may be the best Canadian basketball player since two-time NBA MVP and eight-time NBA All-Star Steve Nash, was named the MaxPreps Sophomore Player of the Year nationally and won the Gatorade Player of the Year in West Virginia after averaging more than twenty-four points, four assists, and nearly nine rebounds per game on a deep Huntington Prep Express squad. Off the court, he earned a solid B average at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School. Basketball can be a mercenary’s life, but Andrew will enjoy the stability of being back at Huntington Prep for, at least, one more season.

Andrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep, Photo by Nike/Position Sports

Seemingly every year, there is a new middle-school phenom unearthed and hyped as the “next big thing,” but, for a variety of reasons, a very small percentage ever ultimately live up to the initial billing. When Andrew was thirteen, a highlight video or mixtape, which has now been viewed more than 4.1 million times, spread virally throughout the internet, billing him as “the best thirteen year-old on the planet.” Now, at seventeen, with significantly more skill and physical development, he has managed to navigate the waters and be even closer to realizing his ultimate potential, through sheer competitive drive, guidance, and maximizing his natural talent.

In an ongoing interview with the friendly Andrew Wiggins, who visited Duke when he was younger, we spoke about a variety of topics, including his lethal mindset when he steps on the court, Duke’s interest in him, and playing in front of LeBron James.

 

 

 

How has the transition to Huntington Prep gone and what you’ve gained from that experience?

It’s been good…probably because I knew a lot of people and know a lot of people from AAU or other things. That’s helped a lot. They’ve helped treat me like I’m family. 

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You actually lived with a host family. How has that aspect of the experience gone so far?

Oh, that’s been great. They’ve been treating me like it’s a real family. They’ve taken me into their home, they help me out when I need it. 

Well, that’s great.

They’ve acted like parents. They’ve been really nice to me. 

You’re lucky in that regard.

Yeah, I am.

For the audience that may not know, you go to a local Catholic school, but you play for Huntington Prep. Explain how that works. It’s probably a solid school.

Yeah, it’s a private school, it’s a great education. Teachers support us 100%. They’ll help us when we need help. 

I saw that you had a B average this year in school.

Yeah, I’m working hard this year in school. I don’t want any problems. (laughs)

Exactly, that’s a casualty I don’t want to hear about. 

Yeah, yeah.

What are you working on most over the last year in terms of skills, body, etc.?

I would think my shot has improved a lot. 

That would be the thing that people would notice most?

Yeah, that and my ball-handling, probably. Playing without the ball.

There’s been some talk about you re-classifying. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Can you address that issue? 

Oh, well, that’s something I haven’t really thought about yet. 

I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Alright, we’ll move on. You’ve had a lot of international experience. How do you think that’s benefited you? What was the Nike Hoops Summit experience like for you?

The international experience has been great. You get to meet new people. 

You get to travel.

Yeah, that’s cool and we’re all friendly. We love each other. 

And, in terms of the Hoops Summit, you got the win.

Yeah, that was good. I thought I played a good game. I got my shots. My shots were falling. I had a lot of fun and a lot of support from my teammates. They’re all friendly. 

Now transitioning into EYBL, can you compare this year versus last year in terms of experience? How have you benefited?

Well, this year and last year, I think our teams are great. Last year, I think we did great. We went to Peach Jam. We played good. Last year, we didn’t win it, but we still went out hard. This year, I think we’ll win it. I think we actually have a better chance of winning it this year. Our team is pretty deep this year.

Pretty balanced.  Last time we talked about working out with your Dad. Do you still work out with him in the off-season and, if so, what do you try to work on most?

Oh, yeah, yeah, I definitely work out with him. He teaches me a lot.

Well, he was an ex-pro, that must help a lot. What does he teach you?

He tries to tell me what he knows and what it will take to get to the League. 

What advice does he give you now? I know in the past, he would always try to tell you to stay humble.

Yeah, he likes to say, “Stay humble and the sky’s the limit.”

I saw that your brother committed to Wichita State.  What was your and your family’s reaction to that?

Yeah, I was happy for him. He had a lot of options. He was looking at Baylor, Oregon, but he felt most comfortable at Wichita State.

Are you guys pretty close?

Oh, yeah, we play all of the time. We’re very close.

You guys must kill it at the local YMCA when you two walk in.

(laughs) Yeah.

I was looking back at a prior interview with you. You said defense is where you wanted to focus a lot of your energy. How would you assess that aspect of your game at this point?

I’ve tried to improve my man defense and my off-the-ball defense. I try to really get up on my guys. I’d say that my man-to-man defense is pretty good at this point, actually.

What’s your current height, by the way?

I’m about 6’7 ½” and that’s my real height..unlike some guys. (laughs)

Is the number one ranking still very important to you? I know in the past that was something that you were striving for.

I would say more than anything, it would really be an honor to me. I don’t want to say it’s incredibly important, but it would definitely be an honor and something I’m certainly shooting for and working hard to get there.

Talk about Allen Iverson being your role model. Well, not role model, but someone you’re trying to model your game after.

Oh, oh, I wouldn’t say role model.

God forbid.

(laughs) What I liked about him is he was under 6’, he was under-sized, but he could score whenever he wanted to. He played hard both ways and we really don’t have any superstars like him anymore. He helped them to the Finals.

I would think to a degree that you would try to model your game after guys like LeBron, Kobe, and Kevin Durant.

Oh, yeah, those guys are all like the best players in the League right now.

 For better or worse, I just thought those guys are versatile wings like you.

My favorite player in the League right now is Kevin Durant, but probably all-time is still Allen Iverson. It’s amazing to me that he was able to get his team to the Finals and play like he did at that size.

The only time I ever spoke with him was the day before he was drafted. He had an amazing watch on his wrist. I used to like to watch how he used his hands and feet on defense. He had an amazing ability to rip point  guards with weak crossovers.

Yeah, he was amazing.

 Your parents both went to Florida State and you grew up as a Florida State fan from a very young age watching them on the television. It’ll obviously have some influence on your decision.

Yeah, it’ll definitely have an influence on my decision and Florida State did big things this year, but I still have to make my own decision.

You had mentioned in the past that you appreciate playing such a tough schedule. How would you assess the competition this year and compare it to what you faced in Canada last year?

The competition this year was very good. It’s a lot different than Canada. A lot of people knock Canada.

Oh, no, I wasn’t trying to insult Canada at all. I love Canada.

(laughs) Yeah, me too. I wasn’t trying to knock it either, but the people are a lot bigger and stronger down here.

Well, there’s a lot more people. 

Yeah, there definitely is a lot more people and, yeah, the competition is much better down here.

Who will you turn to for guidance whenever you do make your college decision?

It will pretty much just be my parents.

Coach K was watching you earlier in the year. Can you talk about that?

It’s an honor. He’s a big-time coach. He’s been able to coach and develop some great players. 

What do you know about the program?

I watched a game there a couple of years ago. It’s a great basketball program. They’ve been winning for a lot of years. They’ve developed a lot of pros. They play really fast and fun. 

Well, you actually lived in North Carolina for a couple of months a few years ago, but we don’t need to talk about that. What has it been like to have Tyler Ennis as your point guard?

Oh, he’s a great point guard. He’ll find you wherever you are. He’s a pass-first point guard and he has to be ready to get the ball. He’s very fast in transition. He’s very unselfish. 

He’s very efficient as well.

Oh, yeah, he definitely is. He’s a smooth passer. He can score whenever he wants to score. 

What do you think he’s like off of the court?

Oh, he’s a great kid off of the court. He’s unselfish, he’s humble, he’s friendly.  He’s a good person to be around.

One of the things you wanted to improve on was your three-point shooting. You can be a tough self-critic, but how would you assess your three-point shooting at this point?

I think I’ve actually improved a lot since last year. I feel much more comfortable shooting the ball up there. I’ve tried to take away my weaknesses.

Yeah, I think you have in terms of the three-point shooting. Last year, you felt comfortable anywhere from your mid-range and in. I think the word you said was you could “kill,” but you wanted to push it out this year.

(laughs) Yeah, yeah. 

Your handle is another thing you wanted to improve on. You mentioned that you think that was something that you improved on.

Yeah, that’s been an area I was trying to work on all winter. 

Have you taken any visits and or do you have any planned?

Well, I visited unofficially to WVU. 

That’s a pretty local school.

Yeah, exactly, it was pretty close to me and I don’t have any plans at this point, no.

What about your strengths? You look a little more ripped in your arms, so to speak.  Is that something you guys work on at Huntington?

Oh, yeah, we go hard. You know. (laughs)  

Yeah, I’ve heard.

We work hard on and off the court. We play hard on the court and in the weight room.

Do they have a good weight room facility there?

Oh, we have great facilities there.

Who would you say the toughest competitor  is that you’ve ever gone against? Would Shabazz be up there?

I think I would go with Anthony Bennett instead. (laughs)

Oh, a little hometown shout-out!

(laughs) Yeah, he’s my boy.

Do you have any lingering injuries?

Well, my back hurts just a little bit, but it’s nothing.

I’ve seen you lying on the floor occasionally. I just hope everything will wind up being okay for you.

Yeah, definitely, thanks.

Now, in terms of Huntington, you’re going to go back next year. Is that definite?

Yes, it’s definite.

What’s the latest in your recruitment? There’s not really any new schools?

It’s the same schools that have in there. 

For the sake of the fans and my writing, can you please reiterate what schools are in the running? I just want it for the record.

Florida State, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, UNC.

What was it like playing in front of LeBron?

Oh, that was great. It was like a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a huge opportunity and a real honor. I was a little nervous before the game. You know, these guys are big-time players and they’re coming to watch you. 

Well, the only guy I know at all on the team is Kyrie and I just quickly tried to tell him to make sure to watch you.

Oh, yeah, thanks. It was a great experience and a real honor to play in front of those guys. 

I thought you played well, too.

Thank you, thank you. 

Have you felt any changes in your recruitment now that these coaches are allowed to text all of the time?

Oh, no, not at all, cause I haven’t given out my phone number. (laughs)

Oh, smart man.

(laughs)

You mentioned before that Duke is recruiting you. What do you know about the program?

Yeah, they’ve been speaking with my coaches. It’s obviously a tremendous basketball program and a great school. Coach K is a legendary coach and now he’s working with the Olympic team. They’ve had great players develop and play at Duke. I visited the school when I was younger. They’ve been winning for a long time. 

You guys are traveling like crazy, but what are you working on most on your down period?

When I get a chance, I work out with my AAU coach and my dad. We’re working mostly on jump-shots whenever I’m home. I try to work out really hard whenever I’m home.  

By the way, are you ever home?

(laughs) 

What’s the story with that? Are you ever home?

(laughs) Hardly ever. 

What’s your mind-set whenever you’re on the court? Is it attack? In the past, you said like to think of you as a killer or that others think of you as a killer on the court.

Yeah, I guess I would say more than anything, I just to kill them.

(laughs) That’s what I love about your game- that you have an absolutely killer attitude, totally cold-blooded.

Yeah, I just try to play my game, play hard, and take the other guy out. 

Would you say you try to intimidate guys?

No, I can’t say that. What I would say is that when I step on the court, if they’re not intimidated, I’ll try to, well, they’ll….

They’ll learn?

(laughs) Yeah, they’ll see very soon learn that they should be. 

By the way, what does your father think of all of this? The success, the notoriety, your recruitment, your development?

Oh, he’s very proud of me.

I’m sure.

He sees me working very hard in the gym. 

Did he think this would happen for you?

Oh, yeah, he always thought since I was really young that I would be up for something special. He told me that I would be something special, very special. 

Yeah, well, hopefully, he turns out right. It looks like you’ve got a good head-start.

Thanks. 

What are your goals for next year?

I just want to make the ESPN tournament at the end of the year and win it. I’d really like to go undefeated. I’d just like to keep improving my game, that’s all. 

Lastly, I’ve mentioned this to you before, but I’m counting on you to bring a little basketball glory to the name Andrew. You and Andrew Harrison are my two current hopes. We’ve got Drew Breeze and now Andrew Luck in football, but Bynum is just not cutting it. You’re my hope. I’m looking for single name recognition like Kobe, Shaq, or Michael.

(laughs) All right, I’ll definitely try.

Thanks a lot for your time, Andrew.

Sure, thank you.

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Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update – Where does Duke go from here?

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

In our latest update, Blue Devil Nation Premium recaps what has happened recently on the recruiting trail and gives you an idea of what to expect next.

It wasn’t that long ago that many were writing the Blue Devils off after being shocked by Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  For several weeks after the upset, there was only criticism. But three months have now passed, and the dark skies have cleared considerably, as Duke has added several key pieces for the future in incoming freshman Amile Jefferson and transfer Rodney Hood.

Amile Jefferson has arrived on campus.  He will spend plenty of time in the weight room, for there is a big leap from high school ball to the high major college game, and Amile needs to get stronger in order to contribute in a big way.   Jefferson will have the luxury to play behind Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly in his first season while learning the ropes, but the coaches will give him every opportunity to play when he is ready.

The Duke Men’s Basketball staff continued its recent momentum on the recruiting trail, landing coveted Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood this weekend. Hood is right around [private] 6’8″ and is long, lean and athletic. He is an outside/in player, meaning his game is geared towards the perimeter; he likes to get touches just beyond the free throw stripe, from which he is comfortable taking it to the hoop or popping the mid-range J. His ability to knock down those mid-range jump shots draws bigger players away from the hoop, keeps the opposing defense honest, and opens up things for his teammates. Hood is also a good defender and likes to get after it by using his length to his advantage. While he did not dominate the SEC as a freshman, Rodney was a very steady force on a veteran team.

Hood’s game has changed little since I saw him on the AAU trail, with the exception of some natural physical growth.  But his frame can still use some muscle, and that is what Duke Strength and Conditioning Coach Will Stephens will focus on as Rodney sits out his transfer season at Duke. One of the things that impressed Hood on his visit was the Duke facilities, which are NBA-quality, and frankly a far cry from what he was used to in Starkeville. Sources also say he liked the structure of the team and its organization, something that he found lacking at MSU.

For the record, we here at BDN never wavered from the position that Hood was a Duke lean, and by now you guys should know how to interpret my cryptic messages enough to have figured this one out.

Rodney will be on campus this coming Wednesday, July 4th, and he will participate in the N.C. Pro-Am.  We’ll head over to that event provided we can stand the ridiculous heat.

Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is already on campus and getting accustomed to his surroundings. He is hanging with the guys, including Nolan Smith who is in town. Quinn Cook arrived today as well, and he is ready to hit the ground running after spending a lot of time with Nolan in Portland. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston will be back around the 4th of July as well, and all should play in the Pro-Am.  Seth Curry played in the opening night of the event and played well.  He and some teammates even picked up Sulaimon at RDU yesterday.

Ryan Kelly has fully recovered from his injury and Mason Plumlee is looking stronger than ever.  Both benefited from their time at the Amare Stoudemire Camp, and they have both been working on adding new shots to their offensive arsenals.

Alex Murphy is stuffing the stat sheet for Finland’s National Team this summer.  The staff has been very impressed with his play and progress since he’s arrived over a year ago.

Mike Krzyzewski and the staff circled the wagons after the Lehigh loss and decided they wanted more athleticism and toughness, and I believe they are on the road to reshaping future rosters in that way. But don’t get caught looking ahead, for they are more than a little excited about this season’s team, especially because Coach loves flying just under the radar on the national scene. The staff feels this year’s team will be able to defend the perimeter better and is excited about using the length of Murphy on the outside along with Sulaimon, Thornton, Curry and Cook.  One thing does seem odd though: Murphy and Marshall Plumlee have a year in the program under their belts, and seem like old-timers compared to Sulaimon and Jefferson.  Yet all four of them will be getting their first real minutes when the Blue Devils tip off the season.

The coaching staff is very happy with their recent recruiting successes, but there will be no rest at all. After spending some time with their respective families, Mike Krzyzewski, Chris Collins and Steve  Wojciechowski will head to Las Vegas on the 4th to work with the national team. So while they will only see the new kids on campus in passing, there are no worries, for Nate James and Jeff Capel will break them in before going back to hitting the recruiting trail hard themselves.

So where does Duke stand now with other recruits? Which direction will they go in? First of all, the staff can now afford to be a bit fluid in its approach, meaning the strategy can most certainly change depending on how some dominoes fall, but for now, let me share how I feel things are shaping up.  These are educated guesses.

The top targets are always the most talented and that means Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. However, the addition of Hood makes Randle, who is more of a banger, the top priority. Duke is all-in on Randle and they’ve made good inroads through Krzyzewski making regular calls, with Capel taking the lead assistant role. Duke will of course face the Tar Heels until the end on this one, and they too have gone all-in.  Some would even say that Randle may tip the balance of power in the rivalry. But keep in mind that UNC has other offers out and a bevy of bigs on their roster, while Duke can make him realize he is their man, and there are no others. When I say “no others” for Duke, I mean the Devils are not pushing hard with a lot of other big men at this time, but of course that could change. Randle has reshaped his body in the off-season, but what a lot of people do not know is that it was Mike Krzyzewski who made a suggestion for this to happen. If we’re not the leader for Randle, we’re certainly one of the leaders.

Meanwhile, Parker has been flirting a lot with Michigan State, but with a player of his stature, Duke will most certainly hang around.

Duke will also remain hot on Semi Ojeleye and quite frankly, I think he is the Blue Devils’ to lose, and they feel he is as enamored with them as they are with him. The bottom line is the kid is a perfect fit. This situation looks good, and it may only be a matter of time before he pulls the trigger — and it may even come soon.

Austin Nichols is a Duke-type big that would replace the loss of Ryan Kelly, so they are on him and could turn up the heat a bit more in the coming months. Nichols is being hit up hard by other schools too, but Duke remains in decent shape.  The Devils are also still interested in Nichols’s AAU teammate, shooting guard Robert Hubbs.

The picture is a little less clear past these two.  Al Freeman has faded a bit but remains a possibility. Duke could chase another big man, but are not doing so now.  We are completely out of the picture with scoring point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber,  who was never formally offered.

The Blue Devils still have interest in Ish Wainright and Marcus Lee as well.  I still think it may be hard to pry Lee away from the west coast, and the need for Wainright could diminish should Ojeleye pull the trigger for Duke.

Everything is still good with 2013 commit Matt Jones, although I can hear many of you getting worried about us being too loaded at that shooting guard spot.  Well, we are.  But it will play out — as it always does.  I’ll be discussing this later.

As for players beyond the class of 2013, we’ll cover that the next go-round.

To summarize, there is an overall positive feel around the program right now.  Recruiting is in a good place.  Duke and Coach K will remain in the limelight all summer, as Team USA goes for gold in London. We’ll cover several more recruiting events this summer and the Pro-Am, and we continue to work behind the scenes on site changes, including a facelift.

Thanks for being a member of Blue Devil Nation Premium.  Go Duke! [/private]

miles plumlee

Duke Basketball Notebook – A busy month ahead!

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

Checking In With Marcus Lee

6’9″ Marcus Lee, Photo by Andrew Slater

 

There are certain moments in life where, based upon your actions, your life changes. For 6’9″ Marcus Lee of Antioch, California, his performances with his California Supreme team at the EYBL in Minnesota potentially changed the course of his life. After the event, scholarship offers flooded in from programs across the country.  His brother, Bryan, a former basketball standout at Grand Canyon University, and a recruiter for Google, has been the primary filter for Marcus’s calls. One of the schools that immediately contacted Marcus following the EYBL event was Duke University.

Seven weeks later, Marcus is now scheduled to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia to participate in the NBPA Top 100 Camp. As the sixth-leading shot-blocker in the EYBL, Lee was instrumental in forging California Supreme’s 16-4 record, which helped the team qualify for next month’s Peach Jam in South Carolina.

Duke Recruit Marcus Lee, Photo by Andrew SlaterRecently, I spoke with Marcus about, among other things, that life-changing weekend in Minnesota, about speaking with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as Bryan’s reaction to the newfound interest in his younger brother.

 

 

 

 

What was your initial reaction when offers started coming in from all around the country?

I was pretty surprised. I thought I was just sort of settling in and then…

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Did it change your life, to a degree?

Yeah, it did. Yeah, it changed everything. It changed it to the point where after school I was having a lot of phone calls coming in and I just don’t have any more free time. (laughs)

 Do you like it?

Yeah, I love it! I mean I sometimes get headaches, but it’s all worth it. It’s been great.

 

What are you trying to gain or learn from your visits?

How they do stuff around each campus..I really want to talk to people. I feel that I’ve got a lot of questions for people. 

 

What does your brother think about all of this fuss? I remember that he was, in some ways, your guiding light.

Yeah, yeah, he’s just trying to keep everything away from me… so far. 

Does he handle everything, for the most part?

Yeah, he handles pretty much everything. He tries to be supportive.

 

What was it like in the match-up with Jahlil Okafor? He’s another recruit that I’ve spoken to a lot.

I thought it was great. He’s really one of the toughest kids I’ve gone against. He’s a really big kid, very fundamentally sound. It was a lot of fun.

 

One of the schools that has shown interest in you so far is UCLA. What do you know about them?

I want to find out more about them. I know a little bit about them because they’re roughly in my area. I think I’d like to take a look around. I mean, I’ve always had a good relationship with them. 

 

When they offered you, was it pretty exciting?

My brother called me and he said that they’re going to call you to probably offer you and then I got a call and it was just amazing.

 

You’re sort of known for your shot-blocking. Out of curiosity, who are the hardest guys for you to try to defend?

 Probably one of the bigger or, like, stronger types. Like guarding all these top big men in the EYBL is like, man, I mean, they get the ball, and I get pounded. I try to block their shots and defend them, but a lot of them are tough.

 

Can you talk a little bit about San Diego State? (other reporter)

San Diego State is always in my ear. They’re always really, like, a nice program. I just would like to learn more about them, but they’re really nice though.

 

Do you think it would be hard to leave the West Coast?

I’m not sure. I don’t think so. 

Have you thought about starting to pare it down?

I think about it a little bit, but I really feel that I should just stay open right now. So far, I have no idea what I’d like to narrow it down to..maybe a little later I will.

 

How do you feel you and your team are playing right now? Do you feel, in some ways, that this is, for lack of a better phrase, the best Marcus Lee that we have seen?

Yeah, this is probably the best Marcus. (laughs)

 Sorry to force you into the third person. I didn’t want you to become a diva wide receiver or a boxer just yet..

(laughs) Yeah, in terms of the team, I think we try to separate ourselves by being a very family-like setting. Other teams, they seem to want to compete against themselves and other teams. We try to help each other out..that’s our whole goal in this.

That’s unusual.

Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you noticed that.

 

How is it playing in front of your family? Is it a different dynamic?

 It’s probably the hardest thing. 

 Oh, really, it’s actually harder?

 Oh, yeah, much, much harder. I feel like I have to meet much higher expectations when they’re here. 

 I remember that you mentioned during a prior interview with me that your brother was your role model in basketball, not necessarily a current pro or college basketball player. I know that he was a Division II All-American. 

 Yeah, when he came into college, he was more of a scorer. He tried to focus on that.

 Was he generally a different type of player than you?

 Yeah, he’s exactly the same. He would always try to do the little things to help the team win, things that might not show up in a box score. He got a lot of joy out of basketball. 

 Well, you seem to get a lot of joy out of playing basketball and life. What would you say is your favorite part about playing basketball? It seems like you like to run and block shots.

 Yeah, I love to block shots. They get so happy thinking that they’re going to lay it in and I come by and just… swat! I just love doing the little things. I love winning and just being part of a team.

When I was talking to Jahlil, he was amazed at your speed. He had never seen you play before. He was amazed at your speed going up and down the court for a fellow big guy. That was his take on you. What was it like when you received the Duke offer? What was your reaction?

Well, my brother put Coach K’s number in my phone. I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, but then I got out of school and I was going through my phone and I saw Coach K’s number coming up and I was, like, whoa, and then I was just sitting there and there was just a voicemail from Coach K and I, like, had to call him right back.

What did he say when you finally spoke to him? 

Oh, he was extremely excited. He had a whole bunch of enthusiasm in his voice. 

For those in the audience who haven’t gone through that experience, what did he say?

He was just, like, well, he told me that I was, like, an amazing player. He was just, like, he wanted to, like, work me out and get me better.

 

What did he appreciate about you most?

He liked that I was so happy out there on the court and my energy.

They like high energy guys.

Yeah, I think that’s what they liked about me most.

Thanks a lot, Marcus.

Oh, sure thing, man.

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Center of Attention: A Jahlil Okafor Update

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

Hailed as the best big man from Chicagoland since Eddy Curry, 6’11” Jahlil Okafor, the Brobdingnagian sophomore center from Whitney Young, has lived up to the high expectations. Last September, Jahlil was the first player that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to in the 2014 class. It was a particularly early offer from a program that historically has been conservative in both the sheer number and timing of its offers, but clearly the staff felt that Okafor was an exceptional person and player. Jahlil was coming off of a summer where he played a critical role, shooting a remarkably efficient 71.1% from the field and 82.6% from the charity stripe, in leading the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico.

 

At Whitney Young, the Chicago academic magnet school that includes Michelle Obama as an alumna, Jahlil, a 3.4 GPA student, took on much more of a substantial role this season, while the team travelled all over the country playing challenging contests in California, the Carolinas, and St. Louis against nationally ranked teams like Bishop Gorman and Gonzaga as well as Chicago powers Simeon and Curie. After starting three games on a 20-10 team as a freshman for the Dolphins of Whitney Young, Okafor stepped up his game and made second-team All-State as a sophomore and MaxPreps named him to their Sophomore All-American team. Blessed with a 7’3″ wingspan, Jahlil averaged nearly thirteen rebounds, twenty-five points, five blocks, and four steals, while shooting nearly seventy percent from the field this high school season.

 

6'11" Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

In early December, Jahlil, a pure low-post player who isn’t afraid to bang inside, visited the Triangle and took an unofficial visit to Duke University, touring the facilities and also watching the team practice. Twice this high school season, Coach K of Duke University returned the favor, coming to watch the sophomore big man play in person. In the initial viewing at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Coach K observed Jahlil score ten points and grab a dozen rebounds in a 46-44 buzzer-beating win over Prestonwood (TX) and 6’9″ force Julius Randle, one of the top players in the 2013 class and a Duke recruit. At the second viewing, Coach K watched Jahlil battle his Mac Irvin friend and fellow Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the Gatorade Player of the Year, in the state 4A Sectionals in Summit, Illinois. Although Jahlil had nine first-half points and helped the Dolphins take a 24-21 halftime lead, eventually the depth and experience of Simeon proved too much on that day, as the eventual state champion Wolverines won 52-42 ending Whitney Young’s season with a record of 16-10 against one of this year’s most challenging schedules in high school basketball.

 

After splitting his time between the Mac Irvin 17s and 16s last summer, the sociable center is anchoring the paint for the Mac Irvin Fire 17U team full-time this AAU season. This weekend in Dallas, the sophomore Okafor stepped up and had his best AAU weekend to date, leading the Fire to a 5-0 session and averaging over sixteen points, seven rebounds, and two blocks in twenty-one minutes at the third leg of Nike’s EYBL. This EYBL season, Jahlil, now 16, has been Mac Irvin’s leading overall scorer (165 points in 260 minutes) and has shot an eye-catching 71.7% from the field, helping the Fire to eleven wins in fourteen games. During the early live period, the Duke staff was a constant presence at his Mac Irvin games, including a memorable one at the Boo Williams Complex in Virginia, where the 275 lb strong young man tore down the rim.

 

After an EYBL game, the bass-voiced Jahlil spoke with me about Mac Irvin’s passing, his goals for this summer, and his relationship with Jabari Parker, amongst other topics.

Well, first of all congratulations on making all-state as a sophomore in Illinois. 

 It was an honor. It’s something I talked about setting as a goal with my Dad. It was great. 

 

This year you made much more of an impact on the team than you did as a freshman. You had a really competitive schedule. How do you view your season overall?

 Well, we had a couple of our key guys injured early in the season…

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton.

 Yeah, Tommy Hamilton was hurt and Paul White as well. It put a lot of pressure on me and made me grow up a lot faster.

 

Speaking of that, it looks like you’ve lost some of your body fat. Have you been working a lot on your conditioning this year? I remember that it was something that you wanted to work on the last time I spoke with you.

Yeah, I was speaking with all of my coaches and the thing that they thought that would prevent me from getting to the highest level would be me being out of shape. I wanted to focus on that.

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You guys played a very tough schedule this year, traveling around the country at various showcases and tournaments. How does it help you now and into the future?

It helps. It just helps to play against other top players in the country, you know, and other top high schools. It was just a great experience. 

And you get to experience different places.

Yeah, yeah, definitely 

 

What’s your current size?

I’m like 6’11,” 275.

 

Let’s talk about visits. What about some of the visits you’ve taken?

Sure, I went to Nebraska recently. I’ve been up to Ohio State. I visited Duke. I went to North Carolina and Arizona as well. They’re all great campuses. 

Can you talk a little bit about each of them?

 Yeah, Duke speaks for itself. Meeting Coach K. it was just beautiful. It was great to talk to Coach K and look at their facilities. And North Carolina had a great team.

 Did you get to see any games in person this season?

When I went to Arizona, I went to a football game. I had a fun time there and the weather is always nice.

 

What were you looking for on those visits?

I’m looking to see how happy the players are on campus, how the players and coaches respond to each other, and then other students and how they interact with the team.

I remember that you said that you went to Whitney Young, not because of the basketball, but because it had the reputation for being the best school in Chicago. 

Yeah, absolutely, that’s right. 

 

You’re originally from Arkansas, can you talk a little bit about your background?

Yeah, I’m originally from Arkansas, but I moved to Chicago in the fourth grade.

I know you also have a Nigerian heritage. Was your father born in Nigeria or your grandfather?

No, my grandpa was born in Nigeria, but my father was actually born in Chicago.

 

In terms of roles, what was your role for Whitney Young and what do you feel your role is for this team? 

With Whitney Young, pretty much I had to do everything this year. I had to rebound, score inside, and block shots. On this team, I pretty much have one role: to be a dominant low-post man and rebound. I have a bunch of help on this team.

I was looking through my notes and saw that you wore your dad’s number. 

Oh, yeah, I wore #32, I didn’t even know it was my dad’s number, but, then, I wore #15 for my Olympic jersey, but I knew that was his number.

 

In terms of your recruiting timeline, how far along do you think you are? When do you think you’ll decide on a school?

I probably won’t decide on a school ’til my senior year.

 

Since you mentioned Tommy Hamilton before, what’s it like to play with him now that he’s healthy? Have you ever played with his father (7’2″ Thomas Hamilton)? He used to be a good player and a massive guy.

No, I’ve actually never met his father in my life, but Tommy and I complement each other perfectly well out there on the court. I like playing with him. 

 

Just out of curiosity, do you have a rivalry with Cliff Alexander (a 6’10” fellow sophomore from Curie HS in Chicago)? They seem to talk up on in the Chicago papers from time to time. He’s about your size and age.

Yeah, Cliff’s a really great friend. And I have a rivalry with Jabari and Cliff, but we’re all great friends.

 

Can you talk about that last playoff game against Simeon? It was your second time seeing those guys (lost in December at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion) and you lead at the half. For your sake, I was sorry.

Oh, yeah, that was a heartbreaker against Simeon. I walked away feeling like we should’ve won that game. There were a couple of plays here and there, but we’re really excited about the team that we’ll bring back next year.

You’ve got a good shot next year.

Yeah, I think so too.

 

(Interrupted by 6’10” sophomore Dakari Johnson)

Now, he’s a rival.

Yeah, Dakari’s a rival (laughs)

 

This year, you’ll be playing against seventeens exclusively. What did you gain last year from facing players that were two age groups up in the EYBL?

Yeah, everybody’s got better ball skills at the seventeen level. They’re more developed physically. It’s a challenge, game in and game out in the EYBL. 

I spoke with you after you played in your first game and you had just faced Elijah Macon, who was shorter than you, but built like a bull. You said he was the toughest guy that you had guarded at that time.

Oh, yeah, I remember.

 

One of the unique things about your game is that you’re a back-to-the-basket player in an age where there are a lot of big guys that want to face up or play away from the basket.

Yeah, it’s just something that I’m real comfortable with. I’ve been doing it since I’ve been in seventh or eight grade. It’s helped and now I have a lot of confidence with my back to the basket.

 

I know that you read some of your articles. What goes through your head when you see some local scouts saying that you’re the best Chicagoland center or big man since Eddy Curry?

Oh, yeah, I’ve read that, but..

You just go about your business.

Yeah, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything yet. I’m hungry.

Well, that’s a good attitude. You’ve got those big, “soft” hands. How much of an advantage does that give you over your fellow bigs? Also, how do you account for having soft hands?

(Mac Irvin teammate throws a fake mouse)

Sorry about that. Yeah, everybody always talks about having great hands. I think it’s a pretty big  advantage. Well, at least, mentally, you know, knowing that you have them.

 

One dimension that you’ve worked on this year is your face-up game..

Yeah, my coaches are always telling that I’ve got to continue to perfect my low-post game, but I’ve also got to extend my range and expand my game.

I remember that was you wanted to add a jumper and be able to finish around the basket with either hand at the end of last summer.

Yeah, exactly, both of those things.

 

One things that helps you differentiate yourself from some of the softer big men is that you don’t mind contact at all.

Yeah, no, absolutely, it’s something that I actually enjoy. I love to get in there and mix it up. I love to be aggressive. 

And then you can knock down your free throws to help your team too.

Absolutely, you’ve got to take advantage of those free throw shots. You can win or lose sometimes by just a few shots, here and there.

 

You guys lost Mac Irvin over the offseason. He was obviously a major figure in Chicago basketball over the past few decades. He was always nice to me, but can you tell the audience your thoughts on Mac Irvin’s passing?

It was sad. You know this year we’re going to try to put our egos aside and just try to win the Peach Jam for him and in his memory. He was a very nice man.

 

Speaking of your Mac Irvin team, what’s your relationship like right now with Jabari (Parker)?

Oh, you know Jabari is just someone that I’ve known since seventh grade and he’s just somebody that I can always talk to.

He’s, sort of, going through some of the same things that you are, but just a year ahead.

Yeah, exactly, we’re experiencing a lot of the same things with the college coaches and the fans and everybody coming at you, but it’s just nice to have Jabari.

 

The next one I was going to ask you about, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t confirm if it was true. Someone said that before you visited there, that Coach K said something to the effect that you could’ve started or played for him this year. Did he actually say that to you or this just an urban legend?

Oh, wow, no, I didn’t hear that. If he said that, then it’s really humbling to hear, but I don’t believe that. I couldn’t have. It’s still good to hear.

You mentioned about five schools before that you had visited. Have you cut down or reduced your list at all?

No, I haven’t reduced my list just yet.

Who are some of the schools that you’re interested in?

Pretty much everybody. I’m hearing from Ohio State. I’m hearing from Duke. Who else? Illinois, Michigan State, DePaul, Arizona, and UConn.

 

In the Chicago papers, they’ve written a lot about that Illinois job and the hiring process. As I recall, you were a Sun-Times guy, but did you pay any attention to the various articles about potential coaches or Coach Groce?

I did a little bit. I spoke with the Illinois coach soon after he got the job.

Well, I’m sure that you’re a major target. He ought to be after you.

Yeah, well (laughs)

 

Lastly, let’s just close by talking about what you hope to accomplish this summer. 

Sure, well, first, I’d like to win a championship for Mac Irvin. That’s my top goal. Then, personally, I’d like to play hard for the majority of each game and keep my conditioning up. I’ve been trying to work on my conditioning and, hopefully, it can pay off.

 

I remember last year around this time you were focused on winning the gold medal. That was what you were targeting.

Yeah, well, we won the gold medal.

I was proud of you.

Thanks.

I saw that picture that you put up of you, Coach (Mike) Jones, and Tyus (Jones) in Mexico.

(laughs) Yeah, well, that was a great experience. Now, I just hope that I can make the team again.

Thanks for your time, Jahlil.

Oh, sure, no problem.

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Coach K

Annual Coach K Academy is upon us

DURHAM, N.C. – Over 30 former Blue Devil basketball players, including four former greats (Mike Gminski, Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick and Jason Williams) that have had their Duke jerseys retired, will serve as team coaches this summer to headline the 10th annual K Academy, May 30 – June 3, at Duke’s historic Cameron Indoor Stadium. The camp staff will also feature 14 players/coaches (Clay Buckley, Marty Clark, Chris Collins, Nate James, Greg Koubek, Laettner, Reggie Love, Eric Meek, Casey Peters, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Jason Williams, Steve Wojciechowski and Brian Zoubek) that won a National Championship at Duke.

The current Duke National Championship coaching staff of Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Collins, Jeff Capel and Nate James will join Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski to host and coach in K Academy X – a camp for adults aged 35 and above. In addition, Duke Basketball stars from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s will also coach again at America’s first and top-rated college fantasy basketball camp.

The K Academy brings team-building techniques into an once-in-a-lifetime experience for the ultimate Duke or college basketball fan. Every camper will spend five days in Cameron and in the premier practice facility in the country – the Krzyzewski Center for Academic & Athletic Excellence – where they’ll go from opening day tryouts to Sunday’s championship tournament. Along the way the campers will play games on Coach K Court in Cameron and learn the inside scoop on Duke’s four-time national championship program.

A lively social program, including a charity auction benefiting Durham’s Emily Krzyzewski Center, completes the experience. All campers reside in the four-star Washington Duke Inn & Golf Course on the Duke University campus.

The enrollment tuition for the K Academy continues to be $10,000. The Academy is partially tax-deductible as profits go to the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund. The camp has limited enrollment of 88 participants – 80 playing campers and eight non-playing bench captains.

There are limited playing spots remaining, interested parties can register online at www.kacademy.com; contact the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund office at (919) 613-7501; or email Associate Director of the Legacy Fund, Rachel Curtis, at rcurtis@duaa.duke.edu.