Tag Archives: Duke Basketball

Welcome To The Hood: A Rodney Hood Exclusive

6’8″ Rodney Hood of Duke University, Photo by Andrew Slater

Blue Devil Nation was the first to have an exclusive one on one interview with Rodney Hood after he transferred to Duke from Mississippi State.  This interview ran for our BDN Premium members in early July and we are now opening the article up for the public to give you an idea of the articles you will find in our extended subscription service.  Enjoy getting to Rodney Hood -

In early April, Rodney Hood announced he would transfer from Mississippi State after his freshman season. It was a tumultuous year, one in which Hood, along with recent NBA lottery picks Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Brad Beal, earned SEC All-Freshman honors, but which also ended with his Bulldogs getting knocked out by UMass in the opening round of the NIT.

With Hood looking for a fresh start, Duke, a program that had recruited the former McDonald’s All-American in high school, quickly rose to the top of his new list. In early June, the Meridien, Mississippi native made the journey up to Durham to visit Duke and to meet face-to-face with the coaches. Basketball was the one constant throughout the visit, as Rodney enjoyed hanging with his prospective teammates — eating, talking, and of course playing ball.  Hood also was impressed by the refreshing candidness of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who watched Hood’s game footage at Mississippi State with him. He pointed out things that they could work to improve upon, and also reviewed footage of Grant Hill playing at Duke. The freedom that Grant Hill played with while at Duke certainly appealed to the 6’8″ 204 lb Hood.

After narrowing his list down to Ohio State and Duke, Rodney chose to be a Blue Devil. On Wednesday, he officially moved in, and will be roommates with sophomore point guard Quinn Cook. Hood and Cook, a born salesman, talked throughout the recruiting process and have built a relationship. Hood, a good student in high school, has enrolled in classes in Psychology and Advertising during this second summer session at Duke.

Along with Duke rising seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, Rodney is one of the select college players invited by Nike to its prestigious LeBron James Skills Academy this weekend. The left-handed wing player shot the basketball very well in the opening session, impressing several NBA scouts with his mix of size, skill, and versatility.

In his first interivew since enrolling at Duke, Hood spoke exclusively with me about a variety of topics, including a NCAA Championship run, improving his body in this coming year, what he will bring to the Duke program, being a competitive teammate, and unpacking his bags.

 

We’ll get into why you chose Duke in a second, but why don’t we start off with your reasons for transferring?  Your dad had mentioned in an article that this wasn’t a last-second decision, that you had thought about this for a few months. 

Yeah, it was just a situation where we had a coaching change and there were a lot of changes throughout the program, so I decided to look elsewhere. It was just a personal decision and that’s what I decided to do.

What were your reasons for choosing Duke?

You know, it’s just a high level of basketball. Coach K is evidently the best coach in basketball.  It also gets me out of my comfort zone. We are going to have a chance to compete for a National Championship.

I’d like to talk to you about that in a moment, but one of the things that I saw that you had mentioned that you liked in your meeting with Coach K was that he talked about specifics. What did he envision for you?

He just envisioned me being one of the best players in the country on one of the best teams and being able to play there.  He was very honest with me.  We watched tape and he was honest about my game.

He watched tape with or of you at Mississippi State?

Yes, and he told me what I needed to work on and, for me, there were just a lot of little things that I didn’t know about myself and my game.

That’s interesting. 

And so it was great. 

Out of curiosity, did he compare you to any players? I know that sometimes he does that. I remember, for instance, him talking with Kyle Singler about that.

 Well, we watched a little of Grant Hill’s tape.

Well, you’re around the same height.

Yeah, we’re kinda the same build, but we’re different kind of players. But the freedom that he gave Grant Hill back in the day, he said he would put me in those sort of situations.

That’s also interesting.

Yeah.

Did you know any of the guys on the team beforehand? Guys like Quinn?

Oh, yeah, I’ve been on campus already since Wednesday. I room with Quinn and we talked throughout the whole recruiting process. I also talked a lot with Rasheed and Amile and all of those guys.

Well, they’re all very nice.

Oh, yeah, definitely. 

What did Coach K say that he would like to work with you on in the next year?

More than anything, my body.

Your body?

Yeah, not just really adding weight, but adding a whole lot of strength. Just falling in love with being in shape.

Yeah, I think if you just got a little more developed in the upper body and keep working on your ball skills,  you’d be pretty unstoppable at this level.

Yeah, that’s what we talked about. We talked about falling in love with being in shape. You know, if you can get into shape, you can do a lot more things and it just elevates your game..stuff like that. Oh, and obviously skill work, but more just about getting my body in shape.

Now for you is it more about strength or conditioning or, frankly, both?

Yeah, it’s really both, really. You know, KD, Kevin Durant, he runs all of the time, and he’s not the strongest guy, but he’s effective because he’s mobile and he runs. But you know, I have to add strength to be the type of player that I want to become. 

I’ve been watching you a lot in the last two days, and it looks like you make a conscious effort to try to get open. Yesterday, you shot the ball really well, but you’re constantly moving without the ball here.

Yeah, yeah, a lot of it’s just repetition, just staying in the gym.  Just focusing on getting better.

For fans who may not have seen you play at Mississippi State or in high school, what are you going to bring to the program? There are a lot of fans that are excited about you coming.

I’m a player that can play on both ends of the court. You know, gets out there on defense, and offensively I’m very versatile.  I can make plays, I can shoot the basketball, I can post-up.

You knocked down fifty three-pointers.

Yeah, I can do a lot of stuff. I’m just excited to get in there and try to win a National Championship. It’s one of my goals.

As a lefty, what advantages do you have?

You know, there are a lot of advantages. Guys are not used to going against lefties. That’s why Ginobili and guys like that, Zach Randolph, guys are not used to guarding them every single day. I think it gives you an advantage.

Also, as a shot-blocker, you’re facing a lot of righties and you have a natural advantage of being able to block their shot with your left hand. 

Yeah, it’s very easy to contest a right-hander’s shot. 

What would you say is your go-to move, for fans who haven’t seen you play?

I’d say my go-to move, well, I like to do a lot of jab series. That’s basically my go-to move — I like to jab.

Where do you like to shoot the ball? It seemed like yesterday it was, like a lot of players, dead center.

Well, pretty much everywhere, but mainly dead center in the middle of the court. I try to get open spaces.

Then today you tried to work on the wing and down along the baseline.

Yeah, I was trying to work on that.

In terms of strength and conditioning, what do you currently weigh and what are you hoping to do in terms of your body?

Well, right now, I’m 204. 

Are you 6’8” or about there?

Yeah, I’m 6’8.” Definitely, I’m 6’8.”

Well, what are you hoping to get to?

I want to get to about 212 at least of muscle. I’m not a guy that wants to get real bulky and I’m never going to be that type of guy, but as long as I keep getting strength, I’ll be fine. 

You want to add that lean muscle.

Yes, absolutely.

Is there a guy you tried to model your game after, when you were growing up?

I love Penny.  Penny Hardaway. 

He’s another 6’8,” 6’9” guy that was skilled.

Yeah, I watched him play a lot and just tried to model my game after him. The way he makes plays and made his team better.

Do you think that you’re a pretty good passer?

I am. I can make a lot of passes. I can see over the defense a lot. Just like in football, where guys, well, quarterbacks can see over the defense. I can help find the open man.  

Yeah, it’s such an advantage if you can. Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself? A little bit about your background. I know you’re from Meridian and your dad played ball. 

Yeah, I’m from Mississippi, born and raised. I love it there, but I also love to have fun. I’m a regular kid. I’m not going to get in no trouble..on purpose. You know, nobody’s perfect, but I just love to have fun. 

You’re not going to be a knucklehead off the court, right?

Oh, no. 

What about your family?

Yeah, my mom and my dad both played ball, my brother and sister both played ball on the Division I level. My dad played pro overseas.

Are you the youngest?

Yeah, I’m the youngest, so it’s good having that knowledge in front of you. 

It probably helps a lot, coming from a basketball family.  

It does. 

What are you hoping to accomplish at the skills academy?

Just getting better by playing against the best wing players and the best players in the country. Just getting better every single time you step on the court. 

Can you recap the visit to Duke?

It was mostly just basketball, really. You know, we talked basketball almost the entire time. We ate, we talked basketball. We played, we talked basketball. We talked basketball afterwards. That was pretty much it. (laughs) I liked it.

You mentioned before that you’re looking to make a title run in 2014. You guys might be stacked. 

Yeah, definitely, we’re going to be pretty good. You know, in that year, we’re going to be pretty good. I’m just anxious, you know, the freshmen that are coming in now are going to develop and we’ve got some guys that will come in next year. 

It sounds like recruiting’s going pretty well. 

That’s what I hear. I think we’re also going to be pretty versatile as far as defense and, well, offensively, too. It’s going to be pretty exciting. 

What’s your schedule for the rest of the summer?

I’m going to be at summer school at Duke. 

The second session?

Yeah, I may be at a couple of more camps, but I’m not sure yet.

Since you just mentioned it, defensively, what are you going to do for the program?

I’m just a guy that can get out there and guard your 1, 2, or 3, and at the college level, even a 4.  

That’s impressive versatility on defense. 

Yeah, it is. 

On the AAU level, I always thought that you were a really good teammate.

Yeah, I just love to compete. I think I bring the best out of my teammates, you know, challenging them every single day and, well, they’re challenging me too. 

It’ll  be great in practice this year.

Yeah, it will.

What about your major? Have you thought about that at all?

No, not really. 

Well, it’s still early for you.

I’m taking an advertising and  psychology class right now for summer.

I remember you were a good high school student. 

Yeah, I was. 

What are you interested in doing when you stop playing? Have you thought about that at all?

Well, I still want to be involved in basketball. 

Coaching or announcing?

I don’t know about coaching.  There’s a lot of personalities (laughs), but we’ll see.

Did you have a favorite team growing up?

You mean NBA team?

Yeah.

No, not really. 

I didn’t know, growing up in Mississippi, which direction you would be looking.

Yeah, I didn’t really have a team.

One person had told my privately that they thought you were really disciplined growing up. Is that true?

Yeah, my high school coach really instilled in me discipline, you know, on and off the court. You know, doing the little things can help you go a long way. It’s been paying off so far. I just got to keep focussing on doing the little things.

What do you like to do for fun off the court?

Play video games, card games, just regular card games. (laughs)

Have you had an opportunity to see any USA Basketball this weekend? Will you get to?

No, but I think we’re going to go see them tomorrow. I’m very excited to see them.

You’re obviously a very good shooter. How are you trying to develop that?

Just repetition. You know, as a shooter, I’m just always trying to add repetition. 

In one of the articles I read for preparation, one of your ex-teammates said you might be a one-and-done.

I never said that. 

It was your ex-teammate, Moultrie, who said it.

Oh, no, it’s however long it takes to be ready. I never think of it that way. 

So, you’re “unpacking your bags,” so to speak?

Yeah, I am.

Thank you so much for doing this.

Oh, sure.

6'11"  Karl Towns, Photo by Andrew Slater

Karl Towns: Something Like A Phenomenon

Phenom: phenomenon; especially: a person of phenomenal ability or promise

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

6'11" Freshman Karl Towns, Jr., Photo by Andrew Slater

Phenom is an overused term in sports, but there are times when it merits use. 6’11” freshman Karl Towns, Jr. has already helped lead St. Joseph’s Falcons of Metuchen, New Jersey to a 28-2 record and its first New Jersey state title. It’s a feat that alumni including the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and former Duke All-American and Chicago Bull Jason Williams weren’t able to achieve during their time at the North Jersey Catholic school. After averaging a double-double in the always competitive New Jersey Catholic leagues, MaxPreps named Towns, Jr. to its freshman All-American team.

Off the court, Towns’ impact was also felt at St. Joseph’s, as Karl, a sociable and conscientious young man, took on a leadership role as the freshman student class president and has earned a reported 4.3 GPA in the classroom. When Karl, a Knicks fan, was contemplating a career in sports broadcasting, MSG Varsity, a regional cable network, sent the then fifteen year-old to interview his basketball hero, forward Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the halftime of a Rutgers-Seton Hall basketball game earlier in the year, Victor Cruz, the All-Pro wide receiver for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, wanted to meet with the young phenom. An exceptional all-around athlete, the Piscataway, NJ native is a scratch golfer and, although perhaps not yet Randy Johnson, the 6’11” freshman right-hander, who wears a size-20 sneaker, reportedly can already throw a baseball over eighty miles per hour.

On the court, “Little Karl” has benefitted from the tutelage and guidance of his father Karl Sr., a 6’5″ former tenacious rebounder for Monmouth University (still the university’s leader for rebounds in a season and game) and a successful high school coach at Piscataway Vo-Tech High School in New Jersey for the past fourteen years. His father has also coached Karl, Jr. on the AAU circuit, including for the Sports U. 16s at the Pitt Jam Fest, where the freshman was named to the All-Tournament team by HoopGroup. In order to honor the Dominican heritage of his mother, Jacqueline “Jackie” Cruz-Towns and to give his relatives a chance to watch him play competitively in person, Karl has trained with the Dominican National Team and yesterday made the senior team, which is still hoping to qualify for the Olympics in London this year.

 

6'11" Karl Towns of New Jersey, Photo by Andrew Slater

A rare, young American big man who is both able to play with his back to the basket and has a face-up game to beyond the three-point line, Karl came within one shot of winning the three-point shooting contest at the recent Mary Kline Classic, a charity event  in Pennington, New Jersey that included some of the best talent on the East Coast. Towns, who was one of the youngest participants, wanted to play in the event, which was able to raise over $20,000 dollars for brain cancer research, because he lost his grandfather to cancer.

 

Under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has developed a legacy of success with tough New Jersey high school basketball players. All four of Duke’s National Championship teams had, at least, one starter from the Garden State. NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving (St. Patrick’s), the Bulls’ Luol Deng (Blair Academy), the Hornets’ Lance Thomas (St. Benedict’s), the Pacers’ Dahntay Jones (Rahway), Jason Williams (St. Joe’s), Bobby Hurley (St. Anthony’s), Roshown McLeod (St. Anthony’s), and Alaa Abdelnaby (Bloomfield) all went onto have NBA careers.

 

After the event, Karl Towns, Jr., an ambitious and cerebral young man with a disarming smile and a big heart, spoke with me extensively about a variety of topics.

 

 

Let’s start with the state title run.

Oh, you know, it was a big thing for us at St. Joe’s. I always told St. Joe’s that I wanted to do something that had never been done before: I was going to bring a state title to them. When we were going for the state title, we knew we had a chance to win it. We knew that we were the best team there.

At what point in the year did you get a sense that this could be the year? When did you feel that the group was really clicking?

When I first committed to the school..

Oh, really (laughs)

Yeah, you know, I did. I always have a high confidence that I know that we can do well in whatever we set our minds to. After the game in Teaneck, we lost the second game of the year. We came back and we won that third game. After that game, I just felt that we were going to gun for a state title this year. We weren’t going to wait.

 

Can you touch on your thoughts on two other talented guys that have passed through those same hallways, Jason Williams and Andrew Bynum?

Oh, Jason Williams is a great player and so is Andrew. I’m just trying to make my own legacy at St. Joe’s.

Sure.

Bynum is such a great player and I just wanted to use the shooting touch of Jason and put it with Bynum’s post presence and then just try to make that work.

In terms of international play, you’ve trained with the Dominican National Team. How has that unique experience gone so far?

Oh, I actually just left our practice to come to this event. It’s just a great experience and know that I’m playing for my country and playing for something that’s much bigger than me is just rewarding and puts a lot of pride in myself.

[private]

As you know or can see I’ve tried to do a lot of research on you..

Yeah, yeah

and I know that your mother is of Dominican descent and your grandmother and other relatives still live there.

Yeah, you know, my mom was born in Santiago. My mom’s mom, you know, my grandmother built a house in Santiago. I guess that I’m just trying to keep the Dominican family name alive. Really, everything I work for is for my family. So, in this case, if I can help the Dominican team in any way, I’m happy to.

 

Another distinguishing thing about you is that you’ve reportedly earned a 4.3 GPA. First of all, is that still 4.3 GPA true? Secondarily, talk about your emphasis on academics and how you feel that sets you apart?

Yes, it is true. You know having a 4.3 GPA is something that I always wanted to achieve and so I went out there and earned it. I was always a great student when I was younger, but I just wanted to prove that, as a freshman, I’m a great student and also a great athlete as well. I wanted to show other kids that it is possible to be great at both. I’ve worked hard in both areas and tried to use both to my advantage. For me homework and school come relatively easily because my mom and dad have been teachers.

I knew your dad was a coach.

Yeah, he’s a coach and a teacher as well. I’ve used his teaching methods and I just tried to put it into my work.

Since you mentioned it, how difficult is it for you to balance the almost unrelenting number of basketball events and still try to achieve in the classroom? As you may know, I’m at these AAU events and, as a player or coach, they essentially take up your entire weekend if you continue to win, advance, and then travel back in a van or catch connecting flights from God knows wherever the organizers can find the cheapest venue. In your case, you don’t play in as many AAU events as some other kids and your dad has your best interests at heart, but still there is the balancing aspect that you have to deal with.

Yeah, yeah, definitely, you know it’s just making sure that you have your priorities straight or right. You have to use your time valuably. So, there are times when we have AAU events and, well, instead of me going around and going into other hotel rooms and part..

Don’t worry, I know.

Yeah, doing stupid things or hanging out, I’m studying..or I’m hanging out and studying sometimes too.

So, for you, it’s a lot about time management.

Yeah, it’s all about time management.

What are your favorite subjects and have you thought at all about what you’d like to major in?

Oh, my favorite subject is social, well, history. I love to learn about the past. I like World History especially. Then, I guess my second favorite would probably be math.

In terms of leadership, I’ll sometimes talk to team captains or point guards, but you are the class president. What was the election experience like and how has it shaped your leadership ability?

The election was funny because it was during this thing in the beginning where all of the freshman get together to see who has the best freshman class and we won. Then, the election took place and I won and I knew that, as president, I had to have the priorities of not just me but for everyone in the school. So, I have to try to make sure that everything runs smoothly in the school and be a good representative. I’ve had to make a lot of decisions that I am proud of and the same time everyone has benefitted from them.

Hopefully

Yeah, hopefully.

You’re supposed to be a scratch golfer and play baseball as well.

Yeah, I well quit baseball this year so that I could concentrate on basketball, but I’d like to play again. So, maybe next year I’ll play.

I heard that you can throw it over eighty miles an hour right now.

Oh, yeah. (laughs) You know actually I was going to go golfing tomorrow actually, but it’s funny baseball was always my first love really.

 Now, what’s the latest in recruiting for you? By normal standards, it would still be very early, but..

There are so many schools to remember, but I always get new schools every week and every day. There are just so many schools that I don’t want to leave anyone out. I can pretty much say that almost every team that was in the NCAA Tournament has offered me or expressed interest.

Are you in any sort of rush to decide? Some kids are, while others would prefer to wait until the end.

Yeah, you know the thing about picking a college, I feel like I have four years to do it.

I feel guilty even asking you about recruiting, but there’s been some talk that you’d decide sooner than later.

Yeah, you know, I feel blessed to have four years and have options. I didn’t have to wait until my junior year to get some notoriety like some kids. I think that I’m going to wait for a little bit, before a decision.

 Sure, your father played at Monmouth and has been a coach for almost your entire life. What advice has he given you and talk about his influence in your life?

Yeah, you know my dad is always, well, he went to Monmouth and he’s still the greatest rebounder and blocker in their program’s history. I’m so competitive that I wanted to beat him in anything that I do so

What was that experience like the first time that you beat him in basketball? He’s a big guy, but I heard that it was fairly early.

Yeah, you know I beat him in one-on-ones, but the first time I beat him I was, like, six or seven

Oh, wow.

Yeah, and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore (laughs), but, you know, anytime I’m out on the court, I’m always trying to break any amount of blocks or rebounds that he’s ever gotten.

In terms of being the child of a coach, what do you think are the benefits of being around the game and, perhaps, viewing the game differently than the average player? I would think that it would give you an inherent advantage.

Yeah, you know it is, but the challenge with it is that my dad wants me to do so well that he tries to coach me and sometimes forgets that I’m his son. He gets mad because he never, like, wants to talk to me in a negative way. That’s why I think sometimes that he wants me to be just perfect.

He’s got high standards.

Yeah, he does and that’s how he coaches me, but, as his son, he always helped or gave  me ways to improve my basketball IQ or scoring in different ways and I think that’s really helped a lot. He’s given me a lot of his experiences and helped me learn how to do stuff at an early age. He also works me out and so even that helps in a practical way.

 This is related to your family and recruiting, but will distance be a factor in your recruitment or college decision?

I don’t know. It could be. I haven’t really thought too much about that issue. I don’t think it will, though, because my parents really just want me to go to the best school for me. They just want me to go to the school that’ll give me the best chance at a good future in my life.

Let’s talk about Kevin Durant. He’s your favorite player and I know that you had a chance to interview him for a local network. What was that experience like for you?

Yeah, Kevin Durant is such a great guy. He’s just such a sociable guy. Kevin..

Yeah, he was, without any fanfare, quietly very good to a friend of mine and he’s got a great work ethic as well, which I’m sure you appreciated.

Yeah, he’s got just an amazing or crazy work ethic which I loved and I was able to spend a day with him for MSG Varsity. It was great to just do that and pick his brain and learning from him. It was just an incredible experience, even with the interview off. It was great to just be able to learn from him and, at the same time, I felt like, in some ways, I could relate to a lot of where he was coming from.

I also saw that you thought of either being a sports broadcaster or eventually becoming a doctor.

Yeah, you know, I wanted to do that, but..

It gave you a taste of it and you didn’t necessarily like it.

Yeah, you know, it gave me a taste of being an ESPN reporter (laughs) and I see how it  is now. It’s really a little gut-wrenching I have to say because you know that you have to hide your questions and you’ve got to come out with it, but it really opened my eyes…

As you can see over there, I’ve got some shorthand

Yeah, yeah, (laughs) now, I see, you’re very good, but, yeah, it was a great experience and I learned a lot.

 

How do you battle against both hype and complacency? There’s, unfortunately, both a  tendency to build players up and then try to tear them down. How do you also try to protect yourself against settling or becoming complacent?

Yeah, I don’t mind the hype, but you have to recognize it for what it is and be prepared to live up to it and maintain the hype, if you will. For me, I just go in the gym everyday and I work hard and just make sure that anytime that people make standards for me that I will always live up to them.

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

Georgetown was my last visit and I don’t have any planned just yet.

What will you be looking for in a college, whenever you do decide?

Oh, the academic standards need to be top notch. It needs to be a great academic school and it also has to be a great basketball school.

How did you decide on St. Joe’s and will that be a similar process in terms of how you ultimately decide on a college?

You know you’re right. I think it will be a similar thing. For me, it came down to comfort for me with the basketball program at St. Joe’s and I think it’ll that same thing for college.

Who do you turn to for guidance whenever you make big decisions?

Mostly, my family I’d have to say, really my whole general family. They’ve been very supportive.

How would you assess your recent play in AAU competition, such as the Pitt Jam Fest?

Yeah, you know the last time I played was in Pittsburgh and I think I did very well. It was a great time to be back with my teammates and coaches. It was a lot of fun.

What are your goals for next season, for you individually and for your team?

I just want to win a T.O.C. (Tournament of Champions) Championship.

Yeah, you came close this year. I know that strength and conditioning is something that you’ve wanted to work on. How is that going and what areas are you concentrating on most? What have done to improve in that area of your game?

Oh, you know, I’ve just physically been getting stronger overall.

It looks like you’re getting stronger and building up your upper-body and developing a base.

Yeah, thanks, I’ve been concentrating on that area. I’ve been trying to develop a base and work on my legs as well. I want to continue to strengthen my body. Even though I had a very good rebounding season, I want to do even better next season, which, you know, goes back to my competitive side. I know that I can do better and get stronger. This will help.

Usually, guys your age tend to favor one heavily over the other, but I’m curious with you..do you prefer to play with your back to the basket or face-up?

Yeah, you know, it really doesn’t matter for me. i just want to do whatever I can with the ball so that’s why I’ve been working in the gym so hard in order to be able to do both. It’s really just where do I pick up the ball and sometimes habits.

What will be your role next season for St. Joe’s? Quenton (DeCosey, a Temple commitment) obviously moves on. This year, you played all over the court.

Yeah, you know I think my role will be even bigger because I’ll have to shoot the ball more and be all over the court and be active. This is just another step in the road and I have to just live up to the hype.

In terms of recruiting, is Duke recruiting you at all? For them, it’s usually very early in terms of evaluating or recruiting players your age. They tend to wait a little bit longer than some other schools that feel the need to get in early with a kid.

Yeah, you know Duke has shown a little interest, but I don’t really think that there has been any scholarship offers or anything like that yet.

It’s still very early for them.

Yeah, yeah, I completely understand.

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

Coach K is probably the best coach in college basketball history. Even with what Coach Bob Knight was able to accomplish, I think Coach K has even surpassed him. He’s one of the greatest coaches ever and anyone would be lucky or love to play under him. In terms of the program, the program is just amazing. It’s become just an NBA warehouse or I can’t quite think of the word, but they’ve been able to produce just so many players who then went on to the NBA. Anyone who goes there just…

Does that fit, by the way, in terms of the general criteria..

Yeah, yeah

that you were mentioning before about looking for a program and a school that offered you a balance of a top notch athletics and academics?

Yeah, yeah, it does exactly. I want to make sure that I have a bright future ahead of me and prepare for all possible things.

 

We’re here at the Mary Kline Classic. How did you get involved in this event and what does this event mean to you?

Oh, this is a great event and for a great cause. I’m here to help in any way that I can. Cancer is such a terrible disease and, you know, I lost my grandfather to cancer.

I lost my aunt to the same affliction as Mrs. Kline.

Yeah, this is something that affects all of us and, in any way that I can ever help out a charity, I’m there to contribute.

I’m glad that you’re here. What are you hoping to show coaches this summer?

Yeah, you know I’m hoping to show college coaches that I have a great post-up game because it often gets overshadowed by the three-point game. People don’t realize that my post-up game is probably better than my three-point game, but the outside shooting tends to get mentioned more because it’s unusual.

I also think that, whether it’s your father’s influence or whatever, your passing in the half-court, especially out of the post, is very advanced. You’re able to quickly hit the open man, when necessary.

Yeah, you know, I’ve always been known as a shooter or as a passer, but I’d like to be known more for my post-up game. I want to show them that my post-up game is probably even better than my shooting.

In terms of size, how tall are you now? I can see those size twenty shoes.

Yeah, I’ve got my size twenty shoes. I’m now 6’11” and I have no idea how much I weigh today.

 What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?

I’m a video game freak.

I know you like the 2K basketball games.

Oh, yeah, I love NBA 2K11 and 2K12. Those are my games. I’m a video game fanatic and I just love the challenge and competition.

By the way, do you think it helps you at all on the court, in terms of things like hand-eye coordination or visualizing plays?

Yeah, you know, I actually do. I think I learn from it. I think a lot of guys play just to play, but I play to learn. I think another thing that people don’t realize about me is that I actually like playing soccer.

Oh, yeah. My God, at your size..

Yeah, it’s fun and helps too.

Who are some other kids, nationally, that you’re close to on the circuit? I know locally your friends with (Isaiah) “Boogie” Briscoe.

I’m close with Wade Baldwin [a 6'4 sophomore at Immaculata HS (NJ) with offers from Northwestern, Seton Hall, and UMass]. He’s actually my cousin. Many people don’t realize that. We visited Georgetown together. You know, in terms of other people, it’s hard. I mean I feel like I’ve got friends all over and so, you know, it’s really hard to say who I’m really close with.

Sure. What’s your take on the state of New Jersey basketball?

You know New Jersey basketball is probably the best basketball in the country I’d have to say. There’s a lot of intensity and competition. I mean you look at it on the high school level and we consistently produce very good teams and players that wind up playing around the country. Amazing consistency

 (Interview reconvenes after losing the three-point shooting contest by one shot in the final round)

 Oh, I can’t believe I just lost by one. That’s going to bother me for a while.

Don’t worry. That was still impressive. Let’s go, sort of, rapid fire. What’s your favorite pro team?

The Knicks.

 Who’s the toughest player you’ve played against so far?

That’s a tough one, but I think Al Horford (of the Atlanta Hawks).

What do you plan on working most this offseason?

Strength, my strength.

What is one area of your game that you expect to be better in a year from now?

My strength or rebounding

Do you watch a lot of basketball?

Oh, yes, definitely.

In terms of when you decide on a college, are you looking more for someone who’s going to be your buddy or someone who’s really going to push you?

That’s good. I think for someone who’s a pusher. I think I need or benefit from coaches that push me. I think I need that push.

 Where do you like to catch the ball most?

Anywhere (laughs).

That’s true.

(laughs)

 How would you assess your defense at this point?

I think I’m good in all kinds of defenses. I wasn’t the best when I was younger and so I always tried to work on my defense. The work has started to pay off. I think I’m a lot better now.

Do you know what your stats were this year? Does twelve and ten sound right?

Yeah, I averaged twelve points, but eleven rebounds, six blocks, and I think six assists.

Impressive, particularly for a freshman in this area. What about your outside game? It is obviously an important part of your game and a major distinguishing factor for you offensively.

Well, it just cost me a three-point contest. So, I don’t know how good it is anymore.

Oh, no, no, it was a cheap rim.

(laughs) Thanks, but that’s gonna frustrate me for a while. So close. Realistically, my outside game is probably the best part of my game.

I was reading that there’s a Willie Mays’ quote that you have on your wall, “It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What’s tough is being good every day.”

You know because it just shows that people usually have great games once in a while, but they just fade away. A good player can be like that. They can occasionally have a great game, whereas the great player has the consistency to keep having great games almost everyday. They don’t let up.

Well, I think you can see that very clearly in AAU ball, where a player can have a very good weekend. The great ones distinguish themselves by the consistency of their performances. They deliver event after event.

Absolutely.

You met with Victor Cruz (an All-Pro wide receiver for the New York Giants). What was that experience like?

Yeah, he wanted meet with me after winning the Super Bowl. He heard about me through New Jersey hoops. He’s from Patterson.

Right, he went to Patterson Catholic.

Yeah, exactly, he was a really good guy.

Running the court and conditioning is often an issue for big guys. How do you feel about where your conditioning is at right now?

Oh, I feel great right now. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m running the court very well. My legs are in great shape and I feel fine.

Lastly, you mentioned earlier working on your low-post moves. What have you been working on specifically?

You know I always had them. They’re actually better than my three-point game surprisingly. It’s just that most of the time coaches don’t want me to use it and so I’ll do whatever they tell me and shoot the three. I feel like we’re really just fine-tuning the moves right now for next season.

Do you have a preferred position?

Oh, no, I’ll go wherever my coach tells me to play. I’ll play wherever he thinks is best.

Thanks very much, Karl.

It was nice to meet you.[/private]

Philadelphia Express: Amile Jefferson To Duke

Future Blue Devil Forward Amile Jefferson, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

 Duke landed its second commitment of the 2012 class when Friends Central forward Amile Jefferson pledged to the Blue Devils. Jefferson, who was a McDonald’s All-American this March, will bring length, skill around the basket, a good basketball IQ, and versatility to the Duke frontline. Although the courtship was quite lengthy, it heated up this January when Coach Krzyzewski extended a scholarship offer to the cerebral big man.

 

6'8" Amile Jefferson, Photo by Adidas/Getty

Jefferson, who recently won his fourth consecutive Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Title for his suburban Philadelphia school, visited Duke for a third time on March 3 and 4 with his dad, Malcolm Musgrove. Jefferson has been on Duke’s radar for several years. Before his sophomore year at Friends’ Central, an academically challenging Quaker school in Wynnewood,  PA, Amile was one of two rising sophomores who attended Duke’s Elite Camp. In the autumn of his junior year, Amile watched Duke unveil its fourth National Championship banner at the Countdown to Craziness.

 

The forward with a seven foot wingspan also considered N.C. State, Villanova, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Temple. Amile Jefferson was recruited by Duke Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Chris Collins. Jefferson is Duke’s first Philadelphia player since current Charlotte Bobcat Gerald Henderson suited up for the Blue Devils.

On March 28, he joined fellow Blue Devil incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon at the United Center in Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American game. In fourteen minutes, Jefferon tallied eight points, three rebounds, two steals, and an assist for the East team. This April, the Philadelphian scored twenty-six points and grabbed five rebounds, earning the MVP of the Derby Classic at Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY.

For the second consecutive year, Jefferson won Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year and was named Pennsylvania’s Class AA Player of the Year. Over the course of his career with the Phoenix of Friends’ Central, alma mater of former Syracuse All-American Hakeem Warrick, Amile Jefferson scored over fifteen hundred points, grabbed over eight hundred rebounds, and swatted away nearly two hundred shots.

6’8″ Amile Jefferson averaged twenty points, ten rebounds, and three blocks this year en route to a 21-5 record for his Wynnewood, Pennsylvania school. Jefferson provides Duke with a coveted second multi-year player with long-term pro potential in the 2012 class. To this point, Jefferson, the second highest-rated senior in the class of 2012 by HoopScoop,  has largely been able to overcome having no strength regimen, but in a prior interview with me, Amile has said he’s anxious to start a college strength and conditioning program in order to make his game more college-ready.

 

Amile Jefferson, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

McDonald’s All-American voter and veteran scout Tom Konchalski of HSBI said of Amile Jefferson, “He’s a young colt who’s waiting for his body to blossom, but he has a really good feel for the game. Right now, he’s probably more of a 4/3 and, obviously, he’s going to have get stronger, but, in the ACC, it’s not as if he’s going to the Big Ten or the Big East, which is even more of a physical conference. In terms of style of play, if he were to go to Duke, that would be a good pick, but he’s still got to get stronger in order to be able to play both sides of the court. He’s a guy who has some perimeter skills..not an explosive athlete, but, when he starts to working to improve himself physically, his legs will get stronger. He will get quicker and he’ll get more lift off the ground. He’s a guy who has a good feel for the lane and the baseline. He’s almost like an old-time player around the lane. He knows how to finish without going above the rim or jumping over people. He knows how to use his body to get between the defender and the ball. He knows how to shield the ball and reverse it. He has a really good feel for the game and he’s a really good kid. He’s also a good student.”

6'1" Joel Berry II, Photo by Andrew Slater

The Sunshine Kid: Joel Berry

Point Guard Joel Berry II, Photo by Andrew Slater

 “Point guards should only be judged by whether you win or lose. The rest of that stuff doesn’t matter.’’

-Mike D’Antoni

In the humid central Florida city of Apopka, a 6’1″ point guard named Joel Berry II is working on perfecting his craft. For the past few months, he’s worked with trainer Cornell Rivers, who worked with the Celtics’ Marquis Daniels, on taking his shooting to another level. Joel makes 6,000 shots per weekend. These sessions can take between four and eight hours.

This March, the sophomore point guard led his young Lake Highland Prep squad to their first state championship game. Joel scored twenty-two points in the opening half of the 4A title game against Pine Crest, but the Lake Highland Highlanders ultimately lost that game after Berry, finishing with twenty-six points, fouled out of the game with 3:07 left in the game, missing their remaining six shots of the game. After finishing with a 28-4 record and returning all of their starters, they will be early favorites to win their first state title next season and are scheduled to play in the challenging City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, FL next December.

For his efforts, the always gracious Berry II became the first sophomore in Florida’s history to win the Mr. Basketball Award. Joel also was named Gatorade’s Player of the Year in Florida. Gatorade cited his championship game run, his 3.3 GPA, and his volunteer work as the reasons for the sophomore’s distinction. For the season, Joel averaged over 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists per game.

This AAU season, Berry has formed a dynamic 1-2 punch with Dakari Johnson, a 6’10” sophomore from Brooklyn who plays at Montverde Academy for Coach Kevin Boyle. Despite the youth, the Florida based-team, Each One Teach One, has gone 8-1 through the Minneapolis and Hampton legs of the Nike EYBL. Each One Teach One is the AAU program that Duke freshman and soon-to-be NBA guard, Austin Rivers, played for.

One of his E1T1 coaches is Joel Berry, Sr. Mr. Berry was a standout multi-sport athlete in his own regard. He was an Adidas All-American football player in 1987 as well as an All-Metro Orlando performer in both track and basketball. Mr. Berry opted to pursue football at the University of Central Florida, but, unfortunately, injured his knee as a sophomore and never played football again. He’s been able to stay in good shape via a mix of strength training and the martial arts. After going back to school, Mr. Berry is scheduled to earn a Master’s degree this month from the University of Central Florida. Joel’s sister, Kourtnie, just helped lead Rollins College of Winter Park, FL to a Division II Final Four, the furthest in program history.

Nearly 6'2" Joel Berry II, Photo by Andrew Slater

Last year, playing two age groups up, Joel Berry II felt he needed to score more in order for his E1T1 team to have any chance at victory. Coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, and Billy Donovan watched the then rising sophomore play, at times, over the course of the limited July period, but he’s anxious to show the improvements in his overall game, particularly his on-the-ball defense, his improved physique and strength, which enables him to take the physicality that accompanies being a penetrating point guard, and ability to facilitate an offense.

After a recent game, Joel, who, from a personality standpoint, has managed to have the near perfect blend of being a tiger on the court and a good-natured gentleman off of it, spoke with me again after an EYBL game.

 

 

What are some things that you’ve improved on most since last year?

I’ve worked on my leadership a lot. I’m a real quiet person.

So am I.

Yeah, so I just tried to go out there and play basketball, but people had been telling me that I have to be more vocal out on the court. So, I’ve tried to work on that a lot. It’s one thing that I definitely feel like I’ve improved on. I’ve been going to a lot of leadership programs and that’s helped a lot.

That’s great. What are you hoping to show coaches this year?

I just want to show them that I can be a leader and run a team. Every time, I can’t wait to just go out there and play and help us win.

Well, I think you’ve got a much better team to work with than last year’s team. No offense to last year’s team, but you guys are older and made a great offseason acquisition by picking up the big fella, Dakari (Johnson).

Yes, sir, we’ve got a lot of size this year and it’s important that I get them the ball in spots where they can be successful with it. We’ve got a lot of players this year that can score and so it’ll take a lot of pressure off of me to score. I can just lead my team and distribute the ball. Last year, you know I needed to score a lot for us to try to win. This year, it’s been great because it feels like more we’re more of a team  out there.

 

Leadership is [private] the thing that the coaches who watched you last summer will notice most, however, this year.

Yes, sir, absolutely.

Now, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for you last year, but how do you think the experience of playing EYBL last year will help you this year?

Oh, it’ll help a lot. I’ve seen my game really go up in high school basketball and then, now, we’re competing against the best of the best. I love this. In high school, Florida is really not strong, but, when I come or get to challenge myself against this level of competition, game in and game out, I can really showcase my game.

You’ll definitely get more exposure.

Yes, sir.

Back to Dakari (Johnson) for a second, what dynamic does he bring to your team? He’s a nice kid too.

Oh, yeah, he’s been great for us. We really didn’t have a dominant big man to where we can go inside.

You two will make a good tandem.

Yes, sir, and we can work a nice two-man game and then, with our other big men, we can dump the ball into Dakari. We have faith in Dakari because he’s one of the best in the nation, regardless of class.

This high school season was a major step forward for you, both personally and your team.

Oh, it was just great. We made it to the state championship game for the first time in forty-two years. Then, we ended up losing, but we accomplished something that no one else in our school’s history had and we’re going to bring back..

Well, for the next two years, you guys are going to be the favorites.

Yes, sir, for next year, we bring back our entire starting five. It should be great fun, but we can’t afford to rest. We need to keep working.

That’s the attitude.

Yes, sir, and then, personally, I swept everybody in Central Florida with the awards.

I know. I was proud of you.

Yes, thank you, I was the first sophomore to win the Mr. Basketball Award.

Sure, let’s talk about that award specifically.

Oh, yeah, it was a major honor to get that award because usually they give it to seniors and players that are going out, but I put in an enormous amount of work and I just thought that I deserved it this year.

Well, of course, you deserved it.

(laughs)

People are always interested in recruiting. What schools are recruiting you right now?

UNC, Duke, Kentucky…just a lot of ACC and SEC schools. Well, I’ve been receiving them from all over, but those are the main two conferences. Right now, I’m looking into it and I am serious about it, but, once it gets deeper into the summer, I’ll get even more serious about it. I’ll talk more about it with my parents. I owe it to the schools to put some serious thought into it.

I saw Coach (Roy) Williams at this game.

Yes, sir.

Who handles your recruitment mostly at this point, your coaches or your parents?

Oh, my dad handles it.

Well, he’s a good filter. He’s been through it as a two-sport player through football and has been coaching basketball for a while now.

Yes, sir, but there are a lot of schools that’ve expressed some interest. It can be hectic for him, but I’m really happy and grateful for the options.

Going back to Carolina and Duke, how much interest have they expressed in you so far? What’s your interest in both? I know that you were a big Carolina fan growing up.

Yes, sir, but I just like their style of play. I like the coaches. They’re a good academic school too and that’s what I’m looking for.

I remember that you were about a 3.5 student as a freshman and then I heard that you were about a 3.3 this year too.

Yes, sir. I really want to be able to have something that I can fall back on in case anything happens or for things that I’d like to do after basketball. I mean I just love basketball, but I’d like to know that there’s something else in case

Well, you’re going to hopefully live a long life. I always think that it’s a good insurance plan for players. God forbid anything happens, but, at least, you’ll have something of value that an injury can’t take away. Would you be open to Duke as well?

Oh, yes, I like Coach Mike Krzyzewski. I like the way he carries himself and the way he runs his program. I like the pace that they play too. I would be open to any school. I’m grateful for every school that expresses an interest.

What’s your current size?

I’m about 6’1″ and a half. My weight is 192 right now. I’ve gone up from 185 at the end of last year.

Are you trying to get bigger or add muscle? I know that your dad does a lot of training.

I’m not really trying to get bigger, but just get bigger so that I can handle the more physical nature of being a guard. I wanted to be able to get physical with the other guards and also be able to take whatever they did to me.

Sure, well, you like to penetrate and so you’re getting hit every time you go down the lane.

Absolutely, that’s the reason. That’s mainly what I’ve been working on or towards. Mainly, it’s been my shoulders and chest.

Well, you definitely look more developed in those areas.

Yes, sir, I’ve been working hard with my coaches and trainers on improving in those areas because I’ve taken a lot of hits. I like to get to the hole and I like to dish it off.

Well, your dad was in good shape and worked as a trainer.

Yes, he’s been a part of it too.

I remember that you worked out before school at about 6 every morning. Three days a week on strength and then on that VertiMax for the other two days.

Yeah, I never took a break. You can always work on your conditioning, sir. I tried to improve my explosiveness and quickness.

Would you say that a “scoring point guard” is a fair description of you?

It can be, yes, definitely.

On last year’s team, your squad was so young and so they needed you to score.

Absolutely, on last year’s team, they needed me to score, but, on this year’s team, we’ve got plenty of scorers and so I don’t need to try to score on every possession. Scoring hasn’t been on my mind this year, but, if I have to, I have to.

In terms of a timeline, do you have a time when you’d like to either cut down on your list or decide on a school?

Well, yes, sir, I think by mid-season next year, I’ll probably try to cut down on the list.

Have you visited any schools recently and do you have any planned?

Oh, I’ve visited Florida and Miami, but that’s really about it. I plan on visiting a lot of schools this summer. So, hopefully, that’ll help too.

What will you be looking for when you make your visits? Comfort level..

Yeah, comfort level, do I fit in with them, I’d like to be able to have or build a good relationship with the coaches. That’ll be very important. I’d like to have a relationship with my college coaches like I have with my AAU coaches, you know, someone that I can talk to and will work with me to improve my game. That’ll be what I’ll be looking for on the trips.

Tell the audience a little about your father. He was a two-sport athlete, but hurt his knee as like a full or running back and never played again. That was a real shame.

Yeah, he was an All-American in high school and played for Central Florida and it was a shame, but he’s fought back and he’s going to get his Master’s degree now from Central Florida.

I’m glad to hear that.

Oh, yes, sir, and he’s graduating and looking forward to starting his own company.

That’s that entrepreneurial spirit.

Yes, sir, that’s why I’d like to study engineering or even architecture.

Using that mind of yours.

Yes, sir.

What are some of your goals, short-term and long-term?

Long-term, my dream is to make it to the NBA and then, short-term, is just to win the Peach Jam. That’s my focus.

Those are good goals. By the way, what do you hope to accomplish in the next high school season?

I’d love to win the state title. We bring back almost our whole team and I’d just love to win the title with these guys.

Who are going to be some of your toughest competitors next year?

Well, we’ve been invited to the City of Palms, which is big for our school. I don’t know who we’re going to face there.

They always have a loaded field down there. That’ll be good for your team’s playoff run and also bring some exposure as well.

Yes, sir, they’re always supposed to have very tough competition over there. I’m looking forward to it because I know that there are a lot of good schools out there. Hopefully, we’ll be up to the challenge, but I like the challenge of it.

By the way, have you ever played against Tyus Jones and, if so, how’d you do? How would you compare yourself with him?

We played against each other at the USA. He’s a great player and he’s a slasher. I respect him, but I haven’t spoken to him recently.

Is there a rivalry between you two or not really?

Oh, no, it’s friendly. We just go out there and play our hardest. I mean, on the court, I’m not looking for friends, but, off the court, it’s cool and we’re just playing our games.

Who are some other point guards in your class that people should take note of?

Larry Austin. He’s a great player and a great kid. We’ve gone against each other and he makes me go hard. I make him go hard.

Who are some other players that people should keep an eye out for in your class?  Obviously, Dakari..

Oh, well, Dakari, Paul White..

Jahlil?

Yes, Okafor. I like being around all of those guys. I like them all.

What about Stanley Johnson?

Oh, yeah, Stanley, he’s talented too and a funny kid.

Yeah, he’s always cracking jokes.

Yeah, he is. Funny kid.

Who else?

Well, I’ve met and played against Andrew Wiggins, but I’ve never actually talked to him. I’ve seen him around and he’s always working. He seems like a great kid. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of players in my class, but I really don’t feel like I know a lot of them.

I remember you told me that Austin Rivers was the best player that you’ve played with or against. Is Rivers still the best player that you’ve faced?

Yes, I think so. I played with him. Not really against him. I mean I like the way he plays and how he continues to try to make other players better and improve on different aspects of his game. He’s so dangerous and yet, he’s not satisfied. He’s hungry. I’ve really worked a lot on the defensive end. I’ve tried to make it my focus. I love to work on the defensive end. I almost don’t even care about working on my offense, but I have to. I can’t let that slide, but I do actually like to start out by working on my defense. I’m trying to make it better and better.

In what ways do you try to work on your defense? How would you assess your defense as of today?

It’s gotten a lot better. I’ve been doing a lot of side or lateral movements. I want to make my lateral quickness as fast as possible. I’ve working on my on-the-ball defense.

Getting low?

Yes, sir, I’m getting low. My hands are active. My defense has improved a lot. My dad always tells me to start with my defense. If my offense doesn’t come, well, at least, we can always give our best on defense.

Is LeBron still your favorite player?

I love the way he plays. He plays so hard on both ends. I just really enjoy watching him.

For an audience that hasn’t seen you play yet, give them a little scouting report and what would say are your strengths and weaknesses?

My weakness had been that I needed to work on my left hand to make it as strong as my right.

Well, you’ve got a strong right. I almost wonder why they don’t try to overplay your right.

Yes, my strengths are getting to basket and either dishing off or scoring. In terms of a scouting report, I’d say that if my man gets up on me, I’m going to take him to the hole and, if he backs off, I can pull up on him.

Who do you try to model your game after?

Well, on the court, Derrick Rose, but, off the court, I’d like to model myself after LeBron James with the camps and helping young people in the community.

What do you think is the key thing to having or developing good court vision?

Keeping your head up and looking for the big man, if possible. If he’s open, you’ve got to find a way to get it to him or penetrate and drop it off. I don’t want to be one of those guards that tries to just force a shot. As a point guard, you’re supposed to distribute the ball. That’s my job.

How has the experience been “playing up” in age groups?

It’s been good and challenging. I think that if I just played in my age group all these years that I would’ve been a little lazy and I didn’t want that. I’ve liked the challenge. I feel like every time out there, I have to give it my all.

How does the EYBL compare to your high school league?

In high school, you can get away with the little stuff, but here you can’t. It’s constantly challenging. In high school, we’ll sometimes play against some players who could be on the circuit, but not on this constant level. High school really hasn’t been that hard.

What would you like the audience to walk away knowing about you?

That I’m humble. I don’t like to talk about myself. I try to be of service to others in any ways that I can help.

Community service

Yes, sir. I’ve done community service. I also used to play football. I was a quarterback and strong safety, but I used to be pretty good at it.

Who are some people that you’ll turn to for guidance in a college decision, whenever you do decide?

My high school coach, Coach Bowlin, I love him. I feel like whenever I have problems, I can come to him with anything. He always helps me out.

I assume your father.

Oh, yes, my dad and also my mom and my family. That’s my guidance. 

Thank you very much, Joel.

My pleasure, sir. No problem. [/private]

Duke is involved with two studs in Jabari Parker and Julius Randle.  Parker pictured here, is at the very tops of his class as is Randle.  BDN Photo

Everybody’s All-American: Jabari Parker

Duke is involved with Habari Parker who gave BDN an in depth interview on the latest on the recruiting front. BDN Photo

Last year, we profiled 6’8,” 220 lb Jabari Parker after a Nike AAU event in Dallas, Texas. In the time since, the young man from the South side of Chicago has continued to lead an ambitious and altruistic life.

In June, Jabari led the United States U-16 Team to a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico. For his considerable efforts, he won the tournament’s MVP award and USA Basketball later named Parker their 2011 Male Athlete of the Year, joining such notables as Kevin Durant, Elton Brand, and Chris Paul. Afterwards, Parker helped his Mac Irvin AAU 17U squad to successful runs at Nike’s Peach Jam and the Fab 48 in Las Vegas.

This past high school season, the junior small forward led his Simeon (HS) to a 33-1 record and its record-breaking third consecutive Class 4A Illinois state title with a 50-48 victory over previously undefeated Proviso East. In the state title game, Parker finished with fifteen points and five rebounds, while being the primary focus of the opposition.

6'8" Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

Over the past two seasons, while playing a competitive national schedule, Jabari Parker, now 17, has led the Simeon Wolverines to a 63-3 record. This year, he became more assertive and, as an upperclassmen, took more of a leadership role on his Simeon team. As a result, his statistics all jumped across the board. The son of NBA veteran Robert “Sonny” Parker ended up averaging over twenty points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals per game, while achieving the primary goal of winning a third consecutive state title.

This month, Gatorade named him their National Player of the Year, becoming just the fourth junior to ever earn that distinction. This latest accolade came with the added recognition of his academic achievements (18th in a class of 377 students at Simeon) and community service (work with Salvation Army and Operation PUSH). For the first time in thirty-two years, a junior, Jabari Parker, won Illinois’ Mr. Basketball, winning by a sizable margin (400-72) over the next closest runner-up. Jabari was Simeon’s fourth Mr. Basketball, joining Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson, and Deon Thomas.

After a tough loss to a well-coached BABC team geared to shutting him down, Jabari sat down with me to talk about a variety of issues, including dealing with fame, recent accolades, the loss of Mac Irvin, winning a third consecutive state title, advising Jahlil Okafor, and embracing being a role model to Chicago’s youth.

First things first, what was your reaction to the passing of Mac Irvin? Can you tell the audience the impact that he had on your life and the lives of other Chicago young men?

Sure, him passing took a toll on me.

I was sorry to hear that.

Yeah, I didn’t really have a grandfather growing up. I really didn’t know him and, so I would really look up to him as another father figure in my life and that was my dad’s mentor growing up, when he was in the NBA, he had a chance to talk with him a little bit and so him not being here is like we’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Without him, we don’t have an inspirational guy. That means that everybody else needs to step up his role and get everybody involved.

Jahlil (Okafor) was saying that you guys have effectively dedicated this season to him, with the hope that you can win the whole EYBL in his memory.

Yeah, that’s the hope. This was really probably the first trip that he wasn’t able to come with us.

[private]

Mac was always very nice to me and I appreciated that.

Yeah, he was always a very respectful guy and it’s a shame that he’s not here.

On a more uplifting thought, you just won your third state title.

Yeah, that felt pretty good. You know being the first Chicago team to win three consecutive downstate titles. It really just makes us want it more. We don’t want to get complacent or become satisfied. We just wanted to go out and execute.

Did this one differ from the first two, for you personally, as your roles and responsibilities have changed? Did you feel differently about this one in particular because you’re more mature and had more of an impact?

Yeah, it was more different. The first two years, I was more humble, but, with this third one, I was a little bit satisfied. I had a big chip on my shoulder and the game caused me to humble myself. It reminded me that I’ve always got to be prepared that everybody will try to give their best game.

You had a few close victories against Proviso East in the title game and against Whitney Young (52-48) before that.

Yeah, they were real close, definitely.

You also had a huge honor recently when Gatorade named you their national player of the year. It’s a significant one because, when I spoke with their guy who handles it, he said that they’re always very cognizant of a player being well-rounded, in terms of being a high character person who balances athletics, academics, and charitable work. They basically want to try to make sure that the kids who win won’t embarrass their brand off the court.

Yeah, that was a huge honor for me. It was a really special one in terms of giving us a lot of exposure.

There was an interview you and your brother Christian did and I think he said of you, “Basketball is what he does. It’s not who he is.”

Yeah, definitely, basketball is what I do, but I really just try to use it to be a role model to the kids. I’m just trying to be a role model in my community.

Let’s quickly get back to basketball. Do you still train with your dad, brothers, and, from time to time, I think, Tim Grover?

Well, I haven’t really trained with Tim Grover in a while, but I’ve just been going on my own…to my own school and getting a lot of shots up. With my dad, he really doesn’t coach me anymore.

So, it’s just mostly your brothers at this point.

Yeah, it’s just mostly my brothers right now.

What about you and Rahm Emmanuel hanging out? It’s sort of unusual for a kid your age to be hanging around with the Mayor of Chicago.

Well, yeah, it’s been kind of special because my mom was assigned to show him around during the games and we’ve got a relationship for a while…, well, from last year, so meeting with him again this year, we all just felt a lot of support. He’s a very big Simeon fan actually.

Oh, is he? Well, that’s good for you guys.

Yeah, that’s been good for us.We definitely feel the love.

Speaking of your mother, I saw that she said,paraphrasing, “We all struggle together. Fame is fleeting. We’re no better or worse than anyone else.”

Yeah, that’s true. Fame is fleeting

I took it mean that effectively we’re all in it together, so to speak.

Absolutely, we’re all in it together and, with respect to fame, it can either bring you down or make you humble. With that, you can’t let it get to you and think that you’re bigger than anyone. You need to be there for everyone and be of service.

Has it been an adjustment for you as you’ve gotten older and people are obviously asking you for pictures and autographs?

I give them my time because I know that they’re probably only going to see me once in lifetime. So, it’s good and fantastic the things that I’m doing now so, you know, why not take a little time out to sign an autograph or take a picture.

There was a bit of controversy over you guys leaving your sneakers on the court after you won the state title, as a way of leaving your mark.

Oh, yeah, it was nothing really. We just thought that it was our way of leaving our mark on history. It wasn’t meant as anything too egotistical, but people are going to take it out of perspective. They were going to build into something that was a little bit more than what it was.

Another issue that came up recently was Cory Dollins (his best friend) going to DePaul as a walk-on and your high school coach trying to get in the running for a job at Illinois. Do those specifically or similar things have a legitimate or serious impact on your ultimate recruitment?

Oh, no, not really. I’ve got to go through the process and just go to the program that suits me the best. I can’t look at everybody and make everybody satisfied. Sometimes, I’ve got to be selfish on my own behalf.

What would you say that you’ve improved on most for fans that haven’t seen you play in the past year?

Oh, working on my defense would probably be the most noticeable thing. Rebounding has also been something that I’ve tried to improve on, but really just trying to be a better overall player. Not taking anything for..well, playing every possession like it’s my last. I’m starting to do that a little bit more than I used to. Looking back, I think that I used to take more plays off.

I think you’re also a little bit more assertive this year, particularly offensively, than you were in the past.

Yeah, I think a little bit. That’s a good word. I think I’ve become a little bit more aggressive on the offensive end.

Yeah, just a little bit.

Yeah, yeah, definitely

 

If you could target one aspect of your game, what would you like to tighten up most before you hit college?

Probably my body. I need to strengthen up. I’ve got to try to get, well, toning up. I’ve got to tone up my body.

Do you hit the weight room at all right now or not really?

No, not really.

You were mentioning before about being a role model, like the anti-Charles Barkley. I know you work with Operation Push, the Salvation Army, and prayer groups.

Oh, I don’t look for any attention. It’s just to help me out. It’s what I do. It’s part of my benefit. That’s what makes me happy. A lot of people see that and it seems to bring them joy and hopefully inspires them too.

So, there will hopefully be some ten and thirteen year-old kids running around Chicago wanting to follow in the footsteps of Jabari Parker?

Yeah (laughs).

Do you have any visits planned and have you taken any visits recently?

No, I’m going to take my visits in the Fall time or possibly in the summer, but that’s if I cut it down in the end.

Outside of that trip to Utah, have you taken any other visits recently?

Oh, no, not really.

Have you given any advice to Jahlil (Okafor), by the way?

Oh, yeah, I always try to get on him. (laughs) I tell that it’s going to be different next year than it was as a sophomore. He’s going to get a lot more attention. So, he’s going to have to be a lot more responsible. He’s going to have to choose his friends wisely and keep his inner circle tight. There’s going to be a lot of people trying to get involved. I just try to be a big brother to him because he doesn’t really have any siblings and, me, I don’t really have any younger siblings. So, I, sort of, look at him as a younger one.

You’re sort of going through some things now that he’ll have to deal with in a year from now, in terms of his recruitment and the attention.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just sort of giving him some feedback that I think he needs to hear.

How about, in terms of him, physically getting in better shape or conditioning? You mentioned earlier how you wanted to tone up your body, but I thought a major turning point for you was when you lost all of that body fat during your sophomore year. It took your game to another level.

Yeah, that’s a good point, but, with him, you know, it’s just genetics. He’s part Nigerian. So, you know, they’re naturally big people.

Some of my best friends growing up were Nigerians.

Yeah, yeah, so, with him,  I just tell him that he’s got to improve his wind. He’s got to run even better and be able to keep it up. If he can run, at his size, he doesn’t really need to worry about losing weight.

He’s got a bright future as well.

Yeah, he does.

Where was that when you wrote “All of my guys eat like kings?” It looked like a nice place.

Oh, (laughs) that was after the Gatorade award. I just wanted to show my teammates my support and how thankful I was for their help in getting me that award. It was a really nice place. I just wanted to show them my appreciation.

That’s it for me, Jabari

Oh, thank you very much for your time.

Absolutely, I’m just glad for all your successes. I was really happy for you.

Oh, thank you so much.[/private]

The Next Big Thing: 6’9″ Marcus Lee

6'9" Marcus Lee, Photo by Andrew Slater

Some talents are identified early, but every year there are a few players that blossom later in life. One young man, 6’9″ Marcus Lee, used his unusual mix of speed, size, and jumping ability this weekend to catapult onto every major program’s radar. [private]  Lee, who is a gregarious and fun-loving young man, is from Antioch, California, an East Bay city of more than one hundred thousand people.

 

An all-league volleyball player with a wingspan of 86″, he’s tried to carve out a niche as a superior shot-blocker and rebounder. This past season for his Deer Valley HS, he registered fifteen triple-doubles and averaged nearly fourteen rebounds, fourteen points, and just over nine blocks per game en route to being named co-MVP of the Bay Valley Athletic League. The Northern California big man helped the Deer Valley Wolverines win their first league title and make their first NCS title game. He ended the season on a tear registering a triple-double of twenty-one points, twelve rebounds, and eleven blocks in the NCS semi-finals and scoring twenty-two points in the title game before fouling out with with 3:54 in regulation. Offensively, he demonstrates good court vision for a big man, a trait which may be attributable to spending a little time playing some point guard for his high school team.

 

This past weekend, he helped the California Supreme and head coach Miles Simon, the former Arizona player and coach, go undefeated at the Minnesota leg of Nike’s EYBL. Duke coaches Krzyzewski, Capel, and Wojciechowski all watched Lee, a B+ student, score twelve points, block four shots, and grab five rebounds in a win against the Louisiana Select in twenty-six minutes.

 

Marcus’ older brother and mentor, Bryan Lee, was an all-Pacific West player at Grand Canyon University, a Division II program in Phoenix, and currently works as a technical recruiter for Google. Lee, who played last year for the Bay Area Hoosiers on the AAU circuit, credits his older brother for his development. When thinking about colleges, he’s looking for a warm climate and a coach that makes him feel comfortable, in a similar manner to his AAU coach, Miles Simon.

 

After the last game was over, Marcus, spoke with Blue Devil Nation about a variety of issues, including Duke’s interest and Miles Simon.

 

Let’s just start with a basic one. How do you feel that you and the team played this weekend?

Oh, I feel that I played great. I love playing in the national events and the team really played well together,  which helped us get wins and was probably unlike any other team here. We played really as a unit. It was just great.

Shot-blocking is obviously something that you’re known for. Talk about that skill and your background in volleyball.

Oh, yeah, sure, volleyball is just a different type of jumping. It helps and I wish could explain it, but it just does.

Well, one guard that I know said that the plyometrics training in volleyball helped with his explosion for basketball.

Yeah, I think that’s it.

How much of shot-blocking for you has been about improving your timing?

Yeah, well, that’s been the key and volleyball has been great about that because it’s all about timing. Now, that I think about volleyball also helps you to calm down and just concentrate on timing. It’s very calming and you just block out other things.

 

So, you find it almost peaceful.

Oh, yeah, definitely.

 

I know that you’ve grown a little bit. What’s your reach right now, if you happen to know?

Oh, yeah, it’s 7’2.”

 

I heard that you were trying to carve a niche as a shotblocker and rebounding specialist. Playing to your strengths to set yourself apart from some other guys.

Oh, yeah, well, I mean I started to think about blocking shots first and about how that was something that I was really good at and I’m 6’9″…So, I thought that I should first just concentrate on making myself the best at that and then the rest of my game would improve as well. It was just something that I thought I was good at and, you know, I thought why not concentrate on trying to make myself really good at that.

 

What position are most schools recruiting you as, a four or a five?

Dude, I just don’t know.

Well, what position do prefer to play?

I just want to play. So, wherever they tell me to play, I’ll go do it, man. I’m just happy to be out there.

 

How do you feel that your offense is coming along?

Oh, it’s been great. I’m having fun. When you’re having fun, you can’t lose.

 

Let’s move onto recruiting. What programs are recruiting you right now?

Everybody really. A lot of schools

 

What about a timeline? Do you have a time when you’d like to decide by or cut down on your list?

No, I’m in no real rush with that. I don’t have any plans or anything like that.

 

Who will be some people that you will turn to for guidance, whenever you do decide?

Oh, yeah, my brother, Bryan, and my coach, I mean, my Uncle Mark.

 

I was reading that a school with warm weather is something that you were serious about. Is that accurate and will distance be a factor as well?

Oh, yeah, I’ve got to be in warm weather, but distance really doesn’t matter or bother me.

 

Is there a player that you’ve tried to model your game after?

Actually, my brother. I’ve tried to model his game.

 

That’s unique. Usually, guys will say a pro or hot college player. Were you a fan of any team growing up?

I’ve always been a North Carolina fan.

North Carolina?

Yeah.

Well, that may make the next question a bit rough.

(laughs) Oh, really.

What about Duke’s interest in you? They watched you play a few times this weekend. How do you feel about their interest in you and would you be open to them, given your prior answer?

Oh, yeah, man, it was funny because we actually were talking them watching us for, like, the whole time while we were on the bench. It was amazing. We loved it.

 

Alright, well, then let me just ask if you personally would be open to them?

Oh, yeah, man, totally. I’d be way open to them. Way open!

 

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

No, I haven’t taken any visits recently and I actually don’t have any really planned either.

 

Let’s talk about Miles Simon and his coaching.

Oh, he’s been amazing. He’s very encouraging and he’s a high energy guy. He’s very supportive and encouraging to everybody on the team. He’s always ready and prepared. He’s an excellent motivator. Even when we’re a bit sluggish or not ready, he’ll be like, “Yeah, let’s go! Let’s go!” (laughs) He gets the guys energized and motivated. It’s been fun to play for him.

 

What are you hoping to show coaches this AAU season?

I really don’t know. I’m not sure.

 

What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?

That I’m just a really good, chill guy.

 

What’s your current height?

Oh, 6’9″

 

How does AAU compare to the high school ball for you?

Oh, everybody’s much bigger and the teams are just stacked at this level. Almost every player here will be college ball at some level. Everybody’s huge too.

 

What are your goals, short and long-term?

Just to never really get big-headed. I don’t want to become someone else or ever think that I’m too good for people. To always be approachable and grounded..

 

What style of play do you prefer to play?

A good, chill running gazelle type of play. (laughs) Just let’s run. That’s what I like. 

 

Do you actually watch a lot of basketball?

Actually, between school and basketball, I really have a hard time watching basketball. There’s just not enough time.

 

Lastly, what will you be looking for in a college program, other than the weather?

I’ll be looking for a coaching staff that’s encouraging and supportive.

Like you were saying about Miles Simon?

Yeah, someone like him and a place that I can feel comfortable in and a fun place to play basketball and go to school.

 

By the way, where did your play basketball?

Oh, Grand Canyon University.

 

Thank you very much, Marcus. I know you guys are trying to catch a plane.

Oh, sure, no problem.[/private]