This past weekend, 6'8" rising senior Perry Ellis of Wichita helped his USA Red team to a third place finish at Adidas Nations in Compton, California. In his final game, the three-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year scored twelve points and grabbed six rebounds. Since he was last profiled, Ellis, a 4.0 student, has cut his lengthy list of suitors down to a final four: Kansas St., Kansas, Kentucky and Duke University. He is working on setting up future visits.
Over the past month, Ellis has teamed with improving guard Buddy Hield for the Kansas Pray and Play program in events from the NY2LA Summer Jam outside Milwaukee to Las Vegas' Super 64 to cap off his final AAU campaign. In two weeks, the driven forward, who battled tendinitis in June, will once again be participating in the Elite 24 event in Venice Beach, CA.
The always cordial Perry Ellis sat down with BDN for a quick update following a close defeat to discuss what he'd like to find in the college of his choice and what he hopes to view on his upcoming visits.
How much momentum carries over from event to event or tournament to tournament? Either as an individual or a team? With our first game, we always seem a little sluggish.
I noticed that. Then, you guys seem to pick it up in the second game, for whatever reason. The team seems to get into a groove and build from there. Yeah, and then we get into a flow and we get momentum and we're running up-and-down and things seem to click a lot better. When we're not, we're missing easy shots and easy lay-ups.
Even just one or two tip-ins would've changed the course of this game. Yeah, it's the little stuff. I mean we lost by what? Three?
Two. It was killing me. (laughs) Two? Jeez. Man, I can't believe we lost by two and we missed all of those little things. We should've won by twenty or something. There's no excuse, but we've just got to keep our focus.
Yeah, I was just thinking about momentum and what your thoughts were on it. Is there any new news in terms of recruiting or visits? Um, I'm not really sure when exactly I'm going to visit the schools. I don't have nothing really planned right now.
Where do you feel most comfortable catching the ball? Right around the free throw line..
Facing up around the wings? Wings?
Yeah, I'm sorry, like the free throw line extended. Yeah, exactly, right around there, you know, just facing up.
How about defending fours versus threes? Which do you feel more comfortable defending against? It seems like you've defended everyone from fives to threes. I mean I like getting out on the wings, but it just depends on what we needed.
Yeah, that's why I was more curious about what position you felt most comfortable guarding versus what the team needed in a given game or match-up. Well, I like getting out on the wings because I think you get out on more breaks, you know. I mean most of the time if you're down low and you throw an outlet pass, it's already too..
You're too late to score on the break. (laughs) You want to have some fun out there. Yeah, exactly. (laughs)
And what position are most schools recruiting you for now? There seemed to be some back and forth the last time over some schools recruiting you as a face-up four versus a three. I'd say most schools are saying three and, if I've got a mismatch, than a four. That's what they've said.
What are you looking for ideally in the college that you ultimately do decide on? What are some things that you hope that they have? Looking big picture now. The first thing is being comfortable. Being comfortable around the school and just knowing people. Being comfortable there is the first thing.
That's step one. You've got to feel comfortable. Then, playing on TV. I want to be able to play on TV.
Sure. Putting out players..they're developing players.
So, exposure and developing players.. Yeah, definitely.
What about urban versus rural? Will distance play a big factor? You've got them both very close by and a few states away. Yeah, no, distance won't really matter to me. Just whether I'm more comfortable there than on the other campuses.
How about knowing players either on the current team or in your recruiting class? Yeah, that would definitely help. It would help as far as knowing other people and being comfortable. Just knowing guys that you might get to play with. That's definitely something to think about.
Yeah, I was just thinking that might ease some concerns. What are you hoping to see on your visits? As far as..
Where would you like to go? Do you want to see the facilities, the campus, and the players' dorms, etcetera? Yeah, exactly, I'd like to see all the little stuff like what do they do before the games.
Pre-game rituals and preparation. Yeah, see all that they have to do, where they live, see their classes and so forth.
Have you thought at all about what you'd like to major in or what interests you? I know you're Mr. 4.0 student. Yeah, (laughs) I'm not really sure. I've been concentrating so much on basketball lately.
Sure, will immediate playing time be a major factor in your decision? Yeah, I mean, on the one hand, I definitely would like an opportunity to play early on…just like I'm sure everybody does, but, on the other hand, I don't want people to just tell me that I'm gonna play..I want to work for it. I want people to tell me that. I don't want to just be given anything.
See, but I remember the last time that you said that you didn't like guys that were too demanding on you all of the time. How does that..would you like them to push a little bit, but not too much? Oh, I meant as far as practice.
But you just meant off the court. Yeah, yeah, breathing room.
Because the last time you were talking about how you liked how some of the programs recruiting you gave their players freedom, but now I understand that you want the freedom off the court, while being pushed on it. Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Okay. That's it for me. I really appreciate it. Good luck tonight. Alright, sure. Thank you.
After a one-point loss in triple overtime of an end-of-the-summer AAU event, 6'7" Noah Vonleh, an amiable gym rat from Haverhill, Massachusetts comes over and tries to collect his thoughts. The son of a nurse who escaped war-ravaged Western Africa in the mid-90s is preparing for his own move in the coming weeks. The fifteen year-old decided to leave the comfort of his local public high school, Haverhill, where he dominated the competition, averaging eighteen points, seventeen rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks.
From his home in the formerly thriving industrial city, Haverhill, on the outskirts of Boston, he's heading an hour north to a New England prep school, New Hampton, the chief rival of Brewster Academy (where Duke recruit Mitch McGary attends) that has produced ex-NBA players Lawrence Moten, Darius Songalia, and Rashad McCants as well as former Duke Blue Devil, J.D. Simpson. The versatile forward has also decided to reclassify to the 2014 class, in order to acclimate himself to his new school and the NEPSAC AAA league, the most challenging high school league in the country. New Hampton, located in the foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains, is coming off of a very good year, where they made a run to the NEPSAC Finals.
Vonleh, who enjoys a 7'4" reach, anticipates that he will have to deal with bigger, stronger, and older players than in his prior Merrimack Valley league. The hard-working forward is eager to utilize the valuable facilities that New Hampton enjoys and the easy access that he'll have to them. One person who will help in his adjustment is his Massachusetts Rivals AAU teammate and fellow high-major recruit, 6'9" Zach Auguste, who played for the New Hampton Huskies last season. This AAU season, the duo has helped Coach Vincent Pastore, Vonleh's longtime AAU coach and mentor to former McDonald's All-American Scott Hazelton, enjoy a few successful runs over the past few months, including recently at the Super 64 in Las Vegas and the Best of Summer Showcase in Southern California. Vonleh, who was one of only seven 2014 prospects to attend the LeBron James Skills Academy, has generated interest from both of the "Tobacco Road" schools and offers from several big-time programs, including Kansas, Syracuse, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Florida.
Always respectful, but understandably exhausted, Noah gave Blue Devil Nation a quick update on his future and a recap of his summer.
I'm sorry to have to talk to you after a terrible loss like this, but what went into your decision to transfer to New Hampton and reclassify to the 2014 class? Why did you choose to do it and what are you hoping to get out of it? Yeah, I'm going to New Hampton and I'm going to be in the class of 2014. The reason why I left is that the prep school competition is a lot better than the high school competition that I've faced so far. I really think it'll help make me a lot better. I'm really looking forward to it.
[private] Staying with that theme, tell the audience both a little bit more about both the level of competition that you'll see in the New England prep school leagues and the recent rise of New England overall on a national stage. Both have gotten a lot better in recent years. Yeah, there's a real rush of great players coming out right now. Andre Drummond, Ricky Ledo, Nerlens and a lot of players have helped to show what we're capable of this summer. I'm not really sure why, but it's great to see.
Not that it's extremely uncommon anymore, but what went into your decision to reclassify? Yeah, well, I'm still only fifteen years old so I felt that it wouldn't be a big deal and hopefully would help me when I went to my new school and got used to their facilities and competition. I think it'll help me get bigger and better in my time in high school. I'm going to be playing against a lot stronger players and competition, you know. I mean some of these guys'll be a lot older.
As you mentioned, you're still so young, but what is it like playing in front of the college coaches? Does it get you excited or motivated? Yeah, it kind of gets me nervous and motivated. I want to play my best and perform in front of the college coaches.
Absolutely, what are your offers and what schools are expressing interest in you? Providence, Syracuse, BC, Georgia Tech, Kansas… Duke has shown interest and actually so has UNC. That’s all I can think of right now.
What about a position? What do you view yourself as? A small forward or a combo forward, I guess. Probably a small forward.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses? I think scoring the ball and my versatility because I’m able to score inside and post up against smaller players or I can take bigger guys off of the dribble from the outside or just shoot over them.
Speaking of that, do you prefer to play with your back to the basket or face-up? In this game, you played a lot more with your back to the basket, but a lot of other games you stay outside or move around. Oh, yeah, definitely face-up.
Have you taken any visits and do you have any planned? I haven’t taken any visits really. I think I’m going to wait. I don’t have any plans.
What are you looking for, ideally, whenever you do decide? A school that will make me better, a school that will push me, both on the court and academically, and that will help me in school. I also like to be comfortable with the players and coaches. Just a place that I’d like to be.
Will distance be a factor? No, it won’t be.
What are your goals for this high school season? To help my team become successful and for me to get better.
How do you feel you did in your original sophomore year at Haverhill this year? Yeah, Haverhill. I thought I did well, but the competition wasn’t really great. I think I played well overall, but we didn't win as many games as we probably should or could've, which was a little frustrating.
How do you feel you’ve played so far this AAU season? I thought I’ve been playing really good this year. We’ve done well as a team, which is important and we've got some good talent here too. We've been able to beat and compete against a lot of good teams, which is also important. I think I’ve done really well. I feel like I’m competing against my rivals.
Whenever you do decide, who will you turn to for guidance? My AAU coach, Vincent Pastore, and my mom.
Speaking of your mom, how does your family feel about you going away to school this year? Are they excited for you? Or are they sorry to see you leave? They’re very excited for me. They can’t wait for me to go. They think it’s a great opportunity.
Who do you try to model your game after? Kevin Durant. We’re around the same size and I guess I just love to watch him play.
How do you feel you shoot the ball? What do you think is your range? Well, I think I can shoot it all the way to the three point line. I just didn’t shoot it well today. I'm not sure what happened.
No, no, don’t worry about that. I’ve seen you shoot the ball well before. Who’s the toughest player you’ve ever gone against? I guess the toughest player I’ve gone against is Nerlens Noel. He blocks everything. Yeah, it’s like he’s got a broomstick out there or something.
From what we touched on before, what are you looking forward to gaining from facing the competition you’re going to see next year? I’m looking for guys to keep pushing me and competing with me and helping me to get better, both on my team and the teams we’ll be facing. I’m looking forward to working with my new coaches, too.
Other than Zach (Auguste), do you know any of your teammates or coaches pretty well at this point? Yeah, Zach Auguste. Zach helped me and encouraged me to go there. It’s good to know somebody who’s actually there right now. Also, Mike Auger, who's out here.
Did the coaches there talk to you about what your role will be or what their expectations will be of you? No, not really. They’re going to tell me when I get there.
How far will it be from your hometown of Haverhill? It’ll be about an hour, maybe a little bit more. Not too far.
Earlier you mentioned that the two Tobacco Road schools, Duke and North Carolina, had expressed interest in you. Oh, yeah, they've both shown interest so far.
What do you know about the programs? Two things…they get a lot of players to the NBA and they win National Championships. (Laughs)
What would like the audience to know about you, on or off the court? That I work very hard at basketball and take it very seriously. I try to put in a lot of hours…day or night.
Thanks very much. Yeah, I really appreciate it.[/private]
Three years after trying organized basketball for the first time, 6'11" Prince Ibeh played in a very lightly attended AAU evening game on the outskirts of Las Vegas. There were sixteen coaches in attendance, however, including three Duke coaches: Mike Krzyzewski, Jeff Capel, and Steve Wojciechowski. Ibeh, who wields a 7'4" wingspan, has landed on the radars of high-major programs like Texas, Florida, Maryland, and Vanderbilt by possessing a tantalizing mix of size, athleticism, and upside.
For the majority of this AAU season, the 2012 prospect has been the defensive stalwart and veteran presence on a young Texas Titans team, where Ibeh, who has added more than twenty pounds of muscle, was a teammate of both Dallas-area Duke 2013 recruits Julius Randle and Matt Jones. The Garland, Texas product's performance at the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy earned him an invitation to Akron's LeBron James Skills Academy. His length, lateral quickness, and quick-twitch second jump has made him into one of the better shot-blockers among the rising seniors.
Recently, he spoke with Blue Devil Nation about Duke's recent interest, his unique first name, playing with Randle, and the keys to being a good shot-blocker.
For those that may only recently have seen you play, touch on your growth as a player over the past few years? Yeah, a couple of years ago, I was pretty bad. (laughs) I was just starting and I guess I just got used to my body. I practiced a lot more and things started to fall into place.
In terms of your offensive growth or progression, where do you view it now and how far do you feel that you have to go? Where do you think it needs to be? I think it needs to get a lot better, but it's actually improved a lot.
Yeah, I think that your comfort level on offense and filling out your body have been the two biggest things that you've improved on since last year. Yeah, absolutely.
With respect to recruiting, what schools are after you right now? Duke, Texas, Florida, Florida State, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Maryland, and then Baylor and a couple of other schools.
You must be, at least, a pretty good student. Yeah, I am.
What was it like playing with Randle and Jones earlier? You were sort of their man in the middle to sweep up any mistakes. Oh, it was good, but I didn't have like any offensive sets on that team. (laughs) So, it was really just a defensive role, but it was nice playing with them.
You get a lot more touches on this team? Yeah, but I knew what I was getting in to… (laughs)
What are your strengths and weakness right now? My strengths are rebounding and blocking shots…pretty much defense.
Well, what do you feel are some areas for improvement? Yeah, I really need to improve my shooting…my free throw shooting. Well, you hit the one you took in this game. (Laughs) Yeah, I was glad I made that one.
Do you view yourself more as a four or five? A four.
Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself away from the court? Well, first of all, how did you get that name?
Prince? Yeah. My mom thought I was going to be a girl and so she was going to name me "Princess," (laughs) but I ended up a boy and, so, I've tried to make the most of it. (laughs) Sure, that wasn't exactly the answer I was expecting (laughs). Back to telling the audience a bit about yourself away from the court… Yeah, I'm pretty laid-back. I just like to hang out with friends and listen to music. That's pretty much it.
Okay, by the way, in terms of distance, will that be a big factor for you? It seems like you've got schools all around the country, but I had heard that you might want to stay near your family in Texas. No, it won't be much of a problem.
With respect to your timeline, do you still view this as early in the process for you? Late? I had heard you'd like to sign in the early period. Yeah, I want to decide sometime in November. You want to take some visits? Yeah, definitely.
Have you taken any unofficial visits recently and do you have any planned? No, I haven't taken any that I'd call very recently and I don't plan on taking any more unofficial visits. I think I'm just going to take my official visits.
Who will you turn to for guidance, whenever you do sit down and decide?
Coach (Lawrence) Mann, who's my AAU coach, and my high school coach, Coach (Jeff) Clarkson
What are you looking for ideally, whenever you do decide?
A good coaching staff and a good opportunity to play…things like that
How long have you been playing basketball and what other sports have you played through your life?
I used to play mostly football. That was basically all I played, until my freshman year. My freshman year was when I started playing basketball.
So, it is true that you've really only been playing basketball for about three years.
Yeah, for better or worse, I've only been playing since my freshman year.
Any chance of seeing you at wide receiver or defensive end?
(laughs) Yeah, well, I used to actually play both wide receiver and defensive end.
How long did it take you to adjust to a new team? The Titans? Yes. Sure, it didn't take too long. I kind of understood right when I got there that they already had a system and how they were going to do things. I didn't need much time.
Are you a Mavericks fan? How did you feel about them winning the title? Oh, I hate the Mavericks. (laughs)
(laughs) I'm trying here. You're sort of known as a defensive and rebounding specialist. Who's been the toughest guy for you to defend? There isn't one guy that comes to the top of my head, but Julius (Randle) probably would've been. Yeah, I was going to ask you about the best teammate that you've had, but I guess Julius would be your answer. Sure, that would definitely be Julius.
What are some of your goals for the high school season, both individually and as a team? Oh, well, for the team, we want to win the state championship this coming year. You guys didn't make it quite as far as you wanted to this year. Yeah, definitely, we lost in the second round of the playoffs, but I think we'll do a lot better this year.
In terms of Duke specifically, what do you know about the program and who has contacted you from their staff? Coach Capel has called me. I don't know too much about the program, but I know that it's a good program.
What do you feel are the keys to being a good shot-blocker? Timing? Positioning? Yeah, timing and positioning…oh, and athleticism, I guess. Well, you sent one shot into the third row in this game. (laughs)
Rather than necessarily having a player that you model your game after, who's your favorite player right now? Oh, definitely Kevin Durant.
Where do you prefer to catch the ball on offense? In the high post.. Sort of around the foul line extended, where you were catching the ball a lot in this game and against the zone Yeah, that's right.
Does playing in front of college coaches have affect your play at all? Does it change your emotions at all? It makes it a lot more frustrating when you make a mistake. It magnifies things, but I think it also makes people or, at least, me play harder and more consistently.
Do you think it affects players or teammates in general? Yeah, I think it does affect them, but some just don't want to admit it or say that it changes them a bit.
How do you feel that you've played throughout the AAU season, both here and with the Titans? I feel like I've played pretty good overall. I feel like I've grown and contributed. I would've liked to have scored with the ball a little bit more, but things happen.
Staying with that and we touched on it before, but where would you like to be offensively by the time that you reach college? Where do you view as the area that you can improve most rapidly before college? Low-post play? Improving your shooting from the outside? Yeah, I think improving my low-post play and developing more low-post moves in general. It would help make it tougher on defenders, I think.
Do you work on that often? What's your schedule typically like? How much time do you put into improving yourself on the court? Yeah, I try. I work out about three times a week. Um, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. With a trainer or by yourself? How does that work? Sometimes by my self.
Alright, well, thank you very much, Prince. Thank you very much.[/private]
Since last we profiled Chicago's Jabari Parker, he has led the United States to a Gold Medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Mexico, where the 6'8" wing was named the MVP of the tournament. Over the past month, Parker stood out against the nation's best at the LeBron James Skills Academy and helped take his relatively young Mac Irvin AAU squad deep into several tournaments including the Peach Jam, Fab 48, and, most recently, into the finals at the Desert Duel.
Recently, Jabari spoke with us about a variety of issues, including his USA Basketball experience, his recent profile in Sports Illustrated, and a scouting report on some of his recent teammates, who also have received recruiting interest from Duke.
What schools are you considering? Kansas, Washington, Duke, Illinois, and Michigan State.
What’s going to influence your decision when you choose a school? The best program where I can fit in, a program where I can develop as an individual, both in basketball and character-wise.
[private] (Other site) Chicago basketball, is that the best basketball in the country or what? I would say in the country because, as a public school, we don’t have the ability to recruit as the other schools do, so I always consider us one of the best high school programs in the country.
What did you learn about yourself at the academies? I learned that these guys are just as good as me, so I have to work hard, I have to make myself stand out through hard work.
What do you feel you need to work on? Not just being an individual, but being able to have your teammates play around you and it’s not about one person...Just getting to loose balls and playing better defense, too, cause you know I can lag on that. And getting my jump shot improved, too.
What’s it like playing in front of college coaches? Not a lot of pressure, but, you know, I’m kind of used to it, but it’s good because you know… Do you find it makes you play or act differently? Do you find it motivates, excites, or even makes you a little nervous? It makes me kind of motivated because I can show them what I’m not good at and show what I’ve improved on and lacking in skills.
Do you feel you've improved as a shooter over the past few months? I’ve gotten better, but it needs some work. You know, I’m just getting in the gym and getting shots up. I’m not thinking about it too much, but just.. Getting comfortable with your range? Yeah.
What was the USA Basketball experience like? It was very good. It was very aggressive. It’s kind of different from the States because they called a whole lot of ticky-tack fouls. In the national game, they let you be more physical where hand-checking is allowed.
How long does it take you to get used to the rules, etc.? Well, it took me about a week. We practiced in Colorado Springs, so they had us learn the rules.
What about winning the MVP? It must have been exciting. It was good. I was actually surprised because you know Aaron? Yeah, Aaron Gordon.. He played well and just my teammates..they were just as good as me, so when I got it, I felt honored.
What were the highlights of the trip? The highlight was obviously winning the gold medal, but other than that, I meant… Yeah, but off the court, we went to Chichen Itza. It was one of the Aztec pyramids or something like that we got to see. It was like another wonder of the world. We got to see that up close.
Oh, that must've been a great experience. Forgive me, but what’s the latest in your recruitment? Missouri just offered me, Tennessee just offered me, and UConn, too.
Who’s been after you hardest since that June 15th deadline? Illinois and DePaul. DePaul has sent me a lot of things. They kind of get under you because they’re the local school.
Have you enjoyed playing with Jahlil Okafor? He said he looked up to you. What’s your relationship like with him? Oh, that’s like a little brother to me. Jahlil’s very good. He’s a really big person down-low that you can throw the ball down to. He’s looking to be like me- one of the top players in his class. He’s very dominant.
He had mentioned how you had slimmed down on your body and how he was going to try to do the same. Yeah, with me and him, it’s all about our bodies are different. Growing up, it’s about eating the right food. You can’t get away with taking a lot of days off.
Can you give the audience a scouting report on Theo Pinson? Oh, Theo’s very good. You know, without the ball, he can run the lanes very well. He’s very athletic. He’s just good for his age. He can do so much that other kids can’t do at his age. He’s a very natural player. Yeah, he’s very natural.
What was the experience at LeBron like? It went well. We did a lot of skill development, getting coaching from all different levels- from the NBA down to high school. You know, it just brings different views.
What sort of things did you learn? Footwork, just different footwork… and skills as far as reverse pivots and face-up game.
Speaking about those five or six schools that you mentioned before, can you mention something about each of them? Well, they each have great coaches, they have a long history, they’ve been able to win, you can also develop as a person too with them and you can trust them. I just like that the coaches there are all good. I think I can fit into their systems well.
What makes you think that you can fit into their systems? Because it’s versatile. I’ve been scouting throughout the players they had and I’m similar to some of those players..the ones that are able to post inside and out and play the small forward position.
How likely is it that your schools are likely to change from here on out? It’s able to change, there are a lot of schools trying to come in, but you know, things can change, I guess. I just like those schools.
I guess I was just curious, but do you have a friendly rivalry with Julius Randle? Well, you know, he’s a very good player. You know, me and him are a rival on the courts, but me and him get along very well and we talk. We share words and we talk about schools. I just like being around him. I know you guys are often associated on a national level. Yeah, yeah.
In terms of visits, have you taken any recently? Do you have any upcoming? I don’t have any visits planned because, you know, I’ll be busy. In August, I really don’t know.
Who are some coaches that you’ve enjoyed talking to? It was surprising to see Jim Calhoun, you know he just won the National Championship..and his interest in me being very high. He’s always won national championships and he plays in the Big East.
Have you spoken with Durant and what advice did he give you? I met Durant in Chicago and… I remember you really looked up to him, I remember that he was one of your favorite players. I’m glad that you had the opportunity to meet him. Yeah, he’s a very good guy. He was always involved with us. He also worked with us individually as well. He also told us that we need to work hard and told me not to let my talent be wasted by not working hard.
Did you get to play against him at all? Yeah, I got to play against him. How did you do? I did okay. He didn’t really play to his full effort, but…
How far along do you feel you are in terms of your recruitment? I think it’s getting there. I think it’ll be before my senior year. I’ll be able to decide one day. Only time will tell.
(Kentucky site reporter) You mentioned Kentucky. You've gotten a little interest from Kentucky. Have they called you since June 15th. Yeah, they called my parents and they didn't really give me any insight into what was said. They just said that they were very interested in me.
(Kentucky site reporter) Do you feel like you have an offer from them? Not really, because I think that they're interested in other kids from the 2012 class. But Coach Orlando, he contacts my mom sometimes. (Kentucky site reporter) What would be your interest level if they did come through with an offer? It would be so-so.
Have you visited all five of them? I have visited all but Kansas. I haven't visited Kansas yet. I've been away and at the camps. I haven't visited them yet.
Is that something you want to do or thought about? Yeah.
Since we're getting near the end of the season, how do you feel you and your team are playing right now? I think we're playing well, you know. We're playing well as a team. This spring, you remember we were struggling a little bit, when we were trying to get used to each other and our surroundings. Right now, we're starting every game strong and everybody is playing well with each other.
What is the importance for you and your teammates of going out with a bang…ending the summer on a high note? I've been playing pretty well this summer. You know getting a lot of hard work in, between the Nike Skills Academies and the LeBron James Camp… and I've just tried to grow from there.
It translates also back to AAU ball. Yes, it does. It really started from USA camp. We worked very hard from there and coaches there just said, you know, to play as hard today in practice as you will tomorrow in the games. We all tried to take that to heart, you know.
Speaking of USA Basketball, what was it like playing with Tyus Jones? How did he mesh with the team as your point guard? Oh, yeah, it was really good group and Tyus was one of the best guards at passing. He really facilitated more than he scored for our team, but, you know, he could score anytime that he wanted.
In terms of watching tapes or games of older players, which ones have you enjoyed watching most? I've actually enjoyed watching a lot, but recently I was watching the Boston Celtics against the Houston Rockets. I just loved to watch Larry Bird move around the floor and seeing how he stayed active and involved. Then, I've also been watching the Portland Trailblazers against the Nets or I mean the 76ers back when they had Doctor J and just trying to take from that and how they played hard and how they would try to get their baskets.
I saw you yesterday trying to incorporate the bank shot, which is sadly missing in a lot of the younger guys' games. Oh, yeah, definitely.
What did you think of the recent SI article? Yeah, it was real good. You know I appreciate it. The guy interviewed me and he thought I was a very good guy. Yeah, well, you are. Thanks, you know I'm just glad with the way it turned out and I appreciated his time. I'm just so glad that I had an opportunity to have an article on me and I never want to take it for granted.
How do you account for the improvement in your explosiveness? When you're dunking the ball, how much does the thought of igniting the crowd play into what you're going to do? You know I just started to get a little more bounce. Sure. Yeah, and you know the weight going down has helped me a lot as far as being lighter and helping me stay in the air a little longer.
What about your match-up with (Kuran) Iverson? He's got a lot of tools too and he's around your size, age, and athleticism. Yeah, I've got to say that he brought the best out in me. He made me play harder and not so sluggish. In the beginning, I thought he got the best of me and so I needed to come out strong for my team in the second half.
Thank you very much. It was great to see you, Jabari. It was great to see you.[/private]
The college town of La Crosse, Wisconsin sits on the banks of the Mississippi, which provides the border to Minnesota. It is the hometown of Bronson Koenig, a 6'2" guard who straddles the line between point guard and shooting guard. The 2013 prospect has recently picked up significant interest from the Duke Blue Devils. As a sophomore, he led Aquinas High School to a state title and was named All-State in Wisconsin.
On the AAU circuit, Koenig competed with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors 16-and-under squad at the Adidas Super 64. He had been getting recruiting interest from Kansas, North Carolina, and in-state Wisconsin, but recently the Jayhawks were able to receive a verbal commitment from Connor Frankamp, a Wichita guard who led his 16U squad to the Super 64 Championship.
After a 52-44 defeat by New Heights, the third straight defeat for the ultimately 1-4 Warriors, the terse Koenig spoke about Duke's recent interest, how he felt he performed in his initial game in front of Coach K, and how he's going to try to improve his game in the coming months.
What position do you view yourself as? A combo or more of a one? It doesn't really matter. I mean I can play point guard in college or I can play either the one, two, or three.
In terms of the colleges that are pursuing you, Wisconsin and North Carolina are considered two of your leaders. Kansas took a commitment last week from Connor. Are those your two primary suitors or are there other programs out there that are still in the running? Yeah, I'd say Virginia, Duke, and Kansas are the other ones. That's pretty much it.
How far along do you feel that you are in terms of deciding? Is this near the end or do you still feel you're in the early stages? I'd say late… Late.
You're sort of known as a three point shooter and a secondary ball-handler. How have you tried to diversify your game, in order to make it more difficult for defenders to guard you? I've tried to improve my ability to get in the lane and then either improve my ability to dish it off or lay it in.
Is there significant in-state pressure to choose Wisconsin? Yeah, um, there is a little bit.
For the audience that may not know much about you, you won the state title this past year and made All-State as well. Share with the audience what this run was like? Yeah, it was a really good team and I learned a lot that I'll be able to use later on too.
What are your goals for this upcoming high school season? To win another state championship.
Alright, what are you hoping to improve upon most over the next year? Getting stronger, getting lower, and developing my core game more and I think I need to work on my conditioning a little bit, do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I do. By the way, do you view three-point shooting as your strength or is it something else? Um, yeah, I'd say shooting and passing. Shooting and passing? Yeah.
Is there a guy that you try to model your game after? Not really.
One of the other schools you mentioned before was Duke. What do you know about the program and which coaches have you spoken with? Oh, yeah, I talked to them when I was in Louisville. They said that they were going to go ahead and watch me play here. So, we'll see..
What do you know about the program? It's a really good program.
What do you find are some of the differences between playing with the 16s versus the 17s? Yeah, as I'm sure you know, it's a big difference. they're physically so much bigger and more athletic and stronger. I'd say athleticism and strength are the biggest things. I'm not sure, but I'll probably play with them at the next event. You need to get stronger as you move up the ranks.
What are you looking for ideally whenever you do decide on a college? Well, I think it'll pretty much come down to how comfortable I am with being there. Just a comfort level.
Who will you turn to for guidance whenever you do decide? My parents. Yeah, my parents probably.
Have you taken any visits recently and do you have any planned? I went to North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Kansas.
Who's the best player you've faced so far, either in Wisconsin or nationally? I don't know. There are a lot of really good players. (laughs)
Coach K came and saw you play for the first time. Did that have any significance? Um, I guess it was in the back of my mind a little bit, but I just tried to play through it.
Was it similar to when some of the other big-time coaches came and watched you play for the first time? Um, yeah.
Is it pressure, hunger.. A little of both, but I guess a little pressure.
How do you feel that you played? I don't really think about it. I though it was really clogged up and I couldn't get anything going.
What do you think you need to focus on? Getting stronger and getting lower…just getting my body lower and eventually being able to get above the rim.
Defensively, which position do you feel most comfortable guarding? They switched you a lot out there today. Mostly playing guys off of the ball. Either one, it doesn't really matter.
Each year, there is, at least, one fresh face that demands attention be paid to him through unexpectedly good play in the AAU season. A player will seemingly come out of nowhere and vault to the front of his class. Some attribute this novelty to being a "late bloomer," an improved work ethic, coming from an underreported community, fruits finally being born from the labor of hard work, or a late growth spurt. Two years ago, the player was Kyrie Irving. Anthony Davis was last year's primary example. This year, Mitch McGary of Brewster Academy is on the short list of everybody's favorite player in 2012. The Chesterton, Indiana native has transformed his body, his low-post game, and his commitment to academics to such a degree that he's now capable of being recruited by all of the major college basketball powers.
McGary has become the poster child for the benefits of New England prep school basketball. It's rustic locations, small college-quality facilities, low teacher-to-student ratios, high-caliber coaching, and the most talent-rich leagues in the country have caused players to gravitate to these New England powers from around the country.
These past four months, the social big man has enjoyed both individual success, including at the NBA 100 Camp and LeBron James Skills Academy, and, while playing for SYF AAU program, team success, including winning the recent NY2LA Summer Jam in suburban Milwaukee.
Recently, Mitch received new offers, including one from Duke University. He spoke again with Blue Devil Nation about a variety of topics, including the influence of sneaker companies, his metamorphosis at Brewster from vocally supportive sixth man to being one of the most sought after recruits in the country, and whether he's looking for more of a buddy or an adult figure in his college head coach.
How do you feel your summer's going? It's going good. I'm honored to be here and all of the other camps, like the Amar'e camp. I feel like I'm going against the best of the best between here and the NBA Top 100 camp, so it's been good so far.
Can you talk about going from being a Big Ten prospect...highly regarded, but maybe not on this level...to being considered arguably the most dominant big guy in your class? You're sort of in the middle of it, but what's going through your mind about that right now It's been pretty cool. I mean, my overall improvement on and off the court, making me more mature and responsible, I think the transition to Brewster. It's been 100% percent improvement.
[private] You're like the poster child for the Brewster program. (laughs) Yeah, just moving out there really helped me a lot. I mean, that's all I've got to say, pretty much. Coach Jason Smith does a great job with us out there. From an academic standpoint, the teachers do a great job out there, too.
(Mike "Peegs" Pegram) Have you been home for a while? I've been home for a month on-and-off, between the camps and stuff.
(Mike "Peegs" Pegram) Have your old high school buddies noticed any changes? Um, yeah, but I haven't really played with them yet. When I come home, I usually play, but this time they noticed I was a little bit taller, a little bit more cut, a little more defined, they noticed my body. They said it's incredible, the transition. (laughs)
(Mike "Peegs" Pegram) Are you talking about guys or girls? Both (laughs). I love it when we're playing together and they say I'm a lot stronger than I used to be. Girls like it, I guess, too.
Has this been a fun process or stressful? Yeah, it's been fun overall. I mean I'm honored that I went to Brewster and, even though I had to leave my hometown high school, which was tragic for me and stuff... You know growing up there and giving up all of my friends and family. I thought it was something I had to do. I had to make a choice. I had some consequences before that and I just had to turn my life around, I guess, start being mature.
How did your trip to Michigan go the other day? Oh, it went great. I liked the coaches. I see Coach Meyer over there with that yellow and blue jumpsuit. It's cool. I like him. He's a great big man coach. I talked to all of the coaches there and they really want me. There's a rumor that it's between me and Gary Harris, whoever commits first, but we may have to wait and see and see how everything plays out.
In terms of a timeline, if this were a baseball game, how far along do you think you are in your recruitment? You mean before I commit? I mean I'll probably commit before the season starts.. so whatever that is (laughs)
Whatever that is.. It seems like you're tied in with Gary Harris for some schools. Have you guys talked about that? Yeah, I mean, a little bit. I mean, he knows what's up. How's it going, G? (shakes hands with Gary Harris)
(Mike "Peegs" Pegram) Purdue and Indiana, where do they stand? I mean, a little bit, right now. I mean, everyone wants to go hometown state, but I mean, I won't say they're out of the picture, but they're kind of on the bottom part of my list. I'm wide open to everybody, but they're just kind of on the bottom of it. Just because they haven't been talking to me lately and stuff. I mean, they're still in contact. I just don't think that they're going to be right there.
Can you talk about that list that you're going to be coming out with? Yeah, I'm coming out with a list next month with my AAU coach.
How big will this list be? 5 schools? 10? It'll probably be about 10.
How has this camp gone and what have you learned about yourself? It's gone good. Pretty much every top player from every AAU team is here. It helps you measure out your strengths and weaknesses and how well you're matching up against the other big-time players.
What kind of guy is toughest for you to defend? Jarnell Stokes. He's like a Coke machine with legs. (laughs)
You did well against him tonight, you got him on a few plays. Yeah, I felt happy with it. I mean I probably have a little weight on him. I may not look it cause I'm a little leaner, but I'm about 260 and he's probably about 250. Yeah, he only had that one fadeaway over you. Yeah, he only had that one, but he's tough. I mean, overall, I think Julius Randle would've been the hardest guy for me to defend here, but he's on my team, fortunately.
(Mike "Peegs" Pegram) What's going on for you in July after this? The Super Showcase in Kansas City.
Did you talk to any of the college guys at all? Yeah, I talked to Thomas Robinson, T-Rob, he's kind of like a big brother to me. He went to Brewster. I talk to him a lot, not just about Kansas, but about the whole recruiting process. He wants me to go to Kansas and stuff, and that worked for him, but it's just like he taught me a lot about the recruiting process..who to trust and stuff like that. And so he's been good to me, I like him.
Can you talk about keeping the passionate mentality and always being supportive of your teammates, as you were on the bench at Brewster, while now being the team's resident star? Staying vocal out here...I frankly wondered if you'd change. Yeah, I mean once you make it to the collegiate level… let alone whoever makes it to the NBA, you're going to have to talk. Like we were watching LeBron play and he was non-stop talking. I mean, if you want to be the best that you can be for you and your team, being vocal out there is a key.
Touch on the importance of being vocal, in terms of leadership. Yeah, absolutely, it is. It's really good for leadership. I guess I wasn't really like the talkative kid growing up. I was just the goofy kid, but I had a loud mouth so, you know, it just stayed with me I guess.
Well, I mean you've got a lot of energy.. Yeah, yeah, absolutely
Not just here... At Brewster and with SYF too Yeah, yeah..I mean also wear the arm sleeve and the headband too. I mean I could probably break it out (laughs) next weekend or something
No, no, that's all right. (laughs) I can do it next week if that's something that you want (laughs)
No, no, that's okay. No, but I think it really just rolled over. I like being the real leader, even if I'm probably the biggest dude on the court. I mean I guess I've always grown up as the biggest kid and being the real leader among all of my friends and family.
Beats having to learn how to fight because you're not 6'10" (laughs) Yeah, well, My parents wanted me to be a good leader and I guess it just carried over. I mean, we just beat the number one team, so that was great. I guess that means it's a good day.
Talk about being a good teammate. I had talked to some of your teammates both at Brewster and SYF. They both really raved about you, but what do you hope your teammates say about you when you walk away? I hope that they think that I play really hard and with a lot of heart and passion. I hope they like playing with me and that I have a lot of heart, like I said. Overall, that I'm just a worker and that I'm just the hardest worker on the floor.
Some of them have said that, you don't have to worry. (laughs)
What are you looking for on your visits? Mostly, first of all, I want to find a great head coach that'll take me in like his own son.
That was one thing I wanted to touch on. Are you looking for more of a buddy-coach or an adult figure? Because some guys are looking for one or the other... Oh, definitely an adult. Because some guys were just looking for a friend or something. Oh, yeah, I know, but I just want someone who's going to encourage me and teach me. I'm willing to learn, so... The greatest players are always going to need a coach and be able and willing to learn.
Back to the visits, what else are you looking for? Basically, some colleges most guys that are there like the names and stuff. And the schools I've already been to, I already knew the players there. I'm always interested in speaking to the players because the coaches don't necessarily always speak the truth, but the players are going to speak the truth to you. They'll tell you things that you wouldn't otherwise find out til you get there. There are things that the coaches might not tell you before you get there. I want to actually know some of the players that go there. You know, like with Michigan, one of my good friends Zack Novak..
He's from your hometown. Yeah, he is. I'm really good friends with him and he speaks the truth about coaches at Michigan and like truthfully, how the coaches are to deal with.
In terms of that list that you were mentioning before, who's going to help you make it more manageable? Your dad? Yeah, my AAU coach and my dad.
This is a sort of Kyrie Irving type question, but you've sort of come out of nowhere and you sort of moved up the rankings steadily and ultimately came up very high. Do you think you were always this good and nobody noticed or do you think you've gotten considerably better in an extremely short period of time or a mixture? (laughs) It might have been a mixture, I mean, everybody on my AAU team is one of the best players on their high school team, but at Brewster I wasn't the best player. I guess that encouraged me to get a lot better.
I mean, you guys were stacked though. Yeah, I know. I just had to transform my body and stuff and work on my skills. I guess everything turned good. That's a good question.
This is one I've never asked a player on the record before, but I've always been curious about-- what kind of impact do the sneaker companies have over you and do you honestly care what sneaker of the program that you ultimately choose is? I mean I don't care. I've always worn Nike growing up, but, at Brewster, I'm Adidas and my AAU team just got signed with Under Armor. I don't really care.
That's exactly why I was asking because you're with all three of the major sneaker companies. Yeah, I don't really care, as long as the shoe fits and supports me, I'll run with it. I don't care how it looks.
Who are some of the assistants or head coaches that you've enjoyed talking to? Rick Pitino, when he was at Florida... I should say Richard Pitino. Now that he's at Louisville, I've lost touch with him. I like him a lot. And I like Coach Book.
Yeah, he's from my area. He used to be with the Gauchos and now he's at Arizona. Yeah, exactly. And I also like Coach Ogden of Texas. Those three are probably my favorite and Coach Meyer from Michigan too.
Have you seen any ACC schools? Do you have any visits planned? Hopefully, Duke and North Carolina. I'm not really sure when, though.
Will that come after July probably? Yeah, probably. Yeah, after the AAU thing. North Carolina offered me so I probably have to go down for an unofficial.
Has Duke offered you? I'm not sure quite yet, Coach K called.
They're clearly watching you. Oh, yeah, I noticed.
Thank you very much, Mitch. Oh, no problem.