Take your vitamins now Duke fans for there is a busy, yet fun weekend coming up. It all starts this Friday at 6 p.m. when Coach Mike Krzyewski and the Blue Devils basketball team takes on Presbyterian in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The very next day, Duke (8-1) will host Virginia Tech in football at high noon in Wallace Wade Stadium. And later that evening, Duke will play its second basketball game of the young season against Fairfield at 8 p.m. in Cameron, again.
Yep! That's three games tipping or kicking off on campus within 26 hours. I suppose that makes for a maniacal experience for many and it's sure to keep a lot of scribes banging at their keyboards from duck until dawn. That said, let's take a look at the two basketball games sandwiching a huge football game in between in the latest Monday Musings.
The Season Opens For Duke Basketball
There is no shortage of excitement for this years tip off to the men's basketball season at Duke and for good reason, or reasons. Firstly Coach Mike Krzyzewski will win his unprecedented 1000th collegiate basketball victory unless half the team is goes down to injury. Yes, that was sarcasm for this years team is truly loaded. It all starts with an incredibly talented and mature freshman class which features the much hyped Jahlil Okafor. Blend the group which includes Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen in with some key vets like Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Semi Ojeleye, Marshall Plumlee and you have a pretty darn good team. Anyhow, they will take on the Blue Hose who hope the second part of their last name doesn't get a letter added by games end. Presbyterian is led by Jordan Downing who is a Big South Pre Season All Conference Team player, Downing is a guy they need on the court and he is a prolific scorer.
Enter The Hokies At Noon On Saturday
Wallace Wade should be rocking when a traditional ACC power Virginia Tech comes to town. What makes the Hokies dangerous is that they are coming off a bye week and they'll be hungry to avenge last seasons home loss to Duke. The word out of Blacksburg is that they expect to sweep their final three games and carry a 7-5 resurgent record into bowl game. But Duke is on a roll and they are fighting to get back to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. The Blue Devils have become not only a good team under David Cutcliffe, but a good program. The Blue Devils are firmly ranked in the polls, but they want to prove the few doubters remaining wrong and solidify their standing as a program that has arrived. This will be a physical battle between to very hungry teams and Wade will need their Wacko's to be there and into the game from start to finish and wearing their Duke Blue.
Catch Your Breath Quickly, For Hoops Plays Fairfield The Same Evening
By the end of the evening, the Duke Men's Coaching Staff will have a much better idea of what their team is capable of doing this season. With two games in two days, Duke is likely to play a lot of players and combinations and that'll be fine by Coach K. Early in the season, Krzyzewski is known to experiment with his line ups. We'll see right off the bat how his team responds to two games in two days which is what you will get at year's end in tournament settings. The opponent for Duke will be the Fairfield Staggs who are coming off and exhibition win over Bridgeport. The player to watch for the Staggs will be Marcus Gilbert who scored 26 points in the win. Look for Duke to try to push him off the three-point stripe where he is effective. It's bit of a rebuilding year for the Staggs who are picked at the bottom of their conference.
We checked with some local motels and there are a lot of rooms booked for the weekend but plenty left if you're willing to drive some reasonable miles. There are some tickets left at GoDuke for the football game. If you cannot attend this weekend, tune into Blue Devil Nation who will be at all three games. For those who cannot make the trip to Durham for the games, both basketball games and the football contest will all be carried by ESPNU.
Duke Had a Visitor And Will Get Another
Caleb Swanigan, a 6-8 post player from the Class of 2015 visited Duke during its exhibition basketball game win this past weekend. Swanigan has offers from pretty much everybody. Duke will get a visit from their main target in the lithe Brandon Ingram this Saturday as well. He is considering neighbors UNC and NCSU as well and recently visited UCLA. More talk on him for members of the Blue Devil Nation Premium section.
Blue Devil Nation Social Media
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• The Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is 1-1 this season and 110-23 overall when ranked No. 3 in the country.
• The Blue Devils have been ranked in the AP top 10 for 110 consecutive weeks. Duke had been ranked in the top five in 14 of the 17 polls this season.
• Duke is playing its 205th straight game as a top-10 team in the AP poll. Duke is 170-34 in that span.
• Head coach Mike Krzyzewski ranks third for most wins by a coach at one school with 878 career victories at Duke. He is one win shy of tying Dean Smith for second on that list.
• The Blue Devils are one league win shy of winning 12 or more ACC games for the fourth straight season.
• Duke is the only team in the top 5 of the Associated Press Poll (No. 3), Coaches Poll (No. 3), NCAA RPI (No. 1) and Strength of Schedule index (No. 2).
The Last Time Out
• Virginia guard Joe Harris scored 36 points to lead the Cavaliers to a 73-68 upset over No. 3
Duke in Charlottesville Thursday. Harris grabbed seven rebounds, including four offensive, while adding two blocks, a steal and an assist. Harris shot 12-of-20 from the floor, 2-of-5 from three-point range and 10-of-12 from the free throw line.
• Harris’ performance was enough to overcome a 28-point effort from Duke’s Seth Curry and a 22-point showing from Quinn Cook.
• Virginia led by as much as 16 points with less than seven minutes remaining before Duke closed the gap to seven points with 40 seconds left. Cook scored 11 points in the final two minutes to cut the deficit.
• Virginia outrebounded Duke 36-25 and scored 18 points on second-chance opportunities.
• Duke outscored Virginia 24-9 from three-point range, but Virginia outscored Duke 34-22 in the paint.
• Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is one win shy of matching Dean Smith for the second-most wins at one school. Coach K is also one win shy of joining Smith as the only coaches in league history to amass 400 or more ACC victories.
• Duke, ranked No. 3 in the latest AP Poll, has been ranked in the top 10 of the poll 110 consecutive weeks. The last time Duke was not ranked in the top 10 was Nov. 19, 2007.
• Duke is the only team in the top 5 of the Associated Press Poll (No. 3), Coaches Poll (No. 3), NCAA RPI (No. 1) and Strength of Schedule index (No. 2). Miami and Louisville are the only schools to rank in the top 10 in all four polls.
• Duke is 14-0 in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season. The Blue Devils have gone undefeated at home 16 times, including nine under Coach K.
• The Blue Devils lead the ACC in three-point percentage (.411) and three-point field goals per game (7.7 3pg.). The .411 clip would rank as the third-best in school history.
• Duke is on a four-game win streak over top-5 teams with wins over No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 Ohio State this season as well as last year’s 85-84 win over No. 5 North Carolina. Duke has won five of its last six games over teams ranked in the top 5 of the AP poll.
• Mason Plumlee is tied for the ACC lead with 16 double-doubles on the year. Plumlee is averaging 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and is attempting to become the second Blue Devil (joining Shelden Williams in 2005 & 2006) under Coach K to average a double-double for a season.
• Seth Curry has scored in double figures in 10 straight contests, including six games with 20+ points in that span. He is averaging 19.6 points per game, while shooting 44.9 percent (27-of-61) from three-point range over the last 10 outings.
• Rasheed Sulaimon is shooting .475 (28-of-59) from three-point range at home this season. He has hit multiple three-pointers and shot .500 or better from long range in four of his last five home games.
• Duke is one win shy of posting 25 or more victories for the sixth straight season and the 22nd time overall under Mike Krzyzewski. One more win would also give Duke 12 ACC victories for the fourth straight season.
Duke-Miami Series History
• Duke and Miami have met 19 times leading into Saturday’s meeting with the Blue Devils holding a 15-4 lead in the series.
• Duke is 7-1 against Miami in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Six of those eight meetings have been decided by 10 or more points.
• Duke has won 15 of the last 18 meetings with Miami but has lost two straight. Duke has never lost back-to-back meetings against Miami.
• Duke is 15-3 against Miami under Coach K.
• In the first meeting of the 2012-13 season between Duke and Miami, the Hurricanes held Duke to .297 shooting from the field on the way to a 90-63 win in Coral Gables, Fla. Duke hit just 4-of-23 (.174) shots from three-point range in the loss while Miami 9-of-19 (.474) from beyond the arc.
• Freshmen Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon combined to score 29 points in the last meeting against Miami with Sulaimon netting 16 and Jefferson 13. Redshirt freshman Alex Murphy scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.
On a steep hillside overlooking the Hudson Valley in New York, the Trinity-Pawling school was where Chris and Doreen Kelly were working as educators and coaches when their first child, Ryan, was born on a Tuesday in early April of 1991. Genetically, Ryan benefited intellectually and athletically from a union of two high school sweethearts who both enjoyed athletic success in the Ivy League.
Alongside 6'11" Chris Dudley, who would ultimately play in the NBA for sixteen years, Chris Kelly played collegiately for the Yale Bulldogs under Tom Brennan and captained the team as a senior in 1985. A sharpshooter like his son, Mr. Kelly left his mark in New Haven on the court, finishing in the top ten in both field goal and free throw shooting before playing basketball professionally in France. After working at Merrill Lynch, he coached for nearly a decade at Trinity-Pawling, including winning the Western New England Championship in an undefeated season with Heshimu Evans, who would play collegiately both at Manhattan under Fran Fraschilla and at Kentucky where he would be a major contributor on their 1998 National Championship team with "Tubby" Smith.
His mother, Doreen Casey Kelly, twice earned all-Ivy distinction for her exploits on the volleyball courts at Penn. Her father, Rich Casey, played basketball with the "M & M boys," Jim Manhardt and Bob Melvin, at Fordham University under Coach Johnny Bach in the early 1960s. Mrs. Kelly would go on to teach for a decade at Trinity-Pawling before becoming the Director of the Lower School at the tony Ravenscroft School, which is in its sesquicentennial year, in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was at this point, when Ryan was in the third grade, that the Kelly clan, which now included younger siblings, Sean and Erin, made the nearly ten hour drive from Dutchess County in New York to begin a new venture in the capital city of Raleigh.
Fast forwarding to 2005, at Ravenscroft, Ryan Kelly started immediately as a freshman under Coach Kevin Billerman, a former Duke captain from New Jersey under Bill Foster and Neil McGeachey as well as a former college coach at Florida Atlantic and UNC-Charlotte. Although he started, Kelly's on-court production, averaging four points and four rebounds per game as a freshman for a sixteen win Ravens team, didn't necessarily portend the future All-American that he would eventually develop into.
With his mother, Doreen, now the Head of School at Ravenscroft, Kelly had unfettered access to the school's gymnasium and took full advantage, practicing often from before dawn broke on the school's hardwood. Ryan also began to grow physically and played with the D-One Sports AAU program, run then by the Clifton Brothers, Dwon and Brian. By his sophomore year, Ryan's metamorphosis as a basketball player began, as he was now averaging over fourteen points and nearly nine rebounds, while helping Ravenscroft achieve a top ten ranking in his adopted state of North Carolina. As a result, Kelly began to garner mid-major interest.
Off the court, Kelly was a bit of a polymath. He was a member of the National Honor Society and a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, earning over a 4.0 GPA and a 2150 SAT score, while demonstrating his proficiency in Latin (Magna Cum Laude on the National Latin Exam), playing the double bass in the school's orchestra, and being an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He also began to date the captain of the Ravenscroft girls' basketball team, Lindsay Cowher, whose father, Bill, was a Super Bowl-winning coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and is currently a studio analyst for the NFL Today on CBS.
As a junior, the perpetually growing Kelly took a great leap forward earning all-state distinction and becoming a nationally recruited high-major caliber recruit. He helped the Ravens win twenty-four games and get ranked fifth amongst private schools by scoring over twenty-three points, grabbing nine caroms, and swatting four shots per game. On the AAU circuit, he teamed up with John Wall, a Raleigh product, to form as dangerous a one-two punch as there was for the AAU season of 2008. Wall, a tall, blazing fast point guard, was a sensation unto himself, but Kelly, who grew six inches during high school, had a unique skill set as a highly skilled four man, drawing praise for his shooting proficiency and basketball acumen. Playing with Wall helped bring Kelly attention from coaches and scouts. The duo took full advantage of his "pick-and-pop" dexterity, which was hard-earned through the countless hours of refining his shot and drills at the Ravenscroft gym.
During that summer, Kelly also traveled to Formosa, Argentina, where he played with future college roommate Mason Plumlee and fellow future national champion Kemba Walker for Team USA and Davidson Coach Bob McKillop, a fellow transplant from New York. Kelly started all five games and contributed, but, ultimately, the host Argentinians captured the gold medal. Kelly then headed out to Las Vegas for his final AAU tournaments with Wall and D-One Sports. Soon after, Duke's interest in Ryan Kelly intensified rapidly. Coach Krzyzewski, having just revitalized the USA Basketball Men's team with the gold medal in Beijing, took a keen interest in Kelly as a stretch four in the mold of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Luol Deng.
Kelly, with the academic and athletic credentials to be recruited at that point by literally every program in the country, sat down with his family and whittled his list of offers to six schools in early August. By September, he visited Duke and was formally offered a scholarship on his visit. On October 9, 2008, after systematically analyzing the pros and cons of his prospective offers with his family, he announced his commitment to join Duke University, a thirty minute ride away from his home on Ravenscroft's campus.
As a senior, Ryan averaged over twenty-five points and ten rebounds in leading the Ravens to a 28-7 record, ultimately losing in the title game to Mason Plumlee's Christ School by eight points in the state championship game. Ryan garnered all of the prestigious awards and honors, including McDonald's All-American, Parade All-American, Jordan All-American, and North Carolina's Gatorade Player of the Year, while finishing as a consensus top twenty recruit in the class of 2009.
At a lean 6'10" and 205 pounds with a tight crewcut, Ryan Kelly entered Duke with an affable fellow McDonald's All-American, 6'11" Mason Plumlee, and a 6'5" sharpshooter from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia, Andre Dawkins, who he believes will be lifelong friends. With veteran leadership and blessed with substantial depth in the post, Kelly played relatively sparingly, two hundred and twenty-seven total minutes in thirty-five games, as a freshman during Duke's Championship run, but steadily tried to add strength and contribute in spots. He was able to compete in five of the six NCAA Tournament games, including knocking down a pair of free throws against Purdue in the Sweet 16, in front of more than 45,000 in attendance at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Grateful to his parents for their guidance and support, he did try to overcome one perceived genetic flaw, upper-body strength, immediately following the season. "They were athletes and I mean good athletes, but they weren't..I don't know if either of them could do a pull up," joked Kelly. With a single-mindedness of focus, Ryan ate a lot more, hit the weight room, worked out, and, after earning All-ACC academic honors as a freshman, did both summer sessions of classwork at Duke. At an elite basketball program like Duke's, there are no guarantees of playing time, but Kelly's work and perseverance paid immediate dividends for the team and himself.
As a sophomore, Kelly was now nearly two-hundred and thirty-five pounds and a frequent starter, on a team with four players that are currently in the NBA. His constant shot refinement in the gym manifested itself in substantial improvements across the board in the prominent shooting categories: field goal shooting percentage leapt from 35.6% to 51.6%, foul shooting percentage improved substantially from 66.7% to a respectable 80.5%, and the former McDonald's three-point shooting champion more than quadrupled his production from five to twenty-two made three-pointers, while improving the overall percentage from 26.3% to 31.5% . At one point in the season, Ryan hit a blistering eighteen consecutive shots from the field, including seven three-pointers. After scoring a total of forty-one points as a freshman, his scoring production also increased, including scoring a then career-high twenty points against Wake Forest, a former finalist in his recruitment. Defensively, he lead Duke in charges taken and finished in the top ten in the ACC in blocked shots.
When Kelly, a public policy major, became an upperclassmen, he followed former mentor Brian Zoubek's guidance and added whiskers to his youthful countenance, more closely resembling a nineteenth century professorial beard than a Maine lumberjack, and let his mane of hair grow. The growth was not just superficial as the cerebral junior was named a team captain. As the season began, his efficient offensive impact was felt immediately as he captured MVP honors at the Maui Invitational, including scoring seventeen points and ensnaring twelve rebounds in Duke's win over Kansas in the championship game of the early season tournament.
The weapon that Kelly added to his holster was developing into a lethal three-point shooter, 40.8%, at 6'11" in sneakers. As a stretch four, Kelly was instrumental in the team's climactic come-from-behind victory over the archenemy UNC Tar Heels, scoring fifteen points and nailing a Tyler Zeller-aided shot to pull the Blue Devils within one, which enabled Austin Rivers' dramatic and clutch three-pointer to be the game-winner. After struggling with his shot a bit down the stretch, Ryan went for a career-high 23 points in Winston-Salem, NC against Wake Forest on the last day of February. A week later, Kelly sprained his right foot in practice and the Duke team never fully adjusted in the short span of the season that remained. Statistically, he was the team's third best scorer and rebounder, but that doesn't adequately convey the absence of the spacing, perimeter shooting, patience, shot-blocking, presence and basketball acumen that Ryan provided the team. Three games later, the Blue Devils' season ended with a stunning upset loss to Lehigh.
In late March, Dr. James Nunley at Duke Hospital put a screw into Kelly's fifth metatarsal and Ryan has fully recovered. By June, the twenty-one year old spent several weeks in Las Vegas training with players like Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Arnett Moultrie, Maalik Wayns, and Xavier Gibson at Impact Academy. Kelly was looking to cut down on his shot reaction time, continue to add range to his three-point shot, and get leaner through added strength. Later in the month, he joined his Duke teammate and co-captain, Mason Plumlee, at the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago. During the following month, Mason, Ryan, and Duke newcomer Rodney Hood were among the twenty-five elite collegiate players attending the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas, where they went through drills with veteran coaches, such as the Celtics' Kevin Eastman and former Duke assistant coach Jay Bilas, as well as played in front of NBA scouts.
Kelly also worked as an intern and a fundraiser for The Monday Life, a non-profit begun by a former Duke team manager, Joey McMahon, that seeks to improve the environments for kids at six children's hospitals around the country, including Duke Children's Hospital, through a variety of enrichment programs. Finding passion in this newfound venture, Kelly visited Duke Children's Hospital, spoke and played with patients, and the two-time Duke captain worked to set up his teammates with fundraising pages for The Monday Life.
Always a student, Ryan, an analytical Seinfeld fan, along with his father, Chris, combed through the Duke record book looking for a prior Blue Devil whose career trajectory that he could emulate. He's targeted current NBA Champion and former Duke All-American Shane Battier, who tirelessly transformed himself from an anemic three-point shooter as a freshman (four three-pointers out of twenty-four shots, 16.7%) into a sniper forward (124 made three-pointers at a 42% clip) during his national championship-winning senior season, noting that Battier was also a high volume (averaging roughly seven three-point shots per game) long-range shooter during that season.
As the dawn of his final season approaches, the highly motivated Kelly is excited about the team's future and his own. "We go into every year believing that we're going to win championships. This year, we have the talent to do that and, if guys come ready to play and compete, we can certainly go get one."
In a very lengthy and candid interview with Ryan Kelly, the senior forward spoke about his relationships with Coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski, Andre Dawkins, and Mason Plumlee, his NBA aspirations, how playing sparingly as a freshman fueled his motivation, how his leadership approach will evolve for this year's team, Bill Cowher, the impact and influence of his family, playing with John Wall, his charity work this summer, what some of the freshman will bring to this year's squad, and comparisons to European big men, amongst a variety of topics.
Let's start with your family. On both sides of the family, you've got a lot of relatives who have played and coached basketball. How has that helped you throughout your journey to this point?
Yeah, my family's been deeply involved in sports. It's been great for me. You know, before my grandfather passed away, he was a big influence on me, both on basketball and off the court. We were quite close.
Did he move down from New York as well?
Yeah, he moved down here to North Carolina a couple of years after we did..with my grandmother. He was a huge influence. Funny enough, back then..oh, man, I can't remember the name of his high school, but he still holds the record for most points scored in his high school gym, without the benefit of the three-point line. He was a real scorer, but he really taught me a lot about the defensive side of the ball (laughs). The reason is because, when he got to Fordham, he was playing for Johnny Bach (former coach of Fordham, Penn State, the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards)…and he didn't get the playing time that he, well, because, you know, he could score with the basketball, but he didn't play any defense. So, he always big on me on that..
Well, I'm sure you've seen that with others as well where a parent or grandparent will emphasize an area or facet of their game that they wish they had been a little bit better at, even those that played at the highest levels. I'm familiar with that Fordham area. Arthur Avenue, the Bronx Zoo.. You can get a good calzone around there.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Then, my father was just huge for me to be around and just get in the gym with him whenever I needed to. He was a guy that was a captain and, you know, played professionally in France. It's just valuable information. The game of basketball is about hard work, but it's also a mental game and you can learn a lot of things at any age.
I was going to ask you about your thoughts on the mental aspect of the game in a little bit, but, since you brought it up, I know that you were an excellent student. I'll assume that you still are.
(laughs) I try. I'm still really trying.
Latin scholar. For whatever reason, that always impressed me. Sapientia est potentia.
(laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah, well, that was really just something that my parents, you know, really instilled in me. I really think that it shows out in the basketball court as well. I figure..
I think, at the college level, at the beginning of your sophomore year, I thought it really started to click for you.
You know that, in this game, you've got to have some athletic ability, God-given height and different things
Unfortunately, the Lord robbed me on one of those things.
(laughs) You know that it's a cerebral game. You can't over-think it, but you need to be smart about the moves that you make. I think it's really been an important part of my game.
Did you feel that your second year was when you started to be able to blend or fuse the mental gifts that you bring to the court with your newfound body? Was that when it started to click for you?
It started to get there and my whole career, you know, my high school career, was a growing process.
Sure, it absolutely was.
Yeah, and I think that's what my college career is going to be like. That's just the way that my career is and that's why I feel I'm poised for a really good senior year. You know I'm excited about it because I look back and I go, well, look what I did, you know, growing through high school in the way I did. It's happening again.
With you, I think about that Coach K saying, "Run your own race."
Yeah, exactly. That's the one. As you know, not every player that comes into Duke and is a McDonald's All-American is a one-and-done or whatever.
I think I had a really solid junior year.
I'd like to take that and grow from it. You know the end was not fun, but injuries are a part of sports. It's not fun to get hurt, but, like I said, injuries are a part of sports and especially at that time of year.
I was going to ask you about that in a bit, but have you fully recovered? I assume that you're back to your old self.
Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm fully recovered. I'm obviously playing, but, yeah, it's at full speed. The training staff has done a great job with that. They would never stick me out here if I wasn't good to go. They took great care of me and the surgery went great. I had a screw put in my fifth metatarsal. (demonstrates) That's where it was. It's just your outside bone there on your foot. The healing has been great and, like I said, injuries are a part of sports. They stink and especially when it's your feet, where you've gotta be off of your feet, but..
Especially, for a big guy.
Yeah, but I think the surgeon did a great job, Doctor (James) Nunley.
It was done at Duke.
Yeah, it was done at Duke.
We don't want one of those shabby Tar Heels damaging you permanently.
(laughs) No, he's one of the best surgeons in the world. I was fortunate to be in a place where, at Duke Hospital, they really took care of me.
I had watched you play a lot in high school, but you're actually the only member of the team that I never actually formally interviewed because of the timing of Duke's recruitment of you. So, I've had some things that I was curious about. You had access to a gym and the reports were, in those days, that you were in there at 6 AM. I don't know if it was true or not. You had a legendary work ethic.
(laughs) No, it is. It's something that I've always prided myself in.
It impressed me. I like guys who are hungry and have a great work ethic.
Thanks. Since probably about eighth grade, I…and I'm not a morning person at all (laughs), but I kind of forced myself to get up.
Finally, something the audience can relate to..
(laughs) Yeah, my mom, was the head of the school and so she..
That's an interesting dynamic.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and so she had the keys to the gym
I wish to God I could've had that as a kid.
(laughs) Yeah, I'd just get in there and just shoot, shoot, shoot.
Do you still do that a lot during the summer?
Oh, yeah, well, actually not at six AM, but..
(laughs) Yeah, I've fortunately got all day, but, yeah, I'm still the same person who goes in that gym like two or three times a day.
Three times a day. Wow.
Yeah, I feel like I've got to in order to keep improving on my game. Just working on your shots.
One thing that I thought you separated yourself from the pack in the two-on-two and three-on three drills today was with your fadeaway. That was an element that you didn't necessarily have as much in high school as you do now.
Yeah, definitely, I've really worked on that, especially this summer.
At your height, it's a very dangerous or potent skill.
Yeah, you know that's something that I think is really going to help my game this year. In the past, so far at Duke, well, really it's unbelievable, but people don't really know me. In high school, I shot…
I watched you a lot with (John) Wall, but I didn't know if they were going to come after you. Then, by the time they did..
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I mean in high school basketball. In AAU basketball, I shot some threes, but, in high school basketball..
You shot straight up.
Yeah, I didn't really shoot three-pointers and then I won the McDonald's three-point competition and..
"Hey, the kid can shoot threes!"
(laughs) Yeah, exactly, all of a sudden I can shoot…and that was a good thing because I needed to have that skill, but what I've always had is a little knack for scoring around the basket..with my back-to-the-basket stuff
And, as we got to college, I wasn't always big enough or strong enough
Very fundamentally sound. Bank shots, drop steps..
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I wasn't big enough or strong enough to get the shots that I wanted.
That's another thing that I'd like to touch on with you. Your body has transformed so much in your time at Duke. You're so much bigger.
(laughs) It's definitely changed a lot since I've come to Duke and, you know, it's still changing.
Maybe you could speak about that and where you'd like to get your body to be. You've gotten much bigger. You were like 190 to then 205.
Yeah, yeah, now, I'm up in that 230 range and that's where I'd like it to be. I just want to continue to get stronger in the weight room.
Forgive me a second, but I was speaking with a scout today about you beforehand, in preparation, and he was commenting on how you've gotten bigger. So, I asked him what he thought you needed to do next and he felt that you now needed to get a little bit more cut.
That's exactly what I'm working on next.
I wondered if that was the next plan in the ongoing process.
That's exactly the next plan in the process. You know that a lot of my freshman year, especially because I wasn't playing a ton at Duke, I kept trying to put weight on. That's what my body needed. Then, the next few years, it's been trying to get cut and get stronger. Just get stronger. That's what will come with being stronger. You know I somewhat blame my parents a little bit. I don't necessarily have the best genes..
Oh, please, you don't know how bad it can get.
(laughs) No, no, they were athletes and I mean good athletes, but they weren't..I don't know if either of them could do a pull up (laughs) ever.
(laughs) No, I'm sure they could. I believe that your mother was actually a volleyball player, as I recall, at Villanova and Penn.
Yeah, exactly, she played volleyball at Villanova and Penn. She loves to come to the games (laughs).
She follows me on Twitter. I'm very careful about what I write.
(laughs) Don't worry. Yeah, she's very interested in the program.
Just out of curiosity, in retrospect, what was your experience like playing with a point guard like John Wall?
Well, he was just a great player and he made things very easy. You know that was a really fun time because I was playing AAU with him..
You guys were like rock stars.
(laughs) Yeah, it was a pretty cool time to be in Raleigh. It was a special time for basketball in Raleigh and, since then, it's really grown.
You guys definitely helped it.
Yeah, and especially the private schools. The private schools have become the best basketball in the state of North Carolina in a pretty short period of time.
I was talking with your guy, (Anton) Gill last year in Pittsburgh.
Oh, yeah, Anton.
He said that he was training with you and that you were giving him some direction. So, you'll verify that he was working with you?
Oh, yeah, he was and he's a great kid. He's a talented kid. It's just been cool to see. You know there was a group before me a little bit and then, as I came into high school basketball, it really started to pick up. There's some really good basketball in the state of North Carolina and that's pretty cool…and, with John, he just made things easy and it was fun. We were playing AAU together, but then, during the season, we were, like, rivals. We would play him at Word of God.
Was he a generous teammate? I found him very likable and down to earth, despite what seemed to be, like, an entourage of people trying to get a piece of him. On the court, he seemed to be generous and he was just so blazing fast, but, as his teammate, I wondered how you felt..
Oh, no question, he was very generous and made his teammates better. He's, you know…he's continuing to get better and it's great to see, for him, that the Washington Wizards are starting to get better.
They're starting to get a few pieces and looking for more character guys.
Yeah, they've been adding. It's been tough to go somewhere that hasn't been winning and..
It must be frustrating.
Yeah, and, you know, when you're not used to it and you're that good of a player.
I mean I've talked to him and he's excited about the future and he liked the opportunity of playing with the USA team. That's pretty cool. It was fun, though.
Thinking about chemistry…With Mason Plumlee, have you guys developed a semblance of a chemistry? I always wondered if you viewed him as a bit of a rival.
Well, I guess a little bit since he beat us in the finals. We really didn't play in the regular season that much, though. We saw him in tournaments. No, but Mason is an unbelievable person to play with.
No, I had interviewed him a lot of times in high school and, in those days, I thought he was about the nicest kid that I had ever interviewed. I've seen him at events and some games since. As his teammate for three plus years, he hasn't changed much, has he?
(laughs) Oh, no, he's a great guy and, on top of that, just in terms of basketball, the way he plays. I think we really complement each other well. We've got kind of an inside-outside thing going on. We both have good passing ability.
The scout noted that, by the way.
(laughs) Good, he's just great. He gives me so many open looks, when he's in the post and I'm up top. You know when a big helps down or whatever.
You guys are both very good high-post passers.
Yeah, that's something we, you know, have become pretty good at and we need to continue to do in games. That's a thing that can help our team win.
In terms of winning the National Title, on that veteran laden team, you obviously didn't necessarily have the huge impact like you did in either your junior or sophomore year, but what was the experience like for you in winning the national title? You also obviously were a contributor and you played in the Final Four. What was that experience like for you?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was something that I'll never forget. You never know. You want to, but you never know if it'll happen again and so that's what made it so special.
Lightning striking once.
Yeah, you never know. That's what we compete for every year because you simply do not know. You have to strike when you have the opportunity.
I'd like to get to that and your thoughts on this year in a moment.
Yeah, exactly, but, one was seeing what it took. You know guys like Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas doing something special.
Those guys were from a neighboring state and I thought Lance especially had good leadership skills.
Maybe you can touch on that for a second.
Yeah, yeah, they were great leaders and, you know, they were the type of guys…You know that I was kind of the fifth big and I was built with a little bit different skill set.
I had to get my body into a position where I could truly compete at that level, but everyday Lance and Brian came to get me, Mason, and Miles better. In turn, that made them really, really good and they played great at the right time.
Do you find any parallels between that and you with Marshall and Alex Murphy and even Amile with his skill set?
Yeah, absolutely, it's important to...
Take them under your wing.
Yeah, take them under your wing. You know, it's about teaching the culture. The culture of Duke basketball and that was something that we didn't feel like we did an unbelievable job of doing last year.
Yeah, Miles, to a degree, and I'm sure he tried, but, while he's got plenty of strengths, he indicated that he really had to work on his leadership ability more than some others might have to.
Yeah, he tried and he did a little bit, but he tried his butt off. I'm so happy for him that he's getting an opportunity with the Pacers. I'm just so happy for him.
So am I. I wanted to talk with you about Seinfeld, but..
(laughs) Oh, that's my favorite show (laughs) Great topic.
I will, but I also wanted to get to another long-term relationship that you've had at Duke. Your teammate and roommate Andre Dawkins… You seem very tight with him, well, at least, as far as I can tell.
Oh, yeah, we're really close friends and, um, this time..
He's gone through his ups and downs.
Yeah, he obviously had a big shock in his life. That's not an easy thing to go through.
It's about as devastating as it gets.
Really, I think that it's going to be big for him and his career to just take this time and step away from basketball.
Sure. The reason why I brought it up is because, without putting you in any type of an awkward situation, you're about as close to him as any teammate and would be a good person to offer your thoughts on him and his situation.
Oh, yeah, yeah, I can say that Andre will be a friend of mine forever. No matter what…and he can be and he has been for us, at times, a terrific player.
Well, I mean you just go back a second when we were talking about the national championship. Without him against Baylor, you may not have won the title. He was as clutch as it gets. It's as simple as that. Those shots against Baylor were pivotal in winning that national title.
Absolutely, those shots against Baylor (laughs)… I mean as a freshman too.
He's got some cajones with him and he can shoot the ball.
He's always had that confidence.
Oh, yeah, it's funny back…I didn't even know him at the time, but it had to be like my sophomore year in high school. I came over to play over at Duke and Andre was visiting. He was just a freshman and I was like, "Who is this kid?"
He had more confidence than anybody playing in the gym.
About three years ago, I was at the LeBron camp in Cleveland and interviewing Kyrie… and Dawkins was playing. Sullinger, who was a bit of a bully, kept knocking Duke and saying things that, well, can't be repeated and Dawkins was getting more and more angry. Finally, he just went up and tried to dunk on Sullinger.
He didn't, but it was more of a street ball way of sending a message. He wasn't going to take it anymore. I was impressed that he stood up for Duke and Sullinger kept his mouth shut for the rest of the game.
(laughs) Oh, yeah, he loved Duke and he's such a talented kid and he's talented not just on the basketball court and, so, he'll be fine. He'll be fine.
What have you been working on this offseason? You've been in Vegas a lot this year. It's a bit unusual.
Yeah, you know, last year, I came out here actually with John, but it was just for, like, a long weekend and I liked the experience of going up against some of the pre-draft guys and guys who were NBA guys, who were really good players.
Is that at Impact? Impact Academy?
Yes, exactly, at Impact. This summer, you know, I though it was an opportunity to make me a better player and, you know, I have one more year of college basketball, which is huge for me, and then it's trying to make it at the next level. Those are my goals. I have goals for next year. I'm also going to have goals for past that. I have to do everything that I can to achieve those goals and I thought that this was a great place to help me get there.
Forgive me, but what's the sort of time period that you've been doing this?
It was in June. For about two and a half to three weeks, leading into Amar'e (Stoudemire Skills Academy).
So, yeah, in the beginning of June until towards the end.
Who did you train with? They've been able to get some very good players over the past few years.
Oh, yeah, there were a lot of good players. I mean in the ACC, there were guys like Xavier Gibson, Maalik Wayns, Dion Waiters, Ashton Gibbs…I mean there were a lot of talented players.
He's gotten a good mix over there of guys trying to make it, first and second year pros, and some younger talented players.
Yeah, there's talented people and going up against players who are competing to make it in the NBA.
And you're doing it a year in advance.
That has to be a good experience for you.
Yeah, and I know that I got better. I was working a lot in the post and a lot with that deeper range three obviously.
Which you've been hitting, of course
(laughs) It was big because I need to speed up my shot a little bit and I think I was…I know I can shoot the basketball, but I can't be thrown off by someone running at me…fast.
Right, it's got to be an instant reaction, at times.
Yeah, it's got to be catch-and-shoot. It's something that I think that I've gotten better at this summer and, you know, this is an exciting time because you see yourself getting better.
It makes it fun.
It's that fine tuning of an instrument or tinkering with a machine.
In terms of recommendations by the coaching staff towards achieving your pro potential, one thing that Kyle (Singler) had mentioned was that the staff wanted him to watch three NBA players. Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy were two of the players. Did they make any suggestions, in terms of NBA players, for you to watch?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, a guy that I like to watch a lot is Ryan Anderson, down with the Orlando Magic. He had a tremendous year.
Sure, a 6'8" great shooter, who Coach Van Gundy utilized quite well last year.
Yeah, he's a great shooter. He can pick-and-pop. I think that I've got some skills that he has, but the biggest thing that people have seen and I've got to continue to show it is that I can shoot the ball well for a guy my size. Then, I have to be able to rebound the ball and defend my position.
You've got some valuable and clearly demonstrated skills, but I think that the more you can demonstrate that you've added those last two things, well, the better off you'll be financially because you'll be rapidly moving up the draft boards.
Yeah, exactly, I know that I can score the basketball and I know that I can pass the basketball and, if I can do those other two things better, I can put myself in a position to…
Make a lot of money.
(laughs) Yeah, that's the plan.
Meeting Bill Cowher. I can't say that I really get intimidated by meeting anyone..
..but, just out of curiosity, what was it like meeting Coach Cowher for the first time? He seemed to be a very intense coach on the sidelines. Somehow, the image of him in the doorway when you're trying to pick up his daughter on a date..
(laughs) Oh, yeah, no, it was pretty neat. I had actually met him before I started dating my girlfriend. So, but, yeah, he's a great guy and it's also real cool because he knows the game of basketball and appreciates the game of basketball and he played it.
CBS analysis as well.
Yeah, he did the CBS stuff with basketball as well. So, I can always throw something off of him. He's real supportive and I never saw him when he was coaching personally.
It was just something that I always wanted to ask you about if I ever crossed paths with you.
Yeah, no, but he's a great guy…and I haven't gotten into too big of a trouble with him yet.
(laughs) I'm sure you won't.
In terms of your leadership, what did you learn from being a captain this past season that you hope to improve upon for this coming season?
You know this year was a learning experience for me as a captain. It wasn't easy. I think I'm somebody that certainly has leadership ability and I tend to lead more by example than by using my words.
They say that the quarterback Johnny Unitas used to end every pre-game meeting by saying, "Talk is cheap. Let's go play." You're trying to lead through your actions.
Yeah, that's a huge part of leadership. I think I have that and now I have to continue to expand my leadership ability and communication, on and off the court. I think that's something that I can do better this year. As you know, we have a great senior class who certainly have ability on the court and also have great leadership ability and, you know, that's just another reason to be excited.
I mean that's one of those things where you look at the track record of really successful teams, championship-caliber teams, and it's often senior or upperclassmen leadership with quality talent.
Absolutely, it's a big part of winning and, you know, a lot of times a lot of the closest teams and the most highly knit teams are the ones that win it in the end. That's not to say that we weren't tight last year. Things obviously have to fall the right way, but you need to be a real team.
You've obviously had teammates, friends, and competitors get drafted, but what was your initial reaction to Miles and Austin getting drafted in the first round?
They're both, well, I mean Austin first of all is obviously a really talented kid. He had a really good freshman year and then we expected what he was going to do.
He was a surefire "one-and-done," but Miles..
Yeah, Miles, I was so happy for him because he was one of the hardest workers I know. You know he's such an incredible athlete.
He's also smart, like yourself.
(laughs) Well, thanks. You know that I'm glad that people saw that ability because we always saw it and he did a lot of things for our team that people didn't see necessarily, but there were spurts of that athleticism shown..
That's what amazed me. That his athleticism, which was so highly coveted and talked about in the pre-draft process, was not necessarily recognized until it was so late in the overall process. Because he had been demonstrating his athleticism throughout, if they had just watched for it.
Yeah, I know. I think in the setting that he was in, with the pre-draft stuff, he really showed his ability and I'm really happy that he stepped up in that time. He really went out there and just got it. I think that he's going to be the type of kid that plays for a long time.
Just out of curiosity, did your father ever talk to you about Chris Dudley? I know that he was one of your father's college teammates, but he may or may not have spoken to you about him?
Oh, yeah, sure, he talked about playing with him and how talented he became.
He still has the record for the longest NBA career of any Ivy League player.
Yeah, I knew he played for a long time. My father talked about how he worked really hard and developed at Yale.
He was able to carve out a niche in the NBA by blocking shots and rebounding, but you're a much better free throw shooter.
(laughs) Oh, I'm not so sure.
Apropos of nothing, but do you remember living in New York at all?
Oh, yeah, I don't remember a lot because it was the third or fourth grade, but we always went back up every summer for my dad's basketball camp.
Oh, he ran a basketball camp too. Forgive me, I didn't even know that.
Yeah, he ran a basketball camp because he coached at Trinity-Pawling.
Right, I knew that.
I don't know if you know the name Heshimu Evans. He played at Kentucky.
Yeah, sure, he was also with Coach Fraschilla at Manhattan.
Yeah, exactly, and then he went to Kentucky. My dad was, like, his PG (post-graduate) year coach.
He was a tremendous player.
Yeah, he coached some very good players.
Heshimu was an absolute "freak athlete."
Yeah, he was a heck of a player. He might even still be playing overseas. So, my dad always ran camp and we always went back every summer, but, because there's no newspapers up there anymore, it's impossible to advertise, and we're so far removed that we had to stop. You know those are the times that I remember the most.
Somebody wanted me to ask you about your vertical.
It's actually pretty decent. (laughs)
That's what they had heard. It was somewhere between like thirty-one and thirty-four inches.
Yeah, I think it was measured at like thirty-three… at Duke. I don't know if it necessarily shows on the court.
No, no, forgive me for even asking, don't worry, I was going to kill him if you said, like, a foot.
(laughs) I think I'm more athletic than people realize at times. I'm tall and long, but there's no question that I have some physical limitations.
But, if you have that kind of a vertical, that'll grade out well.
Yeah, exactly, and, you know, I believe that I have the tools to play at the next level and play for a long time. So, that's what I believe.
Hopefully, you do play for a long time. We touched on rebounding a little bit before, but, with Miles not being there this year, it creates a bit of a vacuum. What would you like to bring, in terms of rebounding, this year to the team?
Yeah, you know it's going to be huge for our team that I rebound the basketball this year. I didn't do a terrible job last year, but I could've done better. Something that's really big for me is getting explosive and getting rebounds outside of my area. I'm pretty good because I've got good hands and I've got the balls that are coming to me.
If it's, sort of, within your vicinity, you've got it. The next step is being able to expand your region.
Yeah, it's being explosive enough to get rebounds outside of your area.
Even today, in the morning drills, you showed the guys that you're able to go get it… outside of your space. Battling against one of the best bigs in college, Jeff Withey.
Yeah, yeah, that's what I needed to do.
With the new guys, in particular, Marshall and Alex, you've seen them in practice. What should fans expect?
Marshall plays his butt off.
He always ran like hell.
Yeah, he runs like crazy. He goes after every rebound and he really knows his role.
Has he improved substantially over the past year?
He's gotten much stronger. You can't move him now. It's unbelievable. He's become a lot stronger. He's still growing into his game certainly and his body, but he's going to help us this year. He'll be important. And, with Alex…Alex is a really talented kid. I think, at the three position, with his size, and his ability to shoot the basketball, we're real hopeful that he's going to be huge for us next year. I think we're already seeing, with the numbers that he's putting up overseas, what he's capable of.
Yeah, he's putting up great numbers.
He's putting up great numbers and he's, you know..
He has a competitive fire that I think could frankly also help out the squad a lot.
Oh, no question.
I don't know if he still has it.
Oh, no question, he still has it. In every drill, if he's in a drill, he tries to win it. That makes for a great practice.
In high school, he had actually talked about you. I don't remember if it was on the record or whatever, but, of the Duke guys that he wanted to emulate, he liked your inside-outside game.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that's something that he can do. He can play inside-outside and, especially, with him, you know that he's really athletic. So, he can really play that three position and get those mismatches. If a small guy is on him, he can take him inside. If it's a bigger guy, go right by him.
Has he gotten bigger physically and stronger as well?
He's gotten stronger by a lot. There's no question about that. When you're red-shirting, you're in the weight room a lot.
I would think so. I mean what else are you going to do.
(laughs) There's no question that we saw improvements in his physical ability and also on the basketball court.
I was looking at your statistics and I was wondering if you had given any thought to potentially being a one thousand point scorer. I was seeing that you, Mason, and Seth Curry could all, relatively realistically, reach that distinction. I didn't know if it held any particular value or meaning to you at all. I don't know if that distinction still quite holds as much luster as it did in the past.
It would, sort of, be a cool thing. It would be a cool thing, but you can look at individual accomplishments when you get past them. That's how I look at it.
I frankly don't know why I even asked you that, but I guess I was just curious. I like to know what motivates different people and how their mind operates.
No, no, there have been a lot of really good players. I've been fortunate enough to play with a lot of people that've scored a lot of points.
Taking away your opportunities.
(laughs) No, no, I've been able to rebound the ball. That's something that hopefully I'm able to do. Hopefully, when I look back at it, when I'm fifty, I'll think that was pretty cool. I've got to do it first though.
What's your relationship been like with the Duke coaches and how has it grown?
Oh, it's been huge and, with Coach, you know, it's hard, freshman year, it's hard to really communicate with your college coach. You know they really try to communicate with you. When you're young, you don't really understand it and it's been important for me, especially after this junior year, to really stay in communication with Coach K.
Have you seen a metamorphosis with regard to that as well?
Oh, there's no question about it. He's always been there to try to communicate with me, but it's got to be my effort to do so.
One thing that I often find striking about him is his candidness. There are a lot of guys that will pull punches or, well,…he's very honest.
(laughs) He is. He's very…(laughs)
Well, I guess it's either refreshingly honest or brutally, depending on your perspective.
Yeah, in a lot of ways, I think that's what makes him so much of a great coach. He's always honest with you.
You know where you stand.
Yeah, that's exactly it. You know it's been a blast to play with him so far and I think that this senior year is going to be really special for us.
What about the assistant coaches as well? Your position coach.
Oh, I mean, with Coach Wojo, being our position coach, you know, I've really become close with him. He's somebody that, well, all of our coaching staff, but, especially Coach Wojo, I know that he would take a bullet for me. That's something special to have that kind of relationship. You know I have great relationships with all of my coaches, but you know that we kind of have a special one.
He's kind of the one at my end of the court always when we're doing drills and doing different things and in the film room and doing or giving the extra time. When you know that people really care about you doing well, that's a special feeling.
It's almost like a secondary parent.
Yeah, that's exactly what it is.
With this relatively newfound physique, if you will, have you become more comfortable with physical play and how has it improved your defense?
Yeah, the game is a really physical game and (laughs), like I said, I wasn't able to do or be that early in my career. I wasn't able to play that physically.
But now, at over 230..
I have the ability and I have to keep getting better and stronger in my legs especially. You know I have to be able to, like I said, defend my position. In the ACC, especially, there's…it's a little bit different in that a lot of the fours are smaller players. I have to have the lateral quickness to defend them. That said, there are also some guys that I go up against that are big, strong guys and I have to be able to defend them in the post as well. So, that four position, depending on who you're playing, can be dramatically different as well.
I think the three and the four positions in college are the two really, well, interesting positions in college right now.
Yeah, they're interesting..
Difficult and varied too.
Guys are different size ranges and have unbelievable athletic ranges..
From 6'7" to 6'11," you may have to defend them.
Yeah, whoever's up next. You've just got to defend them and prepare for them.
Who has been the toughest guy for you to defend, so far?
Some guys, for example, mentioned Mike Scott at UVA this year was a difficult match-up.
Yeah, he's a great player. Even if I…Even if there was somebody, I probably wouldn't tell you. (laughs loudly)
Alright, alright, I shouldn't have asked. That's fair and totally understandable.
There's a lot of comparisons made of you to European big men. I'm sure that you've seen or heard the comparisons. What do you make of them?
Oh, yeah. Well, first off, I'm white.
Right, that appears to be the case.
You're also of a certain height.
Yeah, you know I have some abilities that European players have and then I'm a face-up big. I think those things are a hot commodity right now in the NBA and that's what's pretty cool about the comparisons.
Before we run out of time, let's talk about your charity work.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, let's plug that. We've got the web site up there and everything. Well, I'm doing an internship this summer and really I'm going to continue to work with them, but specifically this summer with Monday Life. It's an organization that helps children's hospitals to better the environment inside them. You know that kids are in there…when they're in there for long periods of time.
These are for extended periods of time.
Yeah, for people that are, well, it's for anyone, but especially for those kids that are in there for long periods of time. The experience…different hospitals have different things for them to play with or whatever it is. This summer, we're really focused on raising money so that we can get the kids the kind of things where they can enjoy things as much as they can..
Oh, so, that's the connection. I was wondering how you became involved initially.
Yeah, and it's a former manager, Joey McMahon, who started the organization.
No, at Duke.
Yeah, and he's a great guy. I'm in the process now of setting up fundraising pages for all of my teammates. They've all wanted to be a part of it. It's pretty neat.
It's good to get a commitment from those guys as well.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Demonstrating some of that leadership ability for a good cause.
Yeah, and we've gone into Duke Hospital and done some work.
Is the organization affiliated with Duke Hospital or a few, particular hospitals?
Yeah, there's a bunch that have signed up from across the country, but Duke Hospital is first up and we'll go over to Duke Hospital every once in a while and we'll just talk to kids.
Brighten their day.
Yeah, and see what they like and don't like and what we can do to make it a little better.
And, so, it's a pretty amazing thing. It's something that I've become passionate about.
I can sense it in your voice and you've certainly brought it attention through Twitter.
Yeah, I've tried.
Raising money through social media.
It's been amazing to see people's generosity.
Microfinancing and "crowdsourcing" have become buzz words, but it's nice to hear it used for a good organization.
There's no good transition, but I was looking over your statistics from this past season. You shot over forty percent on your three-pointers. Technically, you were actually Duke's best three-point shooter this past season.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I mean I knew you shot the ball well, but I must admit it was a little bit startling to see that you were actually the best.
Yeah, I shot the ball well.
Off hand, I would've thought that Seth Curry would've been up there.
Yeah, no, he shot well too. I think I can shoot even better than that.
That's what I was going to ask. Where do you go from here?
I think that I can shoot better because, to be honest, I have the ability to shoot, but I've also been pretty streaky. I mean I've gone through stretches where I won't miss.
Oh, yeah, of course, you had that streak of eighteen straight shots. Sure.
Yeah, that was something. I also had some time there where my shots just weren't falling, but, fortunately, at the end of the year, I shot the ball well. You know I think I can be better at it and that's why I, like I said, I'm trying to improve and that's where, you know, I shot forty percent, but I can shoot a lot more shots.
That's another thing that I was wondering about. You took about one hundred threes. Do you think that you'll go up to about one fifty or one twenty-five? Not that you're consciously trying to aim for or think about a number.
Yeah, I don't want to put a number on it. It's hard to put a number on it, but..
You're a team player. If it happens, it happens.
If you look at players who played a similar position or positions to me at Duke, you know, guys like…well, I'm a big stats guy and I like to look up stuff like that and so does my father.
Yeah, I always like to look at them, in terms of history.
Yeah, just seeing what guys who played a similar position to you at your same school accomplished. You look at a guy like Shane Battier in his senior year. Not that we're the same player, but we play a similar position. We play that stretch four a little bit and, you know, a guy like him he was getting close to seven three-pointers a game.
Yeah, I never thought that. I knew that he obviously shot the basketball well and shot three-pointers, but I never would've guessed that he shot seven threes a game. That's a lot of threes.
Yeah, and I think he shot about fourteen shots.
Those guys played so fast.
Yeah, but I believe that, if I shoot the ball as well or better than I did, I need to shoot more because that's a good thing for our team.
In terms of quick hitters, ballhandling..
Oh, that's going to be a huge thing for me. It's something that I've always had a little bit of a feel for in the game, but..
You've had that two to three dribbles and "boom."
Yeah, yeah, yeah, now, I need to be able to improve being able to make more than one move because at the next level you can't just make one move.
This is your last go around. Has it hit you yet? Does it make you emotional?
It has. I don't know if it's emotional, but..
It's something that you're cognizant of.
Yeah, definitely. Now, I've got one more shot at it and you know I want to win championships.
I mean I've got one more shot at it.
Well, maybe we'll end it with that. I was going to ask you about tearjerkers.
(laughs) Oh, man.
(laughs) I remember that you had a list of top tearjerkers.
That's going way back and far too embarrassing. (laughs)
Alright, metamorphosis and maturation.
Clearly, I've shown a lot of that. My game has changed. I'm..
What were you like in high school versus now? Other than your hairstyle..
(laughs) Yeah, I don't know what's going to happen with this. It's getting really long. I'm going to need a Scola headband or something like that.
No, but my game has changed. My maturity level has changed. You know I scored with the basketball, but I needed to adjust to the speed, the strength, and the athleticism when I went up into this next level. I really felt like my freshman year was a huge learning experience for me. I mean I won a national championship, but, like you said, I didn't play.
Well, you played in five of the tournament games and scored in the Sweet 16.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but you were right. I didn't play then and that was just motivation. I try to find motivation.
Sort of, your internal fire.
Yeah, exactly. That's something that I told myself where, if I get there again, I want to be on the court. I want to be there and I want to hit that game-winning shot.
Lastly, what are thoughts on Duke's chances this year and just any general thoughts on this team?
Yeah, we go into every year believing that we're going to win championships. This year, we have the talent to do that and, if guys come ready to play and compete, we can certainly go get one. So..
Thank you very much, Ryan.
It was nice to meet you.
Yeah, you too.
Oh, you mentioned before that Seinfeld was your favorite show. Did you have a favorite episode?
Yeah, oh, man, I can't believe that I can't remember the name. It's the one where George (Jason Alexander) goes, "The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli."
(laughs) Oh, "The Marine Biologist."
Yeah, exactly, "The Marine Biologist." It's a classic! (laughs)
Phenom: phenomenon; especially: a person of phenomenal ability or promise
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.
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.
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.
As you know or can see I've tried to do a lot of research on you..
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.
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
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..
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?
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?
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.
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.
DURHAM, N.C. – Duke junior Ryan Kelly will be sideline for 6-8 weeks following surgery to repair damage in his right foot. Kelly, a Raleigh, N.C., native, suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday, March 6 and missed Duke’s ACC and NCAA Tournament games. The surgery was successfully performed Tuesday at the Duke Ambulatory Surgery Center by Dr. James Nunley.
Kelly, a 2011 Academic All-ACC selection, averaged 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while playing in 31 contests (19 starts). He missed the final three games of the season due to the injury. Kelly scored in double-figures 18 times on the year with a career-high 23 points in a 79-71 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 28. He shot 40.8 percent (40-of-98) from three-point range and 80.7 percent (113-of-140).
Historically, National Signing Day has been a lackluster affair for Blue Devil fans, as Coach Cutcliffe and his staff typically work hard to secure verbal commitments during the summer and fall recruiting seasons. Last year, Duke fans were pleasantly surprised by the Signing Day commitment of Alabama TE David Reeves. This year, however, Duke Football fans will finally get to experience some authentic Signing Day drama. Duke is a finalist for two of the top uncommitted prospects in North Carolina, Jela Duncan and Keilin Rayner. [private]
RB Jela Duncan
Weight: 190 pounds
High School: Mallard Creek
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
BDN Scouting Report: With Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley heading to UGA, Duncan will be the top running back to remain in the state of North Carolina. After an outstanding high school season at Mallard Creek, Duncan capped off his career with 112 yards on only 7 carries in the 75th Annual Shrine Bowl. Duncan is an outstanding runner; he’s physical for his size, has great hands and good vision. There is no question that he has the tools to be successful at the college level and the ability to make an immediate impact for a program like Duke.
Duke: Ever since he blew away the Duke coaching staff with his performance at camp last June, Duncan has been at the top of the Blue Devils’ recruiting board. Duke was the early leader, but seemed to fade slightly as other schools became involved. To those who have followed his recruitment and spoken with Jela throughout the process, it has always seemed like there’s something missing at Duke for him. The Blue Devils were fortunate to be able to take a commitment from Shaquille Powell in December, and a backfield of Powell and Duncan could become one of the ACC’s best. That being said, relative to their competition, Duke does have a crowded backfield, and Duncan will have to earn early playing time. Duke put forth their best on his official visit to Durham, and Duncan remains closest with Coach Cutcliffe, who followed up with an in-home visit last week.
ECU: Seemingly on the outside looking in for much of his recruitment, ECU has surged of late. After an official visit to in early January, Duncan seemed to find what he was looking for, and declared ECU his new leader. The Pirates offer a great social scene, immediate playing time, and perhaps most importantly, an NFL RB legacy. Football is king as ECU, and a star RB could quickly find himself crowned BMOC. With the upcoming conference realignments, ECU will face a relatively weak C-USA schedule and their national exposure may not match that of their ACC brethren. ECU, however, does not have a current RB commitment in the class of 2012.
Wake Forest: For those handicapping this recruitment, Wake Forest was a natural dark horse candidate: closest to home, recent success in the ACC, a run-heavy offense, and a solid academic reputation. It should be no surprise, then, that the Demon Deacons’ hit a home run with their recent official visit and have become a major player in Duncan’s decision. The Deacs’ already have an under-the-radar RB committed in the class of 2012 in Texan Joshua Wilhite. Still, Coach Grobe likely was able to sell Duncan on being the understudy and heir apparent to breakout star Josh Harris.
Summary: First and foremost, whichever school ends up with a commitment from Jela on National Signing day, they’re getting a good kid and a great running back. When recruiting battles get heated, players often are vilified, and that shouldn’t happen here. Duncan has been polite and conscientious throughout this process. He took his time, focused on his senior season, and then evaluated all of his options. This is not a decision he nor his family takes lightly, and in the end, he will select the school he feels offers him the best opportunity of fulfilling his dreams.
Weight: 215 pounds
High School: North Brunswick
Hometown: Leland, North Carolina
BDN Scouting Report: Rayner is a prolific run-stopper from either the LB or DE position. His size and speed likely translate best as an outside linebacker at the college level, but his versatility is one of his strengths. A tackling-machine, Rayner has a great nose for the football and the strength to wrap up ball-carriers. He has the instincts and athleticism to be a playmaker in the ACC, but must improve his coverage skills to earn early playing time on defense. His tackling ability and motor make him an excellent candidate to see early action on special teams.
Duke: Duke was also an early leader for Rayner, as the Blue Devils were among the first to offer the in-state defensive star. By the fall, however, it appeared that Duke has fallen back to the pack, though the staff continued to communicate with Keilin. From Duke’s perspective, Rayner is the prototypical linebacker for their 4-2-5 defensive scheme. He has the tackling ability and frame that is reminiscent of current Bengals’ LB Vincent Rey, a former Duke star. Rayner would have the ability to earn immediate playing time, while also setting himself up for life after football, something important to his family.
ECU: The Pirates are the hometown school for Rayner, and that proximity to home is always tough to beat. Rayner shared his official visit to Greenville with Duncan, and all reports are that the staff hit a home run that weekend. ECU offers the same things as above: social scene, passion for football, and immediate playing time.
Summary: Rayner has played things incredibly close to the vest over the past week, making this a tough one to call. Reports are that the Blue Devils’ are the favorite among his family, but that the official visit to ECU is still looming large in Keilin’s mind. As with Duncan, it’s important to note that Rayner will be an excellent representative of whichever program he chooses. He’s been great to interview and will be a great addition to any football program.
While it’s seemingly easy for fans to make these decisions, each prospect has his own priorities, pressures, likes, and dislikes. Duke has done a good job in recruiting both players and has remained in both recruitments from day 1. The Blue Devils have earned a hat on each table and we’ll all have our fingers crossed on Signing Day. The addition of either Duncan or Rayner would be a perfect ending to what appears to be one of Duke’s strongest recruiting classes in recent years. The addition of both could just be the turning point this program has been looking for.
Be sure to check in with BDN for all the latest Duke Signing Day coverage. [/private]