Elijah Thomas is a 6'9" 235 pound power player out of Texas who is quickly moving up the rankings as one of the top players in the Class of 2015. As Thomas discusses in the video interview, Duke appears to be showing major interest. Coach K and the staff watched him several times on the Nike EYBL circuit this spring, and it's no wonder why. The big guy has a wide body, round shoulders, and soft hands, and just has a knack for getting buckets down low. He's gotten himself into much better condition, and that will only improve as well. As the video shows, he's an extremely affable, engaging, and likable young man who appears to have his head on straight. The following video interview took place this past weekend at the Pangos All-American Camp in Long Beach, where ET was an easy selection to play in the all-star game.
I take a look back at the Nike EYBL Session 2 and give my thoughts on prospects and how they may have improved from a season ago. Here is my take on some of the key Duke prospects with some added tidbits -
Justise Winslow - The thing that most impressed me about Justise Winslow was his court vision which makes him a really good passing wing. Winslow plays on a very talented team which is interchangeable at some positions. There are times when he [private] brings the ball up the court which is a testament to his getting better with his overall handle since a season ago. Winslow is a team oriented player who seems well versed in what he can and cannot get away with in that he is in touch with his capabilities. He can take his man off the dribble an moves strong to the rack when he gets his man on his hip or a screen is set. Winslow can also battle inside due to his strength. I can certainly understand why Krzyzewski and the staff prefer him over Theo Pinson. IMO, Winslow has done a better job of harnessing his skill set and it certainly doesn't hurt that he's a high character kid on and off the court, valuing education and showing a wise mind when dealing with media and teammates alike. Duke is in sold shape here and Winslows' brother probably prefers the Blue Devils but he glows when talking of Arizona too, so there is work to be done and this one will likely come down to the wire.
Theo Pinson - The athletic wing has moments where he seems to lost his focus and that does not always allow for a consistent effort. But when he is on, he's a very talented young man who plays at a high level. Pinson still needs work on his stroke and finishing better on drive. Actually, he would be better served kicking out more often when he finds traffic on drives instead of trying to create a sensational shot. Duke is still recruiting Pinson but it is clear that he is their second choice to Winslow at this time but as we know in recruiting, things can change in a days time.
Tyus Jones - Jones is a flat-out competitor and a cool customer. I have said in the past that he's a silent killer at times and this season he demands the ball even more when the game is on the line. And his Howard Pulley teammates want the ball in his hands for he always seems to come through at crunch time. Pulley seems to always play in close games and they overachieve due to Jones play. I joked with him during an interview that he was "Jack Frost," in that he is so cool in the clutch, almost always coming through. In fact, it would be story worth and draw attention if he flopped when the game is on the line for it is so rare it happens. Jones has a shifty speed which is not jet like but is effective in that he changes speed well. His handle is solid and he can get shots off even when everybody in the gym knows a shot is coming often getting to the line. He's also a deadly three-point threat even when not open and he can find the seams in the defense making him a ridiculous stat stuff with concerns to assists. Jones maintains that he will be a package deal with Jahlil Okafor and Coach K and Izzo among others were at all of his games.
Devin Booker - Duke is still recruiting or staying in touch with Booker despite getting a verbal from Grayson Allen. Booker has good defensive footwork and likes playing on ball defense. He has a nice stroke from the outside or can break you off the dribble. He also hustles non stop or at least he did in my views. He seems well versed in the game of basketball and plays with a quiet, cool confidence.
Elijah Thomas - He is not a super flashy big man, just one who gets the job done, defends well and can throw down dunks with ease. Thomas is still getting use to his frame and he can intimidate opponents. He plays with enthusiasm and confidence and is alight hearted kind of kid off the court, whose Mom plays a huge role in his life. He is a big time prospect in next seasons class that likes Duke a lot but he has other schools who are right there as well. Thomas will draw more and more attention, so strap yourself in for a long recruitment on this one.
Harry Giles - Coach K really, really like this kid and was the first coach in the gym to see him in his opening game. Giles? He's a long, lean, sure-fire talent who is incredibly coordinated for his height and age. Potential. He's oozes in it and he was one of the few kids playing on the 16U teams which drew a bevy of major college coaches, Giles mentioned that he is already tiring of the media process, so stay tuned. He seems a bit shy off the court but not so much so on it. While he can not always be super vocal, he does talk on the court and directs teammates for he understands spacing well at his age. He took it the length of the court for slams, made sweeping hook moves where he kissed the ball off glass and attributes his handle to wanting to be a guard when he was growing up. Ridiculous upside. [/private]
After putting in the hard work to lose a significant amount of weight, Elijah Thomas, at nearly 6'9" and 235 pounds, has seen his game and recruitment take off. With soft hands, a strong upper body, good feet, a fundamentally sound low-post game, a relatively soft touch, and a competitive streak on both ends of the court, the young, Dallas-area wide body was a force to deal with at the 16-and-under level for Nike Team Texas this summer.
While he suffered some tendinitis earlier in the year, by the time of the Nike Peach Jam in July, he had recovered and was ready to impress. At that prestigious event, Eli turned in some dominating performances, including one where he registered 35 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks. Duke Assistant Coach Jeff Capel, who helped develop NBA All-Star Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, was front and center to watch this young big man compete.
In both AAU (with Nike Team Texas) and in high school ball with Rockwall High School in suburban Dallas, Elijah plays with combo guard and friend Austin Grandstaff. They were named co-newcomers of the year for their district of Texas. In addition to working on traditional basketball skills, Eli and Austin have worked together with trainer Tyler Relph to improve their strength and conditioning, which Eli, a friend of incoming Duke guard Matt Jones, credits for improving his stamina in games. The Texas duo will soon visit Duke.
How do you feel that you played this summer?
Well, I started off a little slow because I had growth tendinitis in my knees. So, I was playing hurt.
How is that now?
Oh, it's completely fine now. I got some help for it. I went to therapy for it. The therapy helped me to work it out and now it's fine now. Then, we played in the Peach Jam.
I heard that you played very well down there.
Yeah, I played pretty out there and I feel pretty good about how I've played lately. Sometimes I can get upset with the calls or my playing, but as long as we get the wins, I'm good.
Which schools are recruiting you right now?
Duke, Texas A & M, Kansas, Nebraska, LSU, Colorado, Texas, Rice, Arizona, UCLA, and North Texas.
That's quite a lot. Have you taken any visits yet? Do you have any visits planned?
Oklahoma and Texas A & M. That's the only ones that I can think of right now.
Do you have any planned in the future?
I think that they said that we're supposed to visit Duke, but I'm not completely sure of when we're going.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses at this point?
My strengths are playing down low, playing with my back to the basket, rebounding, blocking shots, and hitting my free throws. My weaknesses are my stamina and staying in the game by staying out of foul trouble. I've gotten better, but it's still something that I need to work on.
What has it been like for you playing with Austin (Grandstaff) both here with Nike Team Texas and in high school?
Oh, it's always been fun. We've always been friends for a long time. We came out on the same team in eighth grade and so it's always been our thing.
You have good chemistry together.
Oh, yes, sir.
Who do you try to model your game after? Is there a particular player?
In the NBA?
Well, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Garnett, like the little things…maybe a little of Zach Randolph.
So, generally, you like the athletically gifted, skilled big guys
What are trying to work on most right now?
My shooting, my athleticism.
What type of shooting? Free throws? Straight facing up from the mid-range?
Yeah, straight up shooting and my turn-arounds too, but, yeah, I'm mostly working on concentrating on my jumper and my athleticism, and improving my quickness.
Who is the best player that you've faced so far?
So far . . . I don't know his name, but there's this kid that we played from a team in Waco that probably had like fifty points on us. I'm sorry I can't remember his name, but he pounded us.
Don't worry about that. What are your goals for next season, both individually and as a team?
To get better and to play as a team. Hopefully, we'll improve and get stronger. To grow.
I saw that you made all-district and were the newcomer of the year.
The first school that you mentioned before was Duke and you later mentioned that you'll be visiting them. What have they expressed to you in terms of their interest?
Well, I got a letter and they talk to Coach Wes all the time. They say that they'd like us to come out there. They came to watch us at the Peach Jam when I had like thirty-five points and like twenty-one rebounds in a big game.
So, they were really interested after they saw your performance at the Peach Jam.
What do you know about the school overall?
Well, my friend, Matthew Jones, is going to be playing there. He's told me that it's a really good school.
He's a nice kid and player.
Yes, he is.
Before, you were mentioning that you were planning on improving your conditioning. What specifically have you been working on, in terms of strength and conditioning?
Well, we work on it at our gym with our trainer all the time. We haven't been able to work as much as we'd like because of all of the travel and everything, but when the opportunity comes..
In August and September.
Yes, sir, we'll be going hard and making the most of our opportunity.
What's your current size?
I'm about 6'9" and 235.
Your feet move better than I expected. How would you assess your defense at this point? You've giving an honest effort on both ends. What kind of impact do you hope to have on the defensive end of the ball?
Well, I've been trying to stay on my toes a little bit longer and really be active when I'm out there. You know, really bring it! The thing that I've got to work on is to try to stay out of foul trouble. It doesn't help us if I'm on the bench with foul trouble or anything. It's been progressing though. I've gotta stay out of a little bit of foul trouble.
Just out of curiosity, but, between your size and feet, has anyone recruited you for football?
No, not really, sir. I'm not too interested in playing football. I used to do it a little bit, but that was just to stay in shape.
What position do you prefer to play in basketball?
I guess power forward. I play power forward in the summer and center during the school year.
What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I'm a big kid. I like to laugh and joke and play video games. I like to hang out.
You seem pretty happy.
Oh, yes, sir, I'm a happy kid.
Are you in a rush to decide on a college?
Oh, no, I've got to get my game to where I want it to be first, I think.
Who do you turn to for guidance whenever you make big decisions?
My mother and my coaches, both my AAU coaches and my high school coach. Those are the people that I usually turn to.
What will be some factors in your decision, whenever you do decide?
Just them developing my game and helping to make me a better player, winning, playing, getting stronger. Well, just honestly winning and playing, not worrying about anything else too much. That's about it.
Sure. What would you say is your best basketball memory so far?
Probably that game at the Peach Jam. I played great and Coach Calipari was there to see me. Duke was there. North Carolina and Georgetown were there. It was a classic game.
What's your favorite NBA or college team?
My favorite NBA team is the Knicks. My favorite college is, well . . . now that Jeremy Lin is gone. I don't know so I guess Kentucky. I kinda like them and how they play I guess.
Who else are you close with on the circuit?
Who am I friends with?
Mickey . . . Mickey Mitchell. I guess that's about all I can think of right now.
Well, he's good.
By the way, do you prefer Elijah or Eli? I hear them calling you both.
As the AAU season winds down, here is yet another BDN Premium Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update for our members. Are you ready for a few thousand words on the latest? If so, keep reading and be sure to join to get all the freshest info. In this edition I reveal some new names on the radar, give an in-depth recap of the Duke targets from the recent Nike Peach Jam, and more. Know that this is the perfect time to join BDN Premium in that we have recruiting analyst Andrew Slater reporting from Las Vegas all weekend long.
Let's start with a recap of Peach Jam happenings :
Semi Ojeleye - What you see is what you get, and that is consistent effort. Ojeleye has a college-ready body, and he uses it to his advantage. In Augusta, he struggled a bit from the outside, and never really found his rhythm, but nevertheless he is a versatile stat stuffer who guards multiple positions, and who plays team basketball, so what's not to like? Semi is a classy young man on the court and off, and is a perfect fit for the Blue Devils -- and some of the Duke staff feel it is just a matter of time with Ojeleye. I think he's a real Duke-type kid, and a player I would love to see in a Duke uniform.
Julius Randle - After his first game in Augusta, I was ready to proclaim him the top player in his class. He dominated that game, but in the rest of the tournament, though his overall numbers were strong, [private] I saw him miss an unusually large number of chippies. Part of that may be because, while he's a real physical specimen, he's not a great leaper. Also, he moved outside more than expected. He plays for a Texas Titans team that runs a three guard lineup, so it seemed unnecessary for him to handle the ball on the perimeter as much as he did. Randle is great with the ball in his hands, but he will not be used that way in college unless he goes to a team with little talent. Which is highly unlikely. When he takes it to the hole, he finishes with authority and when he draws fouls, he is a decent free throw shooter. When Randle does go down to the blocks, he dominates, and while I realize he is trying to broaden his game, in my opinion he needs to go down in the low post more often, as at this point on the AAU circuit he is a man among boys down there. He is also an intimidating defender down low.
I will say, however, that when Randle went against better competition, he struggled a bit. He has the propensity to be a little foul prone; he is like a bull in a china shop, almost inviting contact on every play, and when he's out of control, it gets him in trouble.
The gym was packed for each Titans game. Coach Capel missed only one, and in that instance Nate James was there in his stead. The highlight was the matchup with CIA Bounce and stud forward Andrew Wiggins, in a game for the ages. Wiggins got the better of Julius, but not by a wide margin. Randle struggled getting his shot off when he went one-on-one versus the ultra-athletic (though smaller) Wiggins; Randle also was saddled with two early fouls, which did not allow him to remain aggressive down the stretch, and ultimately he fouled out.
While Randle may have fallen to #2 or #3 in the imaginary rankings, he can reclaim the top spot by simply taking his team far in Orlando over the next several days. Make no mistake, Julius is a special talent, and is one of the four best players in high school basketball. He's going to be an immediate impact player at the college level. Randle, quite simply, is as likely as anyone to have a one-and-done type of freshman season.
Matt Jones - Matt has improved his game. He is better off the dribble, he is a good (but occasionally streaky) shooter and he now loves to mix it up on put-backs and other plays underneath. He has improved defensively as well; he checked Andrew Wiggins for much of their matchup and did a great job on him on the perimeter despite giving up some size. In fact, most of Wiggins's hoops came on angles and also off of steals and breakaways, meaning there were few times when he faced up Jones for a jump shot. Jones tried to carry his team after Randle fouled out, but a dribble off the opponent's foot derailed that. It was clear that he was the go-to guy when Randle was out. Matt erupted for a couple of 25+ point games during the event, and overall played very well.
Jahlil Okafor - There is always a game in each tournament when he is just not impressive, but he always bounces back. As I've mentioned before, Okafor continues to be plagued by the fact that his Mac Irvin teammates simply do not look for him in the blocks as they should. The result is they get dusted. It didn't help that Jabari Parker did not play for Mac this past week due to his foot injury, and that certainly changed the team's dynamic. It took them awhile to adjust as a team, but when they finally started going inside to Okafor, he answered the bell, shooting an efficient 7 of 8 from the field and grabbing 13 boards. In the team's remaining games, his teammates continued to feed him, and Okafor really responded with solid numbers the rest of the way. His body is still a work in progress -- it is truly frightening to think what he may look like once all the baby fat is off.
Marcus Lee - Two words. Foul prone. In three of his games, he landed on the bench with five fouls, and his numbers were down due to the reduced minutes. But when he did play, he was good, and he did save his best two games for late. But overall, I was disappointed by his play and that of his team, as California Supreme layed an egg, winning (if I'm not mistaken) but a single game. Lee is athletic and long, but tends to disappear for stretches. Personally, I think he hurt himself here, and he is not what I consider to be a super elite player. The staff watched some of his games, but to be honest, most of them were a bore.
Theo Pinson - Pinson is steady and he's been that all summer long, and in the process he has solidified himself as one of the very best players in his class. His jumper is ugly but it works for him, and his slashing ability is quite nice. He's getting better and is just starting to get a bit more serious in thinking about schools, which is good because he and his dad have been talking for a long time about having a lot of time to decide. Make no mistake, the offer to Justise Winslow did not go unnoticed by the Pinson camp. While there was some concern, the fact is that Pinson has visited Duke, played at Duke, been to games at Duke, and he stays in contact with Duke, so there are no real worries. I have to admit, it upsets me that I cannot share more about this, but the reason is the unwarranted knee-jerk reaction from some on the board who state that there has been no TLC for Theo from the staff, when in reality, that is hardly the case. Again, Pinson has just not been that serious about his recruitment. So why should Duke be all over him if he hasn't been that focused on it? Duke has done its due diligence; Theo has an offer and has had an offer, but it simply got lost in translation. Sure, he was excited by the UNC offer as well, but he and his dad know Duke features wings, so some members need to chill out a bit and try not to go into "sky is falling" mode when you really have only limited information on the details. Pinson likes Duke and Duke likes Pinson, and thus the offer. For now, enough said.
Justise Winslow - I love his game and I liked his demeanor during my interview, as he was respectful, he took his time with each response, and he said all the right things. Justise is another kid who would be a great fit at Duke, as his education truly matters to him. On the floor, in addition to a terrific skill set, he plays bigger than his size at times and he is ultra-athletic. He is also a leader. It's no surprise that so many analysts are raving about him now and all the top coaches are at every one of his games. It was truly ridiculous the lengths that some coaches went just to be seen by him. Anyhow, the Winslow offer is exciting; I would take him on the spot. But then again, I would take Pinson too. There is room for one of them, but not both, at Duke.
Tyus Jones - He is the best PG in his class. He is a winner. He is a team player. He is a scoring point, but an unselfish one, and can put his team on his back despite their lacking much of an inside presence. While Jones is not super athletic, his feel for the game is a thing of beauty. Tyus is also a young man of character and maturity, and he will make any school he attends an immediate Final Four contender. Lastly, every coach in America wants him. Did I mention his feel for the game? Give him the ball, surround him with talent, and take home a trophy. I hope Duke lands him.
Damien Jones - One assistant told me he was a long shot, so I did not pursue him initially. I sat with Johnny Dawkins and Mark Madsen for a game, and they love him -- it's not surprising that a good ballplayer and good student like Damien would draw interest from the likes of Duke and Stanford. Now Duke is a little more interested, so I am setting up an interview. He's rising in the rankings, but it's hard to rate his game because he plays on the Texas Titans with Matt Jones and Randle, and as one coach said, it's hard to figure out just how good anybody is on the Titans because of Randle. At this point Damien Jones is solid but not spectacular; he's a bit slender and needs to put on some muscle. But in a class with few quality bigs, he has suddenly become a hotter commodity. He told me he liked Duke a lot and that he would be open to them if they came calling. Duke is evaluating him and will take another look in Orlando.
Peach Jam tidbits - I had a pretty incredible seat in between Bill Self and Leonard Hamilton for the classic matchup between the Texas Titans and CIA Bounce. I cannot begin to tell you how entertaining this back-and-forth game was, and how good Andrew Wiggins looked. Several times he drew the "wow" from the coaches seated next to me. I had a good conversation with both. Self, of course, was checking out Julius Randle and joked several times about all the ACC guys on his trail, not forgetting that he lost Matt Jones to Duke. We discussed recruiting a bit, and he said that one of the challenges at Kansas is the lack of much local high school talent. Still, kind of hard to feel sorry for him. Hamilton warmed up and talked about last season as well as the future, and he seems happy that Syracuse and Pitt are coming into the league. He also feels that football needs to be better in order for hoops to be. Not sure I agree, but he's a good guy and a heck of a coach, one who is getting a lot out of the pool of players he works with. He seemed to have a quiet confidence that the rebuilding job this season would be ahead of where most media and fans might think. I sat with Coaches Capel and James as well. While I try not to talk about that kind of thing too much, it is always cool to be near any of the Duke staff and just hang out and chat. The gym was brutally cold and most coaches had on long sleeve shirts or jackets, including our guys who were both probably glad to get home and thaw out -- as was I. Capel had a nasty bug and sure enough I caught it the last day as well, and it has slowed my reporting. Thus the late update.
But the one thing that may tickle members is the musical chair show that Calipari and UK assistant Orlando Antigua played. Word is Kentucky covets a big-time PG. So the two strategically scoped out and sat on the corner seats with the partition in between them in back to back seats while PG prospects Joel Berry and Tyus Jones were playing on opposite courts. The two coaches would switch back and forth in an unapologetic fashion, literally pushing other coaches out of the way in an SRO crowd. Antigua nudged a Western Kentucky assistant to the side without even a look, much less an apology. They were by no means breaking any rules, but still. Not cool. Oh, and yes Virginia, Kentucky did start that rumor via Adam Zagoria, who sat beside me in the media area for most of the event. If you missed it, they used Zagoria to put it out there that Duke leads for Jabari Parker, probably trying to sabotage it somehow. As for Zagoria, he's a nice enough guy, but if you are being lured in by his sensationalist blog, you are not getting an accurate picture of what is really happening, for he is simply going for hits and hits alone, accuracy be darned. Coaches know which media members to go to when they want to propagandize, and Zagoria is but one of many. Other coaches leak a kid's secret on where he will go to school and ruin his big moment out of spite, even after the kid has the decency to make a courtesy call to show some respect to the coach who has lost out. And some coaches even leak when a kid verbals to them in an effort to keep him from changing his mind. You gotta love recruiting!
What happens in Vegas, goes on Twitter - Andrew is in Las Vegas and will be bouncing to various tournaments while following the nation's elite prospects. Be sure to follow our site updates and our Twitter feeds for the latest information. I have turned up a few names of kids catching the Blue Devils' eye, and one of those is Austin Grandstaff, a 2015 guard from Rowlett, Texas, whose father coaches his Team Texas AAU team. He will be visiting Duke. I originally kept that on the down low to avoid other local schools trying to get him on their campuses for an unofficial while he's in the area. Grandstaff's teammate Elijah Thomas caught my attention too, and that of Coach Capel as well. Thomas wasted no time retweeting our interview with him just moments ago. Duke is evaluating a lot of young talent in an effort to lay early groundwork. I will be checking in with Grayson Allen, who is a 2014 shooting guard that has contacted Duke and grew up rooting for the Blue Devils. He carries a 4.0 GPA and played in the Peach State Classic down the road from the Augusta in Aiken, SC this past weekend. He does not play for a big-time AAU program, so like Robert Hubbs, he has flown under the radar. I have two other names I need to keep on the down low until I can talk to them, but they will come out soon as well. Once we put names out there, everybody jumps on them.
Orlando - I elected not to go due to the overall lack of #Duke prospects as well as the cost. But Coach Capel is following the Texas Titans targets as well as a couple of other kids. As Andrew has mentioned, Nate James is in Vegas. We will surely be hearing a lot from the weekend as it's a loaded event out there, and Andrew is sure to do his usual excellent job of reporting.
A lot going on - I thank all members for their patience as we have been beyond busy. More members means more content, so encourage others to join. I am in the process of doing whatever it takes to make BDN better, and will leave no rock unturned as we move towards making the promised changes actually happen.
Pro Am - Tonight is apt to be the last night Duke kids play, so take note. I will let you know if something changes. Some have asked if Murphy will play. I think he'll be resting up after a long trip home, but we'll see.
ESPN U - will carry some games from Orlando, so check the listings.
Please note: I recently had to remove some information because the reaction to it was basically negativity and excessive paranoia. I have said it before and will again: do not read so much into every little thing you see and hear on the Internet, and don't believe every little thing either. After all, the reason you subscribe to BDN is to get accurate information that you can bank on.
Thanks to all of you who make up the Blue Devil Nation, and remember, Members, to check out Andrew Slater's work all weekend long. Let's go Devils! [/private]
As the 2013 AAU season winds down, many analysts start to focus on the class of 2015, and Blue Devil Nation Premium has a long tradition of introducing our members early to the prospects that everyone will soon be talking about. One of the players who caught my eye during the Nike Peach Jam is 6'8", 235 pound Elijah Thomas, who plays for the Team Texas Elite AAU squad. Thomas is a space-eating big who has been impressing coaches and analysts alike, and he told BDN Premium that he is out to prove he's one of the best players in the class of 2015. One good sign coming from the rising sophomore is that he has dropped a phenomenal 50 pounds in the past year; the drive, determination, and discipline needed to achieve that goal speaks very well for him.
Several schools are showing interest in the young big man, but Thomas says it's early and that his recruitment is open. Thomas listed Duke (along with Texas and others) as one of the schools he's followed, as he discusses in the latest BDN Premium interview offering. Thomas caught the eye of Duke [private] Coach Jeff Capel at the Peach Jam in Augusta, and is currently playing in Las Vegas, where fellow BDN Recruiting Analyst Andrew Slater is taking in all the action and providing up-to-the-minute reports to our members. Here's the interview:
All BDN Premium members have access to the message board but a separate registration is required. Please allow up to 24 hours for approval but likely much sooner. If you are a member and have not registered for the board, please do so. [/private]