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 JoshHairston 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 ofMurphy 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, ChrisCollins 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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Recently, 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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
"He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious." - Sun Tzu
At fifteen, Tyus Jones, the 6'1" 175 lb point guard from Apple Valley, Minnesota, has accomplished more on the basketball court than almost all of his peers, utilizing a mix of court vision, change of pace, and advanced perimeter skills.
On a national level, Jones' coming out party was last April in Dallas when, playing for the Howard Pulley Panthers, he scorched a Seattle AAU team for forty-five points, despite being more than two years younger than his competition. He quickly followed that up by earning a spot on the ultra-competitive USA Basketball's U-16 team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Soon thereafter, the self-described "pass-first point guard" helped lead the United States to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico. Jones broke current Duke point guard Quinn Cook's tournament assist record, dishing off twenty-eight assists to, amongst others, fellow Duke recruits Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Theo Pinson.
Tyus has been playing varsity basketball for Apple Valley, a suburb of the Twin Cities and home of the Minnesota Zoo, since he was an eighth grader. Last year, he missed more than eight weeks (thirteen games) of the season after lacerating his kidney, when he unfortunately landed in the heel of a St. Louis Park player.
This year, the sophomore came back and lead the Eagles to a 23-6 record, scoring more than twenty-eight points per game. For the season, despite being the focal point of a variety of "junk" defenses, the precocious point guard shot an eye-popping 56% from the field, 44% from beyond the three-point arc, and better than 86% from the charity stripe. In addition to earning a MaxPreps All-American distinction and the Star-Tribune's Player of the Year, Gatorade named the sophomore Minnesota's Player of the Year, noting his performance on the court, 3.1 GPA, and charitable work with Feed My Starving Children.
In the late winter, Coach Mike Krzyzewski formally offered Jones a scholarship to Duke University. It was an unusually early scholarship offer for the Duke program, but, as a rising sophomore, Tyus Jones first captured the attention of the four-time National Champion and Olympic gold medal-winning head coach at last year's Peach Jam. Jones has already visited unofficially three Big Ten schools: Ohio State, Michigan State, and his hometown Minnesota Gophers. Tyus told BDN that he will definitely visit Duke in the future.
The sophomore lead guard comes from a tight basketball family. His affable father, Rob Jones, who is 6'6," played for Proviso East (IL) HS and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, while his mother, Debbie, won a state title as the point guard for Devils Lake (ND) HS. His older brother, 6'2" Jadee, played for Furman and Minnesota State-Monkato. Jadee has been Tyus' trainer and the one he credits for his shooting prowess, working on repetitions and technique.
If anyone thought that there might be a sophomore slump with Tyus, they've been sorely disappointed. The shrew lead guard is now at the top of the national leaders in both points (21 per game) and assists (6.55 per game), while exhibiting more vocal leadership skills. His team, the Howard Pulley Panthers, currently have a 5-4 record through the first two legs of the competitive Nike EYBL. This weekend, at the Boo Williams Complex in Hampton, Virginia, Tyus concluded the weekend with a 37 point, 8 assist, and 5 rebound performance in a win over the Bluff City Legends of Tennessee. Throughout the two live period weekends, the Duke coaches have been a constant presence at his games.
After an EYBL game, Tyus spoke with me about, amongst other things, leadership, USA Basketball, pre-game visualization, his use of change of pace, the early Duke offer, pressure to stay home for college, and his family's support.
You recently won the Gatorade Player of the Year.
It was a huge honor. It’s a humbling experience and feeling. It’s just amazing. It just goes to show that hard work and dedication does pay off and my teammates helped me with that with making shots to help us win games. My coaches setting up stuff, so I just was really proud of that honor.
It’s also a well-rounded award. I was talking to the guy that runs it and obviously basketball is a key criteria, but they’re also looking for people who won’t embarrass their brand off the court.
Exactly, exactly. My parents raised me to be the young man that I am. They keep me grounded and I don’t want to embarrass them.
You’ve been playing varsity since the 8th grade.
Yeah, it helps me because this year we had a young team that is helped because I had some experience seeing a lot of the situations in the games that they hadn’t. I’ve just got to lead and lead by example and be vocal. It’s helped a lot.
Being vocal is an issue I wanted to get to, but I want to wait a bit. Let’s talk about playing in front of your home fans. It can get really packed. Your dad, Rob, said that your home games were almost all sell-outs and obviously it’s been standing room only here.
It was great playing in front of hometown fans, like you said. We’ve got a good turnout, a lot of families have come here. It’s been a good turnout, I think we’ve shown our fans in Minnesota that we can play and we can play at a high level. We can compete and it was good. I’m impressed with how we played.
Sure, I was speaking before with Jahlil about the USA Basketball experience and we were talking a little bit about you. What are your memories of going through that experience about going through the tryouts and winning the gold medal and everything else?
Right, USA Basketball was an amazing experience. It was an unbelievable feeling to put USA across your chest to represent your whole country, the whole nation. It was an unbelievable experience. We built a great bond with our teammates. Credit goes to Coach Showalter and Coach Jones. They trained us and worked us hard and brought us together to become a family. They’re great guys.
Give the audience a sense of the tryouts. I know they were very competitive in Colorado Springs.
The tryouts were in Colorado Springs. They were very tough, very tough. Every single drill, every single play, every possession. It was unbelievable and you’ve got to come to play and you can’t take a play off because you’ll get exposed.
What’s your take on Jahlil (Okafor) and Theo (Pinson)?
They’re two of my good friends and we all in a sense, them included, bonded together. They’re great characters, they’re great students, they’re great basketball players, so everything worked out.
You had a lacerated kidney. What did you learned about yourself and basketball in the time you were unable to play?
Oh, yeah, that was a huge thing in my career.
For the audience members who may not know, how did it happen?
Oh, yeah, I got double-teamed and got pushed into a kid.
If you want to say so.. I fell onto the back of his leg and into his heel. His heel just pushed right up into my kidney and cut it.
Yeah, it was. I cut it and I ended up having to sit out for eight weeks. It kind of made me step back and see…
What did you realize?
It made me step back from the game of basketball and really what I had in front of me and what was really important and just kind of cherished the game more and just cherish everything more because the game can just go away from you. In a split second, it can be gone.
Who do you try to model your game after?
I try to take bits and pieces from, you know, all the great point guards in the NBA. Guys like Chris Paul, I think he does everything well and I try to just take as much as I can from him. And Rondo, you know he sets up his teammates incredibly well and…
He’s a great defender.
Yeah, exactly, and he anticipates and everything like that. He anticipates everything well on the floor. And then there’s Russell Westbrook..
Well, by the way, you might shoot a little better than Rondo at this point.
(laughs) With Russell Westbrook, I love to see how he uses his explosion and just gets his team where they need to go. And there’s all kinds of little things you can take from different point guards’ play because they’re in the NBA for a reason.
You come from a bit of a basketball family. Your father, your mother, and your brother all played at various levels. How do you think that helps you and differentiates you from other players?
Yeah, it helps a lot because any one of my relatives I can go to and talk about basketball just like they’re all behind me and support me in any way I need and whatever I do. They’re all there for me. So, you know, being born and raised in a basketball family, it’s helped me love the game and just pushed me.
Does it make you more competitive when you’re growing up in a family like that?
Yeah, definitely. I was trying to compete with my brother, my cousins, everyone who was older. I just was always trying to compete with my brother in everything. I was just trying to hang with them as much as I could and I think it just helped. It really turned me into a competitor. Yeah, now that I’m older I can hang with them. We’re much more competitive.
You guys must kill with two-on-two at the local YMCA.
(laughs) It’s competitive. We always go back and forth.
What was it like when you first beat one of your older relatives?
It kind of just told me that I was getting there. I was getting bigger, I was getting older.
It was a first step.
Right, right. It felt like a big deal.
In terms of leadership, what was it like being the captain of the team this year as a sophomore?
Being captain was a good honor. It was big being named leader of your team and you’ve got to set a good example. I think I do that well and guys are looking for you to lead and you just got to be on point and you’ve got to be ready to lead them.
You wanted to be more vocal this year. You mentioned it a little bit earlier as well.
Yeah, I mean, you can never communicate too much.
Particularly with a young team.
Yeah, exactly, especially on a young team, you’re being just vocal and communicating, it makes it a lot easier for everybody. Than if you are being quiet, just being vocal it starts up top and everybody else communicates.
Are you loud or more quiet by nature?
I would say I’m more laid back and quiet by nature. So it’s just something that’s out of my element to be more vocal. You know, I’d rather lead by example, but I just have to be more vocal. It’s something that I have to constantly work on and have to step out of my comfort zone and be vocal.
Another important issue with point guards is leadership. We talked before about you being named captain, but how would you assess your leadership skills at this point?
Leadership is obviously important. You’re the leader on your court at all times and I’m just a point guard and just try to take that and go with that.
We talked before about all the fans showing up to support you in high school and here. Would you say there’s a lot of pressure for you to stay home for college?
There is. There’s been a lot of pressure to stay home, but I’ve just got to take it in stride. You just go through this once and you just have to have fun with it.
I was at your game last year in Dallas where you scored over 40 points (45 points). Shooting is obviously one of the things you do relatively well. How do you account for your shooting and what is your shooting regimen?
Oh, yeah, I just try to put up as many shots as I can in the off-season, just work on repetition. You know, you can never put too many shots up. There’s never too much repetition.
How did you learn how to shoot originally?
My older brother was a tremendous shooter and he worked with me a lot and, you know, it just worked its way out.
You try to mentally and visually prepare before the games. That’s something unusual for a kid your age.
Oh, yeah, I just kind of get into my own zone and where I want to go with the ball and how I want to pass it. A lot of guys are just different. I don’t know. It’s the way I feel I need to get ready for the game and it’s worked for me. Some guys goof around, some guys are very serious, and some guys are off on their own. It’s a matter of trying to be comfortable with how you feel.
What about your use of change of pace?
Oh, yeah, definitely change of pace is very important to me. I’m trying to work on my change of pace because it makes it hard for guys to try to stay in front of you.
It’s kind of like in baseball where if you’re a changeup pitcher, it makes your fastball look a lot faster.
Yeah, that’s a good example.
What do you view as your strengths and weaknesses right now?
My strengths are just seeing the floor and being that true point guard out there. My weaknesses are, you know, you can always be a better defender. I’ve just got to work on the little things, like being a good leader out there. Those little things are always very important.
You get a lot of junk defenses thrown at you, particularly in high school ball. How have you adjusted to the different defenses?
Oh, yeah, I think I’ve seen them all. It just comes with the territory from our team’s success. You know, when we get success, you just have to go with it and figure out a way for your team to win.
Do you watch a lot of basketball? I know Rubio is another popular point guard around here. Do you watch a lot of college or pro basketball?
I do. I watch as much basketball as I can, both college and pro.
What about being a passer versus scorer? You’re sort of known as being a scoring point guard with your AAU team, but for USA Basketball, you were much more of a facilitator as a passing point guard.
I actually think I’m a pass-first point guard, but I just try to take what the defense will give me. If the defense gives me points, I’m going to take it, but if the defense gets up on me, I’m going to pass it immediately and I’ll hit the open man. I love to set up my guys. It just makes it fun, it makes it easier. I love to just, you know, get your team going.
So, all things being equal, you like to have a great pass over a great jumpshot?
Who do you turn to for guidance whenever you make big decisions?
My parents, they’ve been there since day one and they really have my best interest at heart.
You’re quite lucky to have both parents.
Yeah, I’ve also got my grandparents, as you can see right behind you. My grandparents are right here, my aunts are right there, they’re all here to support me. I’ve got a great core group of people. I feel very comfortable with them. I really like to listen to their thoughts on things.
I mentioned before about that forty-five point game. That game sort of helped to put you on the map to a degree. What was going through your mind and what do you remember about that day?
It was just one of those days where I was just feeling it and our coaches are always like if you’re feeling it, just go with it. Don’t let up. They just say that if we’re feeling it, just keep going with it, so I just kept putting it up and it just kept falling. It was just incredible.
In terms of a timeline, when would you like to decide by?
I’m waiting, I’m not trying to rush into my recruitment or anything. I’m not looking to give an immediate commitment. I’m looking to survey things and looking deeply into everything. So it’ll be just a little while.
Have you taken any visits?
I’ve taken unofficials to Ohio State and to Michigan State.
And probably Minnesota too.
Yeah, and to Minnesota as well.
What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I’m just a laid-back kid, I like to have fun. I’m not trying to draw a lot of attention to myself. I’m trying to be laid-back and do the right thing. I’m not one of those kids who is a trouble-maker or anything like that. I’m just pretty laid-back and I keep to myself.
You've grown up in Apple Valley.
Yeah, I grew up in Apple Valley. We have the Minnesota Zoo. It’s a nice community to grow up in.
What’s your current size?
I’m about 6’2,” 175.
Before we were talking about change of pace and I remember reading that one of the reasons you wanted to add that to your game was because you may not be the fastest guy…
Yeah, I’m definitely not the fastest guy, so I felt like if I could just add that to my game, I’d just be a lot more difficult to try to stay in front of, rather than if I rely on my straight-forward quickness.
Lastly, can you talk about the Duke offer and what you know about the program?
Yes, Duke has offered me a scholarship. I’m very grateful to them for that. Coach K is a legendary coach and he’s an unbelievable coach and Coach Wojciechowski and Coach Capel are great guys. I saw the Duke coaches watching. They've coached a lot of great players. It will be interesting to see what happens with this recruiting period.
Were you surprised by the offer? It’s much earlier than they usually give players scholarship offers...
Yeah, actually, I was. I guess it was earlier than they traditionally do offer kids. I just feel very blessed and I just feel very humbled that they’re even recruiting me and I never thought that I'd be recruited by any of the big-name colleges and so I feel very blessed to have them even interested in me.
Any thoughts on visiting them in the future?
Yeah, eventually, definitely. I want to take an unofficial there.
What are some future tournaments you will be playing in for fans who want to catch you? Obviously EYBL…
Yeah, EYBL at all of the locations, then at the end of the month, I’ll be in California.
Lastly, what are you hoping to show coaches this year?
I’m just hoping to show them my hard work and just the little things, like boxing-out and getting on the floor and just the little things.