Tag Archives: Duke

Karl Towns: Something Like A Phenomenon

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

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Let's start with the state title run.

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

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

When I first committed to the school..

Oh, really (laughs)

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

 

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

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

Sure.

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

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

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

[private]

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

Yeah, yeah

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

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

 

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

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

I knew your dad was a coach.

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

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

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

Don't worry, I know.

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

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

Yeah, it's all about time management.

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

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

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

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

Hopefully

Yeah, hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, wow.

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

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

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

He's got high standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's still very early for them.

Yeah, yeah, I completely understand.

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

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

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

Yeah, yeah

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm a video game freak.

I know you like the 2K basketball games.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it's fun and helps too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Knicks.

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

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

What do you plan on working most this offseason?

Strength, my strength.

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

My strength or rebounding

Do you watch a lot of basketball?

Oh, yes, definitely.

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

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

 Where do you like to catch the ball most?

Anywhere (laughs).

That's true.

(laughs)

 How would you assess your defense at this point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely.

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

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

Right, he went to Patterson Catholic.

Yeah, exactly, he was a really good guy.

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

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

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

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

Do you have a preferred position?

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

Thanks very much, Karl.

It was nice to meet you.[/private]

Ryan Kelly has successful surgery

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).

Duke is a finalist for 2 top uncommitted North Carolina prospects

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]

 

Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan will choose between Duke, ECU, and Wake Forest

RB Jela Duncan

Height: 5’9”

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.

BDN Analysis:

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.

 

Duke would love for Keilin Rayner to join Deion Williams at LB in the class of 2012

Keilin Rayner

Height: 6’3”

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.

BDN Analysis:

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]

Washington Huskies Preview with Guest Question and Answer

Duke (8-1) tips-off against Washington (4-3) Saturday at 12 noon in a nationally televised game being carried by CBS. Blue Devil Nation enlists the help of Dick Fain from Seattle Sports Radio KJRAM 950 and FM 102.9 to preview the game.  Duke is coming off an 87-64 home win over Colorado State, while Washington lost a 79-77 heart breaker to #11 Marquette on Tuesday.

Dick is host of the “Live @ 5” radio program and has been the voice of the WNBA Seattle Storm for the past three seasons. He also serves as the assistant basketball coach at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines, a Seattle suburb.

We will start the preview with thoughts from Blue Devil Nation.

Washington is a team, which resembles teams that have given Duke fits in years past. Like St. John’s in 2011 and Georgetown in 2010; Washington, or UDub as they’re referred to in the great Pacific Northwest, has a roster full of 6’5” to 6’9” athletic players. The difference between Washington and those aforementioned Big East teams is the Huskies are a young team. And that is a huge difference.

Washington is a strong shooting perimeter oriented team with an excellent point guard in Abdul Gaddy (6’3”) so Coach Lorenzo Romar likes to play an up tempo game. The Huskies average 81 points per game. Additional perimeter starters, Terrence Ross (6’6”) and C.J. Wilcox (6’5”) are talented players with the ability to get into the lane via dribble penetration.  The size and talent of Washington's perimeter will be a factor in this game.

The Huskies interior offense is limited with Aziz N’Diaye (7’1”) and Darnell Gant (6’8”), but Gant does have the ability to knock down the 3-point shot if left open so Duke must be prepared to follow him out to the perimeter.

Like Duke with Austin Rivers, Washington features a super freshman in Tony Wroten (6’5”). Wroten is the Huskies Sixth Man and when he enters the game Washington has two big point guards on the floor in Gaddy and Wroten, which allows both to switch between handling the ball and playing off the ball.

Needless to say, having multiple primary ball handlers on the floor provides Coach Romar versatility in running his offense.

The possibility of seeing super freshmen Rivers and Wroten matched up on each other is an exciting sub content of this early season non-conference game.

The key individual match-up in this game for Duke will be Terrence Ross who is a tremendously talented player and Washington’s leading scorer. Ross is a solid perimeter shooter who has the ability to drive by his defender and finish at the rim. The Blue Devils must know where Ross is at all times and have a man in his face.

For Duke fans who are not familiar with Ross, think Harrison Barnes. Ross is that good. Checking Ross will be a huge defensive assignment for Andre Dawkins and Austin Rivers. It would not surprise me to see Coach Krzyzewski insert Michael Gbinije into the rotation to steal some minutes by having the freshman guard Ross.  The health of Andre Dawkins is a concern re defending Ross as Dawkins left the Colorado State game in the first half with back spasms and did not return.

While Gbinije lacks experience, his size and athleticism could bother Ross.

For Washington, Coach Romar must figure out how to contain Mason Plumlee and Duke’s interior strength. N’Diaye has a tendency to be foul prone so look for freshman Shawn Kemp, Jr. (6’9”) to see some minutes in the rotation guarding Plumlee as a preventive measure.

Final analysis: Due to Washington’s youth, Duke will look to disrupt the Huskies offense by pressuring the perimeter and forcing Washington to start their offense further away from the basket than they are accustomed to which will lead to blown opportunities, turnovers and bad shots.

On offense, this is a game where Duke will focus on running things inside-out. The Blue Devils have a big advantage with their post players so they must look inside first and then kick the ball out for open jump shots. Look for Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly to receive lots of touches in the game.

In order for Washington to beat Duke, they must prevent the entry pass, limit interior scoring opportunities and force Duke to become a jump shooting team. Based on Duke’s team 3PT FG percentage of 43.2%, it would help the Huskies immensely to catch the Blue Devils on a cold shooting day.

Okay, to learn more about the Washington Huskies let’s move on to the Question and Answer session with subject matter expert Dick Fain:

BDN: Can you give Duke fans an overview of Washington's strengths and weaknesses?

Dick Fain: Washington has very clear strengths and equally as clear weaknesses. The strengths are all in the backcourt. The Huskies are as athletic as any team in the conference and arguably boast the best shooters as well.

Abdul Gaddy is an improvement over Isaiah Thomas at point guard because he sees the floor much better and is a pass-first guard who makes very good decisions. His 6-3 size also gives him a decided edge over the 5-8 Thomas.

Lorenzo Romar told me two years ago that CJ Wilcox would have been the Pac 10's best three point shooter had he played instead of redshirted that year. Romar's words have proven prophetic as Wilcox hit a respectable 40% from three last year and is a blazing hot 16/29 55% this season.

Terrence Ross is a lottery pick with tremendous penetration and shooting abilities and will undoubtedly get Duke's best perimeter defender. He is still raw and would benefit from staying in school for his sophomore and junior seasons but the Lottery may be too much for him to pass up after this season.

Scott Suggs is a solid shooter and leader that the Dawgs have missed this year due to a training camp injury but should have him back in some capacity by the Duke game.

The Dawgs weaknesses lie in their bigs. Darnell Gant and Desmond Simmons are skilled, athletic, undersized 4 men but have little to no back to the basket ability and are sketchy rebounders at best. Aziz N'diaye is an interesting 7-1 center that is very good a blocking shots and filling the paint but has very little offensive skill. If he stays four years he should be a 1st rounder as he is improving and some NBA team will take a shot on a 7-1 shotblocker.

BDN: We know Washington is a young team with seven freshmen on the squad, which of these freshmen are ready to contribute right away?

Dick Fain: The only freshman that is ready to compete against top 25 competition is Tony Wroten who has been on recruiters radars since he was a 5th grader. Seattle is a city that has produced the likes of Brandon Roy, Jason Terry, Aaron Brooks, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and many other NBA guards but none had the hype out of high school of Wroten. Before blowing out his knee before his junior year, he was ranked the #1 overall player in America, because of the knee injury he fell into the teens.

BDN: Terrence Ross is an outstanding talent, perhaps Washington's best player, what are his top skill sets and where does he still need improvement?

Dick Fain: Terrence Ross is an interesting story. He was the "other" Terrence that the Huskies got from the Portland area. The Terrence they really wanted (and had) was Terrence Jones who is now at Kentucky. Jones held a televised press conference, put on a Washington hat and then came on my show 10 minutes later to tell me how happy he was that the recruiting process was over and how excited he was to be a Dawg. 10 minutes after that he had a phone conversation with John Calipari and I'm sure you Duke fans are savvy enough to figure out what happened next.

Back to Ross, he has been a very pleasant surprise since he wasn't nearly as highly regarded as the All-American Jones. He is a tremendous scorer both on the perimeter and on the drive. He has shown the ability to hit the big shot as his three pointer from the corner in the waning seconds of regulation sent last year’s Pac 10 championship game to overtime allowing for Isaiah Thomas' buzzer beating heroics in a win over Arizona. He has the potential and athleticism to be a defensive stopper but is not there yet. As I mentioned before, the Lottery is waiting for Ross, the only question is whether it will be the 2012 or 2013 Lottery.

BDN: Speaking of freshmen, how special is Tony Wroten?

Dick Fain: I talked about Wroten's pedigree, now I'll talk about his game. Wroten has the best vision of any point guard I've ever seen at Washington. He will throw no look passes through 4 defenders and it will find its mark. The rest of his game is good but not great at this point. He is an adequate shooter and can attack the rim. His biggest area to work on is maturity as at times he will wear his frustration on his sleeve. The sky is the limit for him and the Lottery should be in his future especially if he buys in to LoRo's system and stays at least 3 years.

BDN: Can you expound on Coach Lorenzo Romar and his philosophy for playing the game of basketball?

Dick Fain: Lorenzo Romar is maybe the most underrated coach in the nation. While he is a household name on the west coast, I doubt he is well known in ACC country but he should be. Romar took program that had one trip to the NCAA tournament over the prior 15 years and takes them to the dance nearly every season including three sweet 16's and a #1 seed in 2005. The Huskies have won the Pac 10 tournament title the last two years and won the outright regular season title the year prior. The only thing eluding his resume is a final four appearance and while this isn't the year that will happen, next year could be. Duke fans would love Romar because he is a quality human being who does things the right way just like Coach K. In this era of rampant cheating in college basketball, Duke and Washington both steer clear of such shenanigans.

BDN: I've heard Abdul Gaddy, in interviews on Seattle Sports Radio KJRAM950, discuss how much he grew last year, observing the game from the bench, after his season ending injury. How important is Gaddy's leadership to this year's team?

Dick Fain: I absolutely love Abdul Gaddy's game. He is a local product from Tacoma who torn his knee up in December of last year (his sophomore year). His freshman year was a learning process with quite a few bumps in the road, but by last year he had earned the starting point guard spot and was running the show until the injury forced Isaiah Thomas out of position to the one spot. During his recovery, he has gotten stronger and has become an adept shooter from behind the arc. His lack of great athleticism will likely keep him out of the lottery but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was a first rounder in 2013.

BDN: Okay, it is time to put you on the spot. What is your prediction for the outcome of the game?

Dick Fain: Prediction time! Duke is one of the few teams that have a better backcourt that UW but the margin isn't great. Where this game is a mismatch is in the interior. The Plumlees and Ryan Kelly should have there way with the Husky bigs and beat Washington on the boards. The Dawgs are one year away from being an elite top 10 team, Duke is there right now. UW makes it a game for 35 minutes but Duke wins 81-72.

Blue Devil Nation offers a big thank you to Dick for agreeing to assist us with the game preview and we encourage all Duke fans to give Dick Fain’s "Live @ 5" show a listen on the iheartradio app or on SportsradioKJR.com from 8a-9a ET Monday thru Friday and you can follow him on twitter @dickfain.

I listen to Dick every morning during my morning commute to work and can ensure everyone, while his radio show is Seattle sports centric, he is also on the cutting edge for covering national sports events and breaking news.

Duke looks to make it 4 in a row against Virginia

Duke rides a 4-game losing streak into Saturday's matchup with UVA in Charlottesville

Duke (3-6, 1-4 ACC) will look to make it four in a row against the Virginia Cavaliers (6-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday. Heading into the 3PM kickoff in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils are riding a 4-game losing streak while the surprising Wahoos have won 4 out of 5. Virginia ranks 3rd in the ACC in both total offense and total defense, and will present a significant challenge for Duke on both sides of the ball. After a disappointing performance on the road in Miami a week ago, the Blue Devils will need to put together a much better effort in Charlottesville if they hope to secure a tough ACC road win.

GAME INFO

Duke at Virginia

3:00 PM ET, Saturday, November 12

Radio: Blue Devil IMG Sports Network; Sirius XM Radio (Channels 92 & 190)
TV: RSN - Rich Waltz (Play-by-play), Keith Jones (Analyst) and Jenn Hildreth (Sideline)
Internet: GoDuke.com; theACC.com

KEYS FOR DUKE

Duke's Desmond Scott dove for the game-winning TD last year against UVA -Lance Images

1. Winning attitude: Duke is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, and it shows. The Blue Devils have lost tough games to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and are in danger of taking a turn to Negative Town. Defensive leaders Matt Daniels and Charlie Hatcher will have to keep their unit focused and confident after they were picked apart by a speedy Miami offense last Saturday. Sean Renfree must take control of the offense, and Kyle Hill must do a better job keeping the offensive line in sync. In short, Duke must play hungry for a win for a full 60 minutes on Saturday.

2. Win the line of scrimmage: Football is won and lost in the trenches, and UVA’s offensive line has helped to power them to their 6-3 start after a dismal 2010 season. The Cavaliers rank 3rd in the ACC with 190 rushing yards per game and are 2nd in the ACC with just 8 sacks allowed all season. If the Blue Devils are to win this game, their young defensive linemen will have to play up to their potential. First and foremost, Duke cannot allow UVA to open holes for RB Perry Jones, who enters the game averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If the Blue Devils can put first-year QB Michael Rocco under pressure, he will make bad throws, as evidenced by his 9 INTs on the season. Virginia as a team ranks last in the ACC with 13 interceptions thrown, a number which the Blue Devil secondary will have to add to on Saturday.

3. 60 Minutes: Coach-speak, cliché, call it whatever you want. Virginia is a good football team and it will take a complete effort for the Blue Devils to pull off an upset on the road. Perhaps most important will be the offensive effort, as Duke’s offense has been wildly inconsistent of late. Sean Renfree will have to be wary of Chase Minnifield lurking in the Virginia secondary, but should be able to find mismatches in the Blue Devils’ favor down the field. Senior Cam Johnson will present a challenge for the Duke offensive line, but the duo of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson should still find room to run. Duke has 3 straight wins against Virginia, and they will have to play with confidence and consistency to keep their streak intact.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Blue Devil Streaks: Duke has a few players closing in on several school records.

  • Senior WR Donovan Varner needs just two more catches to tie Clarkston Hines’ all-time receptions record at Duke. Varner ranks second with 187 grabs. Junior teammate WR Conner Vernon is right behind Varner with 184 catches.
  • Redshirt senior K Will Snyderwine compiled two points last week and ranks fourth on Duke’s all-time scoring chart with 209 points … Randy Gardner is third on the list with 221 points.
  • Donovan Varner has at least one catch in 34 straight games to match the third-longest streak in Duke history … The school record of 35 is held by Scottie Montgomery.

2. Red zone offense: It’s no secret Duke has struggled to score points at times this season. Duke ranks next to last in the ACC in red zone efficiency, scoring on just 72% of their opportunities. If the Blue Devils come away empty-handed in the red zone on Saturday, it will be an ominous sign.

3. Duke seniors: In particular, Matt Daniels and Donovan Varner, two great representatives of the Duke program, who always seem to come up with a play when their number is called. Duke fans have just three games left to watch these two All-ACC seniors and their classmates take the field. This senior class has never lost to Virginia, and would like to keep it that way on Saturday.

PREDICTION

Matt Daniels has never lost to UVA. Sean Renfree has never lost to UVA. Coach Cutcliffe is 3-0 against UVA since arriving in Durham. Coming off one of their most disappointing performances of the Cutcliffe era, Duke needs a win in the worst way. Expect the Blue Devils to put together a much improved effort against a bowl-bound Virginia team. At 6-3, the Wahoos have been one of the biggest surprises in the ACC this season, and they'll certainly be gunning for the Blue Devils after 3 straight losses in the rivalry. There are few instances where history and karma seem to be on the Blue Devils' side, but this may be one of them. Duke seems to have the Cavaliers' number, and they come into this game with nothing to lose, in desperate need of a win. Duke 24, UVA 20

A Blue Devil Nation Update With New Hampton’s Noah Vonleh

New Hampton's Noah Vonleh, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

Noah Vonleh, who has developed a reputation as a tireless worker, enrolled as a student at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire last month as a 2014 student. Vonlehwas looking to challenge himself in arguably the toughest high school league in the country, the NEPSAC, and in the smaller classrooms, while enjoying the accessibility of his new coaches, teachers, and facilities. As a result of his success during the AAU season with the Mass Rivals, he caught the eyes of college coaches and evaluators. This fall, they've traveled en masse to observe the Haverhill, Massachusetts native in "open gyms" alongside his New Hampton teammates. Vonleh added that this was a marked change from the open gyms held last year at his local public high school.

Noah noted the hard work that he and Coach Pete Hutchins put in to refine the mechanics of his perimeter shot. They've tried to improve his accuracy by working to shoot straight up off of his right hand, as opposed to gaining leverage by crossing the body on the long-distance jumper. With three years to fine-tune it, it's a worthwhile "work in progress" that will enable him to gain more consistency and a quicker shot release, enabling the 6'8" sophomore forward to enjoy the versatility of being able to play the small forward position on the next level or be a potent face-up four. He also has embraced the classroom attention and increased workload that the smaller teacher-to-student ratio provides at New Hampton.

This past weekend, Vonleh spent the Columbus Day weekend in New London, CT on the campus of Connecticut College. He was teamed with his high school teammate and close friend Zach Auguste, a Notre Dame commitment, on the Mass Rivals, as they competed in the BasketBull Columbus Day Challenge.

Noah Vonleh, Photo by Andrew Slater/BDN

On the opening night, Vonleh was hit with an unusually high amount of foul calls ( three in less than five minutes of playing time) against the smaller frontline of the Raritan Roundballers and Coach Vin Pastore was forced to sit his sophomore star more than he would have liked. Noah came out more focused in the second half. He scored all eight of his points from close range, rebounded the ball with ferocity (11 rebounds), and tied up the shorter, opposing three. In the nightcap (literally beginning at 10 PM), Vonleh used his combination of soft hands, tenacity, and 7'2"+ wingspan to dominate the glass and cause hesitation in low-post shooters. He finished with six blocked shots, four steals, and fourteen rebounds.

Between the games, Noah mentioned that he has been working consistently with Coach Hutchins on improving his ball-handling. Three times during the final game, Vonleh was able to grab a defensive rebound, navigate traffic and ultimately go coast-to-coast for a finger roll, twice getting fouled as he made the transition basket.

The following is a quick update from Noah Vonleh, New Hampton forward and Duke recruit:

How has the transition to New Hampton gone for you so far?

The transition’s been pretty good. It’s way different from high school. The classes are harder. You’ve got less kids in the classes. The teachers are very close to the students.
You live with some of them.
Yeah, exactly, dorm parents.

Right, what are the facilities like? Maybe touch on that.
Yeah, the gym is open. The area for lifting is open and the coaches are always there to help you.
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That’s great for you, I remember that you said you worked out like crazy and now you have access all of the time.
Yeah, it’s great. We get to work out and work on lifting all of the time.

Has you body changed at all or not really?
Not yet, but it will be by the time I’m done.
I guarantee it will be.
Yeah, we're lifting all the time.

How has your training changed? Have you done things differently in terms of things you want to work on?
In terms of training, I've been doing different ball-handling drills.
Yeah, I saw you working on that before this game.
Yeah.
Is that so you can play more on the perimeter?
Yeah.

Can you talk about the open gym experience? I’m sure plenty of coaches came to see you. What was that like?
It was great. We had Roy Williams, we had all types of coaches, we had Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, other schools. A lot of different schools.

Was that a major difference in terms of the open gym this year versus last year or, rather, last year to this year?
Yeah, last year, we didn’t really have any.
So, that’s great for you.
Yeah, it was a great experience.

What were some of the schools that came?
Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, and Georgetown.

How has role and position changed from last year to this year ?
It was different last year because I was the tallest guy and they were focused on trying to stop me and so you had to fight for position. That’s why I did most of the ball-handling, too. I’d be at the top of the key and teams would be able to set up their defense and they could focus on me, but now they can’t do that.
With Zach (Auguste)
Yeah, there are so many guys that they can’t key on me or any one of us.
Oh, that’s gotta be great and it’ll be a good experience for in college.

What’s it like living with Zach?
Oh, it’s been cool. He’s been showing me around. We go everywhere together.
Have you guys been driving each other in practice?
Yeah, we’ve been pushing each other.

Have you taken any visits since August? Do you have any plans?

No, I haven’t, but I think I’m going to go out to Arizona in a few weeks with Coach Hutchins.

Oh, okay. Are you going to any midnight madness? I know some people go to those.

I think I’m going to go to UConn for theirs.

What would you say you’ve tried to work on most since the summer?
My jumper. I’ve been trying to work on that.

Well, I saw you, before the game, working on your three-point shot. Are you trying to work on your three-pointer or are you trying to concentrate on your mid-range and beyond?
Yeah, my three-point shot and my pull-up.

How’s it going? Are you seeing an improvement?
I am trying. I’ve been working with Coach Hutchins trying to change my shot. (motioning) He’s trying to work with me on taking my shot from this side (pointing to the left) and instead on going straight up.

Is it sort of a work in progress?
Yeah, it’s coming.

That’s good to hear and I’m sure it will. When does your season begin for fans that want to catch you play?
We start practicing on November 1st and then our first tournament will probably be around Thanksgiving.

Right, I thought I was going to catch you next month at one of the tournaments that they’re having in New Haven.

Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely.

What does your coach expect out of you in terms of production and your role on the team?

AAU or high school?
Both, actually, is probably best.

In AAU, to be a better leader on the team, be our primary rebounder.
You did a pretty good job at rebounding in very limited time in this game.

Yeah, it was frustrating with all of the early foul calls. It was kind of frustrating.
Yeah, tell me about it.
(laughs)

Okay, and now, what about the prep school level?
In prep school, I’m just trying to get into the system or the things that Coach Hutchins asks. Coach wants me to be able to knock down shots.
I didn’t know if they expected more scoring out of you on one team or the other.
Yeah, now I've got to step up and try to do it on both teams.

Thanks, Noah, and good luck to you.
Thanks a lot and good to see you again.
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