If deployed properly, basketball can be used as a passport to take one beyond the station that one is born into. It can open up doors to a young person unlike few things in life. Adults will fly you around the country, give you meals in restaurants, help you with your school work, and offer you advice, among other things. At a lot of camps and clinics, a speaker will say the aphorism, "Use basketball. Don't let basketball use you."
Chris McCullough is a nearly 6'9" driven young man from the Bronx, who played for Team Scan 15 U this AAU season. He's currently using basketball to attend Salisbury School, a $47,000 boarding school in Southwestern Connecticut that seeks to educate three hundred well-rounded young men. Salisbury, which is located in a bucolic town of the same name that is roughly a little over two hours away from the Bronx, offers state-of-the-art facilities and a very competitive basketball league, NEPSAC. Chris has used this opportunity to develop his game (erupted onto the national scene after an ever improving freshman season), his mind (currently taking Latin as a foreign language), and his body (hitting the expansive weight room and playing WR/FS on the school's 2-0 football team). This upcoming season, they will return a good portion of the talent from last year's squad [McCullough, 6'1" Ryan Frazier (Bucknell) and 6'6" Samuel Dingba] and add in several solid players, including Myles Jones, a three-sport athlete and an All-American lacrosse player from New York who's completing a postgraduate year at Salisbury before heading to Duke, Glenn Baral from Northern California, and a 2013 transfer from Proctor, Michael Geanellis.
McCullough came to Salisbury through his play with the Boys Club of New York, when he was a standout in their tryouts. Since then, Chris has blossomed into a 6'8" hybrid forward with a wingspan of over seven feet. Last season, as a freshman, he earned third-team Class A All-NEPSAC and helped lead Salisbury to the Class A Final, where, on a team with multiple Division I players, he stepped up with a team-high fourteen points against Choate.
This summer, while playing for Team SCAN 15U, McCullough was a force on both ends, using his athleticism and fluidity to attack lumbering bigs, while leveraging his length, size, and improving perimeter shot against smaller wings. His length helped cause havoc in the passing lanes and in blocking shots near the basket. Chris helped SCAN win the Hall of Fame Invitational in Massachusetts and finish as the runner up in both the Providence Jam Fest and the Fab 48 in the desert of Las Vegas.
SCAN, which began in the late 1970s, operates as an outreach program for families in the South Bronx and East Harlem, providing a wide variety of services including after-school help, camps, educational and vocational training, and counseling to nearly four hundred families in order to achieve long-term success and development. Chris' AAU coach, Coach "Munch" Williams, was part of the SCAN program, eventually attended Wesleyan University, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, and now helps run the Mullaly Academy in the Bronx.
Although he's got several more years to decide on a college, McCullough has visited several schools including St. John's, Seton Hall, Arizona, UConn, and Syracuse. The sophomore already holds offers from most of the Big East, Florida, Arizona, Iowa State, and Temple, amongst others.
The ambitious young man, Chris McCullough, spoke briefly with Blue Devil Nation.
Can you touch on your decision to go to Salisbury? What have you gotten out of the experience so far? Also, what are the facilities and competition like? Salisbury's been great as far as providing academics and basketball. We've got some new players coming in and we should be a really good team. We should be able to win a Championship this year and next year. That needs to be our goal.
How will your role change from last year to this year? I think it'll be bigger because I've tried to work on my skills a lot since last season ended. I've been just trying to grind.
[private] What do you think that your strengths and weaknesses are right now? My weakness is my outside shot... a little bit.
And what do you feel is the strength of your game right now? Oh, I don't really have one.
Obviously, your versatility is a factor. What position do you think that you'll end up playing long-term? I think I'll play the three.
Will distance be a factor for you, whenever you do decide? Oh, no. Not at all.
What are some things that you're ideally looking for in a program? In college? Yeah, I'm sorry. I know it's so far away. No, no, that's alright. It's a gotta be a good school with a feeling that we're gonna be a part of something bigger and I'd like a chance to start. So playing time will be a factor? Oh, yes.
Can you talk about the rise of New England basketball and some of the competition that you face on a regular basis? Oh, yeah, I play against good schools and players. The point guard at Hotchkiss is heading to Marquette Derrick Wilson. Yeah.
What are your goals for this high school season, collectively and individually? Just one goal. Win a championship.
In terms of AAU ball this year, how would you assess your play? I feel I've grown a lot and faced a lot of great players. You feel that you've had a good run though? Oh, yeah, yeah.
How do you feel when you play in front of college coaches? What do you feel inside? Excited. I feel excited.
What schools are after you and what offers do your have? My offers are Syracuse, Saint John's, Providence, Rutgers, Iowa State, Temple, and a few others. Those are the ones that I definitely know of.
Now, in asking around, there was a belief that St. John's is your "dream school." Is that accurate? Oh, no, not at all. I'm wide open.
Is there a player that you try to model your game after? Just Kevin Durant.
Who will you seek guidance from whenever you do decide on a college? I'm not sure.
Who's the toughest player that you've gone against so far? Wayne Selden. The little guard…he's tough.
You do both, but do you feel more comfortable with your back to the basket or facing up? Definitely facing up.
What's your favorite part of the court to catch the ball? The free throw line.
Academically, I assume you're totally fine. Is that correct? Oh, yeah, yeah. That's been no problem.
What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court? That I'm a good kid.
Are any ACC schools recruiting you at this time? Virginia. Virginia's the only one so far.
Just out of curiosity, what do you know about the Duke program or university? Not much, I just know they're a great program and I like to watch them play when they're on TV.
Alright, Chris and Coach, thank you very much for your time and good luck in the future. Definitely, thanks. Any time.[/private]
Fresh off a hard-fought ACC road win at Boston College, Duke welcomes the Tulane Green Wave to Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday. Historically one of the weaker BCS programs, Tulane enters the game off to a 2-1 start to their season after a 49-10 blowout of UAB last Saturday. As we mentioned last week, the Blue Devils have embarked on a crucial three-game stretch heading into their off week October 8. Duke was able to do enough to win against BC, and will now have to put together another strong effort to knock off a much-improved Tulane team.
KEYS FOR DUKE
B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!: Duke’s redshirt-junior quarterback silenced his critics last week with a record-setting performance against a physical Boston College defense. Despite taking numerous hits, Renfree dominated the game, spreading the ball around to Duke’s receivers and finishing 41/53 for a career-high 368 yards. The Duke offense is difficult to defend when Renfree is given time to spread the ball around the field and be aggressive throwing the football. Tulane’s defense is headlined by former Blue Devil LB Trent Mackey and Iowa transfer DE Dezman Moses, but has allowed over 340 yards of total offense to opponents. Much like they did last week against BC, Duke will need to spread the ball around the field and minimize Mackey’s impact on the game. Expect another aggressive passing offense and big days for Renfree, Donovan Varner, Conner Vernon, Brandon Braxton, Jamison Crowder, and Cooper Helfet.
Dominate along the defensive line: Tulane’s offense is potent and incredibly balanced, having picked up 27 rushing 1st downs and 28 passing 1st downs through three games. The Green Wave average33 points per game and are led by sophomore RB Orleans Darkwa (47 carries, 151 yards, 3 touchdowns) and redshirt-junior QB Ryan Griffin (54/79, 718 yards, 6 touchdowns). Griffin’s favorite target has been redshirt-senior WR Joe Kemp, who averages over 4 receptions per game, but redshirt-sophomore WR Wilson Van Hooser and freshman WR Justin Shackelford are also dangerous weapons with big-play potential. For the Blue Devils, the key to disrupting the Tulane offense will be the play along the line of scrimmage. Duke must continue to do a good job stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, and should build off of last week’s performance at BC (shutting out the Eagles in the 2ndhalf). Redshirt-junior DE Kenny Anunike has managed to stay healthy and has been an important contributor early this season, leading the team with 5 tackles for loss, including 4 sacks. Senior safety Matt Daniels and sophomore LB Kelby Brown have been very effective against the run, and will have to continue to play at an extremely high level against a talented Tulane offense. With the Blue Devils’ secondary a little banged up this Saturday, the defensive line will have to bring pressure to slow the balanced Green Wave offense.
Minimize costly mistakes: The Blue Devils committed 9 penalties for a total of 79 yards last Saturday against Boston College. In addition, they had a punt blocked, missed a field goal, and sent a kickoff out of bounds. Duke has to sort out its kicking woes if it hopes to continue to win football games, and continued mistakes could cost them this week against a hungry, confident Tulane team. With Will Snyderwine again questionable to play on Saturday, the Duke coaching staff may have a difficult decision to make regarding freshman Will Monday if Jeff Ijjas and Paul Asack continue to struggle. Against a team like Tulane, Duke should be able to win the special teams battle, with freshman Jamison Crowder and senior Lee Butler both capable of big plays in the return game. The Blue Devils may not have to play flawless football to win Saturday, but their margin for error is still very small; minimizing drive-killing penalties and kicking miscues has to be a primary area of improvement for this team.
Tulane +3, Duke -2
The Green Wave have forced a total of 6 turnovers through 3 games, including 5 interceptions, led by redshirt-sophomore CB Derrick Strozier with 2 and LB Trent Mackey with a 39-yard pick-6. Offensively, Tulane has fumbled the football 7 times, but lost only 2; Duke has fumbled the football 4 times and lost 3.
Tulane 10, Duke 4
Tulane has done an excellent job of getting after the opposing QB through their first three games, led by sophomore DT Julius Warmsley with 3 and junior DE Austen Jacks with 2.5. Duke’s pass rush has been a one-man show thus far, with DE Kenny Anunike picking up 4 sacks on the year. The Blue Devils’ offensive line has allowed 8 sacks on the year, while the Green Wave have given up just 4.
Duke 40%, Tulane 35%
The Blue Devils were impressive on 3rd down last Saturday against Boston College, converting 53% of their opportunities. The Green Wave have converted just 15 of 43 3rd down opportunities. Both teams allow opponents to be successful on 38% of 3rd downs.
As we say every week, explosive plays come down to playmakers making plays. Last week, the Blue Devils’ offense came up with 3 explosive plays of >20 yards, including 2 touchdown strikes to WR Conner Vernon. The Duke offense should continue to be aggressive and find the end zone on Saturday.
Duke 5, Tulane 5
This is a dead heat. Both teams have scored 5 TDs on the ground and allowed 5 TDs on the ground. Duke has to run the ball more effectively in the red zone to avoid settling for field goals.
Tulane 2/4, Duke 0/6
Speaking of field goals, will this be the week that Duke makes its first field goal of the 2011 season? In what may be a high-scoring game, the Blue Devils will have to put points on the board and cannot afford more empty trips to the red zone (6 empty trips already this season). Tulane’s Cairo Santos has made both FG attempts from within 40 yards, but is 0/2 from beyond 40 yards on the season.
Duke 16-131 yards, Tulane 18-159 yards
Duke has typically been a disciplined football team under Head Coach David Cutcliffe, but their few penalties this year have been particularly costly. The Blue Devils will have to play smarter football on Saturday to avoid putting themselves in a hole against the Green Wave.
The Blue Devils are 10 points favorites for Homecoming this year, but this game is likely to be closer than that. The Green Wave are a balanced and talented football team that will challenge Duke in all phases of the game. Duke will have to put together another dominant offensive effort to emerge victorious Saturday, and Sean Renfree seems up to the task. Tulane will put up some points on the Duke defense, but will be unable to keep up with the potent Blue Devil passing game.
Duke (0-2) travels to Boston College (0-2) this Saturday for their 2011 ACC opener. The two winless teams are off to disappointing starts, but have a golden opportunity to begin to turn things around this week. The Eagles fell to Northwestern 24-17 in their season opener and then traveled to UCF for a 30-3 defeat. Similarly, the Blue Devils suffered a close loss to Richmond in week one and then a humbling defeat at the hands of Stanford last week. The two teams’ struggles are predominantly on the offensive side of the ball. QBs Chase Rettig and Sean Renfree are both still looking for their first TD pass of the season. Early season injuries have plagued both teams at various positions, most notably at running back, where BC has been without the ACC’s leading rusher in Montel Harris, while the Blue Devils have had two of their top three running backs sidelined.
There were high hopes for the Eagles this season, with a new offensive coordinator, a 2nd-year starting QB, an All-ACC running back, and one of the league’s toughest defenses led by All-American Luke Kuechly. What has gone wrong? To help us preview the Blue Devils’ ACC opener, BDN welcomes back BC insider A.J. Black from BC Interruption.
BDN: Duke and Boston College both have stumbled out of the gate this season. Duke has been plagued by offensive red zone struggles, while the defense has performed better than expected at times. What has gone wrong for the Eagles? What is the mood within and around the program?
What has gone wrong? Basically everything has gone wrong for BC already this season in the span of two games. Injuries, bad coaching, issues with the kicking game, issues with the offense, and a non existent defense have all shown their ugly heads. The game against Northwestern was plagued with terrible defense, and the UCF game was marred by bad football all over. The mood is ugly around here especially after that abysmal showing against UCF on Saturday. Fans are already calling for Frank Spaziani's head, which usually doesn't happen until conference play starts.
BDN: We certainly wish OC Kevin Rogers well during his medical leave of absence. How will his absence affect the struggling BC offense? Interim OC Dave Brock has experience coordinating the offense at Kansas State; do you expect him to stay the course or make changes to jump-start the offense?
Boston College is fortunate to have an internal candidate with experience to jump right in and take over the offense. Dave Brock was the guy who recruited Chase Rettig here, so he has some repore with the young quarterback. Will there be major changes? I doubt it. I'm pretty certain that Dave Brock will continue with the current gameplan that BC has run, probably more on the line of what you might have seen when the Eagles played Northwestern.
BDN: The typically stingy BC defense ranks last in the ACC against the run and 2nd to last in total defense. Injuries in the secondary certainly haven't helped, but with All-American LB Luke Kuechly alongside freshman All-American LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, expectations were higher. What has led to the success of opposing offenses against the Eagles in the first two games?
I don't think the problem is Luke Kuechly. Other than the one play where UCF QB Jeff Godfrey absolutely trucked him last week, he has been the same old tackling machine as he has in the past. The issue is the defensive line. Last year BC had Alex Albright and Damik Scafe who provided just enough pressure to highlight the talent of the BC linebackers. This year Kaleb Ramsey has been out, and the rest of the line is getting blown off the ball. If Ramsey can come back, I expect BC's defense to improve.
BDN: In his Sunday conference call, Head Coach Frank Spaziani emphasized the need for the BC coaching staff to do a better job with helping the team manage its weaknesses. What adjustments would you like to see the coaching staff make on the field?
Better play calling. One of the biggest critique's of the Frank Spaziani era is the vanilla play calling on the offensive side of the ball. If I can watch the game at home and guess what play they are going to call, I'm guessing trained defensive coordinators must have a field day game planning. He needs to mix it up. Try more screen passes, passes to the tight ends, and different looks from the wide receivers.
BDN: The ACC's bottom two scoring offenses will meet on Saturday in Chestnut Hill on the ACC network. The Eagles opened as 7.5-point home favorites. How do you think the two teams match up and who will emerge with their first win of the 2011 season?
I am very worried about this game. As a BC apologist I of course will pick BC to win but I think it will be a close one just like the game last year. Sean Renfree probably will pass at will against BC's defense, and it is going to be up to the Eagles offense to start to click. I expect a sloppy game on both ends of the ball for both teams, and BC will sneak away with a 24-20 win.
BDN: While we respectfully disagree with your pick, we’re always glad to have you stop by!
The Blue Devils hosted several high school prospects on campus this weekend for the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony and Saturday's game against Stanford. BDN Premium caught up with several of the prospects after their visit and got their thoughts on the game and the trip. [private]
TE Dan Beilinson, 6'5" 220 pounds
Panther Creek HS, Cary, NC
It was very good! I'm solidifying my relationship with the coaches and staff even more...they can bounce back!
Dan helped Panther Creek to a thrilling 23-20 victory over Athens Drive on September 2, finishing with 4 catches for 67 yards. The Catamounts are 3-1 on the season after last week's 42-21 win over Holly Springs. They will square off with Apex at home on Friday, September 16.
WR Max McCaffrey, 6'3" 190 pounds
Valor Christian HS, Highlands Ranch, CO
Great trip. Very impressed with Coach Cutcliffe and the rest of the staff.
Max is off to a great start to his senior year, leading 2-0 Valor Christian with 7 receptions for 89 yards. They will travel to Rampart on Friday, September 16.
DE A.J. Wolf, 6'4" 245 pounds
The Hackley School, Tarrytown, NY
It went great. I really enjoyed seeing the coaches again. But it was too bad Duke couldn't pull off the upset.
A.J. kicks off his senior season at Hackley this Saturday at home against Riverdale Country. Good luck!
Duke's top priority in the class of 2012 remains Mallard Creek RB Jela Duncan. Duncan was in Durham for the opener against Richmond, but was not able to make the trip for the Stanford game. Duke remains his leader, with South Carolina not far behind. He has also stated a desire to visit Pitt and Purdue this fall. As for the class of 2013, the Blue Devils have begun to extend verbal scholarship offers, the first going out to Charlotte Christian DB Desmond Lawrence. Lawrence visited Durham in August and is a former teammate of Duke's Kelby and Kyler Brown.
Blessed with a reported thirty-six inch vertical, a 6'11," 247 lb. frame, and the mind of a high school salutatorian, Miles Plumlee is a rare specimen. On a relatively young squad, Miles, a twenty-three year-old third generation college basketball player, has started more games, forty-one, than any current Duke player. The team will need him to provide leadership, experience, and low-post production to a more featured frontcourt.
Already a national champion, having grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes against Butler in the 2010 Championship game, the eldest of four Plumlee progeny brings the hunger of a man anxious for one last good meal. The psychology major has tried to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him this summer. Initially, the one-time engineering student with an entrepreneurial zeal worked in New York for Jesse Itzler, a serial entrepreneur who created Marquis Jet. The Winona Lake, Indiana native followed that experience up by participating in the college portion of the LeBron James Skills Academy, as one of the twenty invited players, including his talented and gracious brother, Mason. Most recently, the former high school track star enjoyed a thirteen day around the world trip with his Duke University teammates as part of Duke's Friendship Games, playing in Dubai and three Chinese cities, Kunshan, Shanghai, and Beijing.
In the three games competing against the Chinese junior national team, Miles Plumlee, who is the team's second-leading returning scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker, averaged nearly eleven rebounds and eleven points, while providing a vital role as a low-post scorer and offensive rebounder (corralling eight offensive rebounds in the final game against China's large front court).
After Coach Trent Johnson left Stanford for Louisiana State, Miles Plumlee opted to open up his recruitment at Christ School in Arden, NC and ultimately decided to enter Duke University. At the time, he had a reputation for being more of a face-up four and had contributed to consecutive State Championships for the Greenies. Last summer, Miles transformed his physique and game by adding nearly twenty pounds of muscle. Near the end of the 2011 season, Coach Krzyzewski reinserted the eldest Plumlee into the starting lineup, where the Ft. Wayne-born big man immediately stepped up his game in the ACC Tournament, highlighted by his play against Maryland (10 points, 9 rebounds) and using his length against North Carolina's finesse frontline (helping to hold Henson and Zeller to a combined 9 for 26 in the ACC Title game). Based upon his recent play, it appears as though he has continued to become more acclimated to the transition from a floating big to the team's biggest physical presence, while seeking to maintain the athleticism that once allowed him to perform a 6'9" high jump.
This year, with both brothers Marshall and Mason on the Duke's campus, Miles Plumlee would like to take more of a leadership role in his final season of college basketball and go out with a second National Title. Miles spoke with BDN about a variety of topics, including stepping out of his comfort zone and into an increased leadership role, his relationships with both the coaching staff and his brothers, his team-centric focus, and an entrepreneurial future.
Maybe we can start with both leadership and your role on this team.
You know that’s the biggest thing I’ve been thinking about in this off-season. I’ve been focusing on it and, you know, I had an experience where I was doing an internship with one of the coaches’ friends.
I'm definitely going to get to that in just a moment...
Yeah, well, it kind of goes hand-in-hand.
The biggest reason I wanted to go there is because I know [Jesse Itzler]’s a great leader in what he does and I learned a lot from him. I picked his brain and I got a lot of great advice. He started his own company a few times now, so he’s been successful and that was one area where I think it’s going to help me, but also coming back and being an older brother my life, you know, trying to apply that to the team. Just trying to bring that brotherhood to the whole team.
I wanted to get to the issue of you and brothers, too. (laughs)
What are the expectations from your perspective and the coaching staff? What have they asked you to work on?
Well, I don’t have any personal accolades in mind, but all of my coaches know how high my ceiling is and I know how high it is. So, I’m just trying to reach a level that I’m really happy with, but more importantly, I’m concerned about the team competing for national championships.
Yes, absolutely. I mean you’ve already accomplished that once.
Yeah, but now to do that and be a leader on the team would be another thing. That’s the biggest goal on my mind.
Is being a captain something you aspire to? Have the coaches talked about you being captain or part of a committee, so to speak?
Yeah, I know, they said they’re going to wait and see how everything goes in China. They want to see how people’s roles surface, but, you know, I’ve been through more than anyone else on the team.
I’ve played with a lot of great leaders, like Jon Scheyer, a lot of great seniors growing up.
Who was the best leader you’ve played with? Is Scheyer the best?
He and Lance did a great job that year. There’s a reason why we won it. What was the initial question?
It had to do with leadership and whether you aspire to be a captain.
Oh, yes, they’re not going to make a decision until after China, but I’m already trying to assert myself and get out of my comfort zone because I’m not the most vocal guy.
Neither am I, but I try to push myself too.
Yeah, well, I’m trying to talk more on defense and also off the court. Yeah, you know, defensively, I can talk to people on the court, but I’m really trying to become a leader off the court. It’s not something I’m really comfortable with, but it’s something that I’m trying to grow into. I want to get that role.
Just out of curiosity, as you were saying it, I was thinking about being the oldest brother. I’m the oldest brother as well and by nature, you almost have to a leader among your younger siblings. Do you think that will help and have you found that to be the case?
Definitely, I think it’s a huge advantage in my position. I don’t think I’ve been the best big brother in the world, but I think there’s some things I’ve done right, and if I can learn from them..
God knows, I haven’t been. (
laughs) Yeah, you know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but all of them are experience that maybe an older brother has to have.
They can, sort of, learn from your own mistakes.
Yeah, yeah. Then, they can make their own. (laughs)
How do you think you’ve developed, both physically and from a skills perspective over the past few years? Physically, you’ve gotten a lot bigger.
Yeah, you know, I’m still continuing to push my body.
Always a work in progress.
I’m trying to get stronger and that, but I got really pretty athletic when I got to college and you know, I was more of a face-up player, but I’ve tried to adapt my game and become more of a back-to-the-basket player since coming to college.
Yeah, I wanted to touch on that as well. Yeah, so you know, that’s probably been my biggest focus and the other stuff’s there and we’ve got such great guards coming to Duke each year. Yeah, maybe down the road I’ll use that more at the next level, but right now I want to make the biggest impact I can for our team and so that’s inside, giving us a low-post game.
In terms of mentoring, it sort of goes hand in hand with leadership, but how do you feel you’ve done as a mentor to your brothers and some of your future teammates this year?
I think it’s something I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to do. We have so many young guys and I need to mentor them and show them the ropes. We need them to win. They don’t even realize it yet. I mean, I was in that position as a freshman too, I didn’t know where I was at. We’ve got to bring them on board real fast and mentoring will be a big part of that.
You know him better than anybody, what dimension do you think Marshall can bring to program? Maybe give a scouting report on him to the fans that may not have seen him play.
Yeah, he's surprised me. He’s really grown into his body. I think the number one thing if you’re scouting him is his motor. He never gives up, he goes full blast all the time he’s out on the court.
He’s a really nice kid, too.
Oh, yeah, he’s really nice, but he’ll take it to you on the court.
Yeah, he’s very serious and competitive on the court though.
Oh, yeah, definitely.
He said he’s very good at video games too.
Yeah, he is. Me and him always go at it.
In terms of a scouting report...
Yeah, a scouting report..he’s going to be going at you every minute of the game. He’s going to be busting his ass 100%. Yeah, I think that’s his biggest attribute right now is just running the court.
How do you think he differs from you and Mason at the same point in your lives?
You know, his whole life he always wanted to be a big guy for some reason, and it just so happened that he kept growing. You know, a lot of guys want to be big buys, but you can’t control that. So, I think he’s grown up wanting to be in the post doing the dirty work. He has fun just running the court and getting the ball. A lot of big guys don’t want to do that, they get spoiled, lazy, and they don’t want to do all of that work if they’re not going to get the ball every single time. That’s huge for a team. That changes the game.
Yeah, it does. I was just curious about that. What are you trying to work on this summer primarily on the court?
The same thing, but you know, just taking that post game to another level and getting more comfortable. I really thought that I made huge strides towards the end of last year, just having confidence when you get the ball in the post, and wanting the ball, and in the end, that makes a huge difference in the game when it comes down to the wire. You’ve got to want it.
Is it a "no hesitation" kind of thing for you?
Yeah, exactly. I really think that’s been my biggest setback is really getting out of your own head. You catch it and you immediately react.
I remember going to one of your practices a few years ago and Coach Krzyzewski was talking about how you were very hard on yourself, but that was a few years ago.
Definitely, that’s been my biggest problem. In practice, I play great for three years. Well, my freshman year was kind of tough, but for the last few years I played great in practice, and now the thing is to try to translate it to the games.
And it can happen, it’s just a matter of time and concentration.
Yeah, absolutely it can happen.
Can you touch on being an engineering student and how that differentiates your game? I remember you used to be an engineering student.
(laughs) Oh, no, that was way too much.
I was an Economics major there.
Yeah, my first semester there was the hardest of my life.
What’s your major now?
Psychology. You know, I think it’s something that's applicable to anything I do in life, but, you know, it’s way more flexible for basketball.
Way more merciful too. They’re tough in terms of grades too.
Oh, yeah, it’s just tough.
The reason I was asking was because I was wondering if you saw the court differently by having somewhat of an engineering background.
Oh, yeah, you know I always thought I see angles differently. I don’t think a lot of basketball players realize what they’re seeing. I think it gives me a better sense of what I’m seeing...helps to visualize.
Would you describe your summer job as more of a finance job? How would you categorize it?
Yeah, well, it’s sort of hard to explain, it was really more of a company that Jesse Itzler founded, more of like a marketing thing. He founded Marquis Jets and now it’s like more of a marketing agency and a brand incubator. We came up with a few of our own products.
Would you like to get into that post-basketball? Perhaps be an entrepreneur?
Yeah, you know, that’s what it really opened my eyes to. An amazing opportunity would be to play in the NBA and not just squander it.
I'm glad you have your eyes wide open. There are so many sad stories, unfortunately.
Yeah, I know there are. Yeah, I want to make things happen. There are a lot of guys from Duke that have done great things like here or in China and you know, really have an entrepreneurial mindset just like him, and you know, it was a great experience.
What is your emotional reaction to finally get the opportunity to play with all of your brothers and be at the same school together? Excited? Happy?
So excited! I really think this is going to be the funnest year by far. You know, I’ve always had a blast, but you know, me and Marshall, we grew up hanging out together like non-stop and I was so much older than him, but, now, you know, we’re competing on the same level and it’s an adjustment.
Do the three of you ever just walk into the Y or something like that? Did the three of you walk in and people just go “Holy cow?"
(laughs) Yeah, I mean, we did, but we didn’t used to be this tall. Yeah, the last time I was at a place like that was back home and I was only like 5’9” or 5’10” as freshman. But I think it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be a great senior year.
And what’s Mason’s take on all of this?
Oh, yeah, he’s been great. We both just love Marshall to death. It’s just fun to have all three of us together again.
Can you talk about the addition of the freshman class and Coach Capel? Those are the two big post-season additions to the program.
Yeah, I mean, everybody in the freshman class seems to have a great attitude. They’re really skilled, they’re really athletic. I think they all really have a great attitude, they all really want to get better. Coach Capel is just a great addition because he knows so much, he’s coached great players, and I love his positive attitude. He’s really good at pumping everybody up.
He can also relate to players. He’s still young and yet he’s got that head coaching experience, which is a great combo to add the staff.
Yeah, everybody’s pretty young and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great group to be around.
What’s your relationship like with both Coach K and Coach Wojo?
First of all, I’ve got to say it’s like family. I mean, they’ve been there for me in more than just basketball. That’s just one small part of the whole thing. You..you come to Duke and I had no idea what it was all about. You become part of this family. They’ve become like fathers to me. There’s a bond. I come to them for advice on everything. I know..I know I’m going to stay in touch with them for the rest of my life. It’s something that’s really special to me.
I don’t think a lot of recruits necessarily realize that, to paraphrase Coach Holtz, it’s not a four year thing, it’s a forty year thing.
No, you know, I don’t think a lot of them realize it. You don’t realize what you’re signing up for. If they did realize it, I think even a lot more would jump on it, but I know that I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
How comfortable do you feel you are with your back-to-the-basket game and how far out do you feel your range is at this point? Because you still have that face-up game that you were talking about before.
I’ve always felt that I’m really versatile and now it’s not just a matter of how to use it, but when and where to use it, what opportunities you have and reading the defense. So, becoming a lot smarter and putting it all together. It’s something I’ve really worked on in the last year.
And in terms of your back-to-the-basket game?
Yeah, I’m realizing how much you can control the game with your back to the basket. Seeing, you know, guys like Tim Duncan and those kind of guys..taking your time, seeing the floor.
Is that what you worked on at the LeBron James Academy?
Yeah, you know, it was great playing against some of the best players and some of the best bigs. I was just trying to see where I stack up.
How did you do and what was the toughest guy for you to defend?
Dude, you know, everybody’s tough. Everybody’s good. I feel like I did as well as anyone. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to where it takes my game.
What are your expectations or goals for the team this year? A National Title?
A National Title all the way, that’s all I’ve got to say. We’ve always got talent. I just feel like we’ve just got to bring it together and develop that chemistry along the way.
Thank you very much, Miles.
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Renfree drops back, completes a pass to senior Austin Kelly across the middle. Kelly tries to elude a tackle but is brought down by Quan Sturdivant at the Duke 41 yard line. The clock hits zero. The Tar Heels celebrate and reclaim the Victory Bell. Duke’s 2010 season is over.
That was the last we saw of Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils, all the way back on November 27, 2010. Over the past nine months, Duke’s coaches and players have shed blood, sweat, and tears in preparation for the 2011 season. The 3-win 2010 season is gone, but not forgotten. It’s week one of the 2011 college football season, and time for Blue Devil fans to recite their familiar credo, “this year has to be better, right?”
KEYS FOR DUKE
Second-year starter Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil offense have the potential to be one of the ACC’s top units in 2011. In order for that potential to be realized, the Blue Devils must accomplish two things: take care of the football and establish a consistent, effective running game. After struggling with turnovers early in 2010, the Blue Devils showed dramatic improvement in their final five games. Turnovers have continued to be a point of emphasis all offseason. Junior Desmond Scott and sophomore Juwan Thompson will pace the ground game and have had an excellent training camp running behind a big, experienced offensive line. Dave Harding has stepped in flawlessly for the injured Brian Moore at center, and he will have to play at a high level in his first college game action snapping the football. With several question marks on defense, the margin for error for the Duke offense is slim.
Defensively, Duke needs to see big games from their returning stars in senior Matt Daniels, sophomore Kelby Brown, and senior Charlie Hatcher. These three players will be supported by a group of talented but mostly inexperienced Blue Devil defenders, a typical recipe for inconsistency. Similar to the offense, there are two primary goals for the Duke defense in 2011: limit explosive offensive plays and improve their play at the line of scrimmage. Duke has a deep group of high-level athletes in their secondary, and the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme will rely on their ability to make plays all over the field in an effort to slow opposing offenses. In his second year as a starter, Ross Cockrell will have to develop into a shutdown cornerback for the Blue Devils. Seven redshirt-freshmen will enter the rotation on the defensive line for Duke in 2011, and the maturation of these young athletes will be key to the defense’s success. Expect to see flashes of ability from players like Jordan DeWalt-Ondigo, Jamal Wallace, and Dezmond Johnson. If the Blue Devils are able to successfully execute their new defensive gameplan, this group’s results should be greater than the sum of its parts.
If Duke is going to make a bowl game in 2011, their special teams unit will have to be special. The Blue Devils have the talent in the kicking game to dominate special teams at times this season. Will Snyderwine has established himself as one of the top kickers in the country. Alex King is a proven veteran with experience and versatility. Freshman Jamison Crowder is a playmaker at kick and punt return. Improved depth across the roster should lead to better kick and punt return units. The pieces are in place for a solid special teams effort; the players simply have to execute.
To put it lightly, Duke was plagued by turnovers in 2010. Duke’s 28 turnovers, however, are eclipsed by Richmond’s 32 turnovers a season ago. Needless to say, the team that takes care of the football stands to have the best chance of winning this matchup. Late in the season, Sean Renfree appeared to turn a corner, throwing just three interceptions in the final five games. Limiting turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the Duke offense all spring and summer, while the Duke defense is hoping to create more turnovers than they did a year ago. If the Blue Devils can build a first half lead, expect the Duke secondary to make some plays when the Spiders are forced to pass. Duke should win the turnover battle.
Richmond plays a physical game of football, and in the last two meetings between these schools, dominated the line of scrimmage. The Duke defense has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. With youth along the defensive line and a pass-happy offense, Duke will rarely win the sack battle. The key will be to limit the loss of yards on offense and to make some timely tackles for loss against the Spiders. The Spiders did graduate their top 3 tacklers from 2010, but still have the players to apply some pressure. Richmond will win the sack battle.
3rd Down Production
Richmond converted just 34% of their 3rd downs in 2010, while the Blue Devils were able to convert 40% of 3rd down opportunities. With a veteran offense returning, Duke should again have success on 3rd downs, utilizing their deep receiving corps to pick up 1st down yardage. The Duke defense has struggled on 3rd down in recent years, but with an improved secondary and a better scheme, they should do a better job of limiting big conversions. Duke will win the 3rd down battle.
The game features a trio of All-Conference wide receivers, all capable of opening the game up with an explosive play. Tre Gray will be a challenge for the Duke secondary, and his matchup with Duke’s Ross Cockrell will be one to watch. The “Killer V’s” will be up to their usual tricks, but Richmond will have to pick their poison as senior Cooper Helfet and sophomore Brandon Braxton also have big-play ability. On the ground, the Spiders will utilize a committee approach, while Duke will feature a heavy dose of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson, two players who have dominated training camp with big plays. Duke has too many weapons on offense; they will win the explosive play battle.
Richmond will look to establish their running game early, and if they are able to control the line of scrimmage, it could be another long season opener for the Blue Devils. Duke will be able to counter with a veteran offensive line and three talented runners of their own in Desmond Scott, Juwan Thompson, and Brandon Connette. With a deep offensive line, Duke should be able to run the ball into the end zone when needed. The Duke defense will have their hands full with trying to keep Richmond’s Kendall Gaskins out of the end zone, but Duke has a deeper stable of proven runners. Duke will punch a few in on the ground.
Both teams feature outstanding All-Conference kickers. Duke’s Will Snyderwine has connected on 86.4% of his career field goal opportunities. Richmond’s Will Kamin has hit 90.9% of his career field goal opportunities. This matchup is a push.
Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe in Durham, the Blue Devils have been one of the most disciplined teams in the ACC. In 2010, Duke committed just 55 penalties for an average of 40.6 yards per game. The Spiders were even better, committing just 50 penalties for an average of 35.5 yards per game. That trend should continue under new Head Coach Wayne Lineburg. This matchup is a push.
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times, not going to happen. Duke is ready for Richmond. There are sure to be some first-game jitters, but Duke won't get tangled in the Spiders' web. Sean Renfree has emerged as a leader on this Blue Devil team, and he will guide the Duke offense to a big night. The game will be won (or lost) along the line of scrimmage, and Duke’s linemen are bigger and stronger than they were two years ago. Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson will have big days on the ground. Playing from behind, Richmond will be unable to establish a consistent power running game, forcing Corp to make plays through the air against the deep Duke secondary. The Blue Devils should come away from this game with a lot of positives to build on and a lot to learn from, while Duke fans will leave Wallace Wade Stadium thinking, “this year will be better!”