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Getting to know Duke commitment Tyler Thornton (Free Premium Interview)

In early September, junior guard Tyler Thornton verbally committed to Duke University along with his AAU teammate, Josh Hairston. This past weekend the Gonzaga playmaker headed to the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Massachusetts, where he led his team to a victory over repeat

Tyler Thornton (front) and future Duke teammate (Josh Hairston)
Tyler Thornton (front) and future Duke teammate (Josh Hairston)

New England Prep School champions, St. Mark’s, which features a pair of elite level big men in 6’10″ Erik Murphy (Florida) and 6’8″ Nate Lubick (Georgetown). After the hard-fought victory, Tyler spoke with Blue Devil Nation about topics ranging from what the Duke coaches have asked him to work on and a scouting report on Josh Hairston to Kendall Marshall and his mother, the future loudest Cameron Crazy.  Enjoy the interview -

Blue Devil Nation: One of the things that your coach Steve Turner has talked about is your leadership. He’s mentioned since you walked through the door as a freshman, you’ve been Gonzaga’s leader. Was that a conscious effort on your part to establish that early on or more of a natural aspect of your personality?

Tyler Thornton: It was more of a natural thing. Coming in, before high school, I was always the biggest guy and most likely the best player on my team.

BDN: Setting the tone early?

TT: Yeah, and then after a while, they just understand that’s how you play.  When I came here my freshman year, it was a natural thing. I would say my first couple of games I was just nervous, but then the guys, you know, the guys they was just picking me up.

BDN:  People like Max Kenyii?

TT:  Yeah, Max Kenyii who’s going to Harvard. They were looking for me to be the vocal leader on the team and run the team.  The biggest thing that they trusted me.

BDN:  Did you start as a freshman at point guard or off guard?

TT:  Freshman year, I started midway through the season as the point guard.

BDN:  Do you consider yourself to be a vocal leader, one who leads through actions, or both?

TT:  More of a vocal leader You know I always talk on offense and defense making sure everybody’s where they’re supposed to be at. You know that just makes it a lot easier for us as a team and for the coaches on the sidelines so that they don’t have to yell every single thing from the sidelines.

BDN: One of the other attributes that comes up a lot with you is winner. The Assault  team won seven large tournaments in a row until Akron then you won the Bob Gibbons, and then you ultimately won the MVP at the big tournament in Vegas at the end of the summer. Gonzaga has been now 49-3 over the past two years with you running the show in the WCAC, arguably one of the toughest conferences in the nation. What do you attribute that to?

TT:  You know that’s something I can’t do on my own. You’ve got to trust your teammates and they trust you. Guys are building chemistry and you’re just loving playing with each other.

BDN: Both teams.

TT: Yeah, that’s for both teams.  We enjoy playing with each other.  You know everybody loves to win so, you know, they’re gonna sacrifice and that’s what its all about.

BDN:  There’s nothing more important.  At the end of the day, these guys (St. Marks) are walking past us with their heads down.

TT: Exactly, exactly

BDN: What do you consider to be your greatest strength right now?

Tyler Thornton: Right now, defensively, Id like to get in my mans face.

BDN: You’re very intense defensively.

TT:  Yeah, and I like to play help side defense too. On this team, they look to me for offense, but, as you can see, other guys step up and, if they’re on fire, I’m gonna definitely get them the ball. You know, I can score on offense, but, if someone else is on fire, I’m gonna get it to them.

BDN: What would you like to work on before you arrive at Duke?

TT: You know especially now, when I’m working towards college, its my three point shot. That’s what Coach K told me he’d like me to be able to knock them down.

BDN: I didn’t think I saw you shoot one today.

TT:  I didn’t.

BDN: But you’re working on it.

TT:  Yes, yes.

BDN: What, if anything else, has the Duke coaching staff asked you to work on? Either in terms of on the court or with your body.

TT: Besides the three point shot, you know, Coach Collins was telling me you know how there were those lanky guys that were real big and I couldn’t really finish around them

BDN: (laughs) I saw you covering (Erik) Murphy on that one possession.

TT:(laughs) Yeah, yeah. You saw around the basket how I tried to use my floater. I didn’t hit today, but that was one thing he told me to work on, especially in college cause everyone’s big and everybody’s getting on the glass so, you know, work on the floater.

BDN: Whats your favorite move right now?

TT: Move? As in offense, I cant tell you. (laughs)

BDN:  Alright, alright. Thats’ fair. What players do you try to emulate your game after?

TT: You know I just try to take a little bit from everybody. Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Nolan Smith.  I play a similar position as Now.

BDN: You’re both D.C. Assault guys.

TT: (laughs) Yeah, Yeah. Just take a little bit from everybody because, you know, everybody has good attributes.

BDN: In the past, you weren’t asked to score as much as this year. How did you feel about the added responsibility?

TT:  It’s not really added, you know, because it was already part of my game. Its just the teams we had before at Gonzaga I wasn’t expected to score or I didn’t have to. Its different with D.C. Assault, you know, when Coach tells me to score, I score. The offense that were in here we swing the ball around, you know, kick it out. If somebody has an open shot, they’re gonna take it, you know, they’re not going to swing it.

BDN: You guys have a lot of players with good court vision, even the big guys. Talk about the competition you face in the WCAC, arguably one of the top 5 leagues in the country

TT: I think its number one.

BDN:  And how that might prepare you for the ACC better than the average public school kid in America.

TT:  Exactly, you know, that’s why everybody in our area just wants to play in schools in WCAC because they know that its going to prepare them for the next level, you know, the coaches the players everybody you know, so I’d say its like a mini-ACC. Everybodys trying to win and everybody can knock everybody out.

BDN: Especially in your class There’s one match up of yours that Duke fans will be looking to for the next few years. You and Kendall Marshall. Lets talk about it.

TT:  Kendall. That’s like my best friend . We went to middle school together and played on the same team.

BDN: He’s with Boo Williams.

TT: Yeah, I’m D.C. Assault

BDN: You beat him three out of four times last year and outscored him 25-17 in front of Coach K in December.

TT: Yeah, but they won that night.

BDN: Alright, well, I didn’t want to bring that up. (laughs)

TT: That’s okay.(laughs). Its alright. He’s my man. I’m looking forward to playing against him for the next, what, six years.

BDN: Maybe beyond

TT: (laughs) Yeah, hopefully

Blue Devil Nation: How do you match up against him?  What do you better and what does he do better at this point?

Tyler Thornton:  Kendall, you know, he’s a great point guard with great court vision and a nice touch. Hes got an all-around game. Kendall’s a great player.

BDN: Talk about the differences in what you’re asked to do at Gonzaga as compared to D.C. Assault.

TT: In AAU, there are teams that are stacked and teams that are not as good. In high school, we have more of a set type offense. We run like a Princeton style offense and in AAU we just, like, run and gun.

BDN: You, Eric Atkins, Hairston

TT: Yeah, you know, maybe, a secondary break-drive it to the middle, kick it out, pick-and-roll. Its a different style of offense, but the intensity is still there. Were still trying to win.

BDN: Could you give a scouting report on Josh Hairston and tell the audience about him as a person?

TT:  I’d say basically a mix between KG and Tim Duncan.

BDN: Wow, that’s something to look forward to for the fans.

TT: (laughs) Of course, you know, he finishes great around the basket.

BDN: He’s developing a nice little hook.

TT: Yeah, he can step out, face up, take his man off of the dribble or shoot the jumper.  Hes great on defense, you know, blocking shots — rebounding.  He’s got an all around game.

BDN :He talked about what a major step up his game took when he joined the Assault. He felt it really helped his game a lot.

TT: Yeah, you know, when he came, I think he was a little nervous at first, but he seen that we trusted him. The first time he came he really wasn’t looking to score or doing what we know he could do.

BDN: He was just trying to fit in.

TT: Yeah, so we was like, man, just play. You’re gonna miss shots, but everybody here gonna misses shots. So if you shoot the ball, that’s better for us, its a better chance for us to get buckets.

BDN: Sure, you’re simply closer.

TT: Yeah, so me and Eric the other guards we don’t have problems with keep dumping it down. It helps everything out for us because we keep scoring.

Blue Devil Nation: What kind of advantage do you think you’ll have by knowing where he likes the ball and his tendencies by the time you arrive at Duke?

Tyler Thornton: I think it’ll tremendously help our chemistry on the court if we end up being on the court at the same time or even in practice going against the older guys. I think it’ll help us a lot. I know where he likes the ball and know where he likes to put the ball. Its always good to have somebody that you know that you enjoy playing with going through the system with you together.

BDN: Have you visited the Hall of Fame yet on this trip? Is this your first trip? If so, what were your impressions?

TT: Yeah, we went yesterday. It was my first time going. There was a lot of good stuff in there. Last night there was a dunk contest, two ball, three point shooting

BDN: Was everybody there?

TT: Yeah, all the teams.

BDN: Whats your current height and weight?

TT: I’d say 6-1 and three quarters and …

BDN: (laughs) Alright, alright …

TT: (laughs) and maybe 185…190

Blue Devil Nation: Okay, what would you like to be by the time you get to Duke?

Tyler Thornton: You know Coach.  Coach K has told me that my body weight is fine.  He actually  wants me to lose a couple pounds so that, you know, Id still be strong, but Id be even a little quicker.

BDN: Do you have a weight room at school?

TT:  Yes, and actually our trainer was here today. He works us out in the off seasons. He comes in and tells us what to do during the season too. 

Blue Devil Nation: Have you had a chance to watch Duke much this year on TV?  What is your take on this years team?

Tyler Thornton: Yeah, after practice, I try to catch all their games.

BDN: So you caught the Georgetown game?

TT: Yeah, that was a big game for me.

BDN: (laughs) I know it was a big game for you. I wasn’t sure about bringing it up, but.. (Georgetown recruited Tyler)

TT: (laughs) Yeah, definitely, definitely. Yeah, but hopefully I get a chance to go down there and watch them play.

Blue Devil Nation: What would you like fans to know about Tyler Thornton, both as a person and as a player?

Tyler Thornton: You know I don’t consider myself to be a big star or nothing so

BDN:  Oh, come on!   You’re the reason I’m here at this thing (laughs)

TT:(laughs) I’m just a laid back kid. I like to have fun and just chill. I just like to laugh and have fun, you know, so.

BDN: What about on the court?  What do you want people to remember you as?

TT: Someone who played hard and left it all out on the court. He fought until the last minute.

BDN: A winner too.

TT:  Yeah, you know I just hate to lose. If were down five with five seconds left, Im still thinking in my mind that were gonna win this game.

Blue Devil Nation: You won the title last year and now your team has a couple of early losses to O’Connell and that team in Ohio, but you seem to be  hitting your stride now.

Tyler Thornton: This year everybody around our area sees all of the players that we sent to college last year and they think the new guys won’t fill the void for them.  But it’s not about those guys trying to do what they did.  It’s about guys playing a role and, if they play their roles right, we can win. You see today the height advantage they had was tremendous.

BDN: Yeah, I know, I thought My God, this is the one game I’m gonna have to interview you after.

TT:( laughs) Yeah, the height advantage was a tremendous  difference, but our coach told us to box out.  He told the guards we have to rebound and get out and run the floor.

BDN: Yeah, you pushed it, spread the floor, and wound up getting their guys in foul trouble.

TT: Exactly, exactly

Blue Devil Nation: Are you going to the inauguration?

Tyler Thornton: Unfortunately not, we’ve got practice. We’ve got school the next day.  I’ll go to practice, stay off of my feet a little bit, and just watch it on TV.

BDN: Who’s the toughest guard you ever faced?

TT: Oh, about two years ago we faced Joe Jackson down at Bob Gibbons. He just killed us (laughs) He gave us about thirty. You know Kendall and Josh Selby and Markel. They’re always great competitors.

BDN: Well, I mean it’s help you to face them each once or twice a season …

TT: Yeah, it helps everybody on my team, not just me. It helps everyone in our area.  Our area is so great. The competition is so hard.

Blue Devil Nation: Lastly, your mother!  I know that’s gotta be your mother.

Tyler Thornton: (laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BDN: I said that has got to be your mother.  I’ve seen her at the D.C. Assault games with the other mothers, but they’re much louder there. They’ve got the cheers and everything.  I never mention mothers, but they’re so impressively loud and into the games.  Shes got to be coming down to Duke when you start up. (laughs)

TT: (Laughs) Oh, of course. She’s gonna be one of the Cameron Crazies.

Blue Devil Nation: Oh, when you and Josh signed, I thought to myself, I hope that woman is one of your mothers cause she is the one woman who is louder than the Cameron Crazies.

Tyler Thornton:(laughs) I know. I know. With the D.C. Assault, that’s a great boost to have.

BDN: It is. It definitely is.

TT:  Not only my mother, but everybody elses mother too.

BDN:  Yeah, I love it when she goes (imitating Tyler Thornton’s mother) Deeeefense, boyyyyyys, defense( laughs)

TT: (laughs, clapping his hands together ) Yeah, that’s it!   Yeah. Especially, if we’re down, they start and it up and it gives us a boost. Its great to have a mother that’s into the game like that.

BDN: Sure, absolutely. I also noticed that shes got the same look around the eyes too.

TT:  Yeah, yeah, that’s my mother.

BDN: Well, Tyler, it was very nice to meet you.

TT: It was a pleasure to meet you too.

The Blue Devil Nation welcomes aboard, Andrew Slater.  Andrew is one of the more knowledgeble folks I know when it comes to  AAU ball, prospects and recruiting.  He brings with him a uniques and detailed style which is sure to please our members.

Coach Cucliffe Sunday Media Teleconference

[private]Opening statement –

Execution lacked greatly on offense after a decent start.  We just were not able to execute.  It’s something I haven’t seen in practice this week, so it concerns me.  Something is not correlating and we have to address it quickly.  Defensively we played really well early.  They took the ball down the field some early, but they are going to do that until you get use to the option.   I wish we could get more aggressive offensively and find that flow again.  We’ll go to work on it during the open date and try to heal some people.  We have some bumps and bruises, but nobody is out other than Boyette and Lind on the injury chart.

On getting back to execution -

I’m not pleased with any aspect of the crispness of the execution of play.  It wasn’t the scheme, it’s not what we are choosing, it’s just missing here and there.  All it takes is a person missing a block or a throw, not running a route.  It hasn’t shown up in practice.  I have to make sure that we are not leaving it on the practice.  So we will start from the ground up and go into every detail with what is happening.  We will do a great evaluation of our players as well as techniques.

Could the loss be a lapse in the teams psych  or getting back to old habits -

It’s hard to measure or evaluate whether a team is going back to a frame of mind or a negative reaction to when it gets hard.  The only thing I have ever been able to measure well was the performance in practice and the attitudes there.  Football is a funny thing!  Virginia turned around and beat Maryland 31-0.  Florida State and Miami scored a lot of points.  Both have tremendous defenses and they play a 41-39 game and nobody could have predicted the results of those two games. 

Do you have an answer or tried and true method to rectify some of the mistakes on offense -

If we can just run the ball a little better we can run play action and pass and get the ball down field, but we have been absolutely anemic running the football.  We can go back to our inside drill and you can always just turn the heat up a little bit.  We will do some of that, but can’t do tons of it because we can’t afford to beat up our team.  We don’t have a lot of numbers available so it’s kind of an old catch 22.  We’re going to find a way to get people running the ball better.

The players reactions since being back -

They’ll regroup.  They will be motivated and ready to go back to practice.  I don’t think they’re frustrated at all.  We just got whipped.  If you go into the arena enough times it happens.  I don’t know if I remember one quite as bas as that one, but it does happen.  You use it as a way to challenge yourself.  I hope the team is looking forward to that challenge.  I think they are.

On the off week -

We worked today lifting and running to get through some of the soreness and to get the taste out of your mouth.  They will have tomorrow off and focus on academics.  We will practice Tuesday through Thursday.  I’m going to give them Friday through Sunday off.  I want us to get away from it a bit.  We’ll come back Tuesday and have a great deal of work on game week.

On the team so far this year -

I think we’ve done some really good things.  They have been excited about playing.  Since I have been with them their work habits have improved 200%.  Our freshman and redshirt freshman know other way than how we work and that will grow.  I have seen great progress in so many areas, but we have got so anemic offensively of late you might not see it.  It goes back to eleven people and how they execute.  It’s not that difficult to win if you make the play.  We haven’t mastered that yet as a team.  That’s one of the biggest jobs you have in football is getting a team to perform.

On what he had hoped would be better -

Running the football which is obvious to everybody.  I would like to have been further along there.  Our passing game is good at times, but certainly Saturday wasn’t.  If you had asked me if we would be where we are today in January, I would have had a hard time believing we could be 3-2 at this juncture.   It’s a credit to how hard they worked.

Has the running game been good in practice -

It’s hard to do mid season.  We are running against the scout teams and those kids aren’t Georgia Tech’s Michael Johnson.  It’s hard to simulate that.  People have been driving their blocks, moving their feet – that’s been good.  I’ve got to watch and look at everything.  We are at a point where I have to assess if we are leaving it on the practice field because we are so intense in our practices.  We’ll get it and we’ve got a week to figure it out.  So, it hasn’t shown up broken until we were in a ball game.  It’s got to be fixed and get fixed quick.  We will not make decisions by indecision.  We will make decisions in order to get better quickly.  We’ll crank this thing up and go try to make it work.  I do like the challenge when people say, you are not going to get it done.  I’m a big believer in practicing hard, fast and with precision.  I’m a driver.  Now we have to look at if they can handle that.  That’s where I am a little bit right now.[/private]

BDN Exclusive – Interview with Duke LB and National DPOW, Michael Tauilliili

[private]Fresh off his national and ACC player of the week honors, Michael Tauiliili sat down with for an exclusive interview with the Blue Devil Nation.  Tauiliili recorded 16 tackles, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and grabbed an interception in the red zone versus Virginia.

You had some nice accolades this past weekend.  Did you feel as if you had to take it upon yourself to go in there and disrupt the Virginia offense?

Not really.  I Just wanted to make sure I had my assignments down and we knew they would come in with high intensity looking to get their season back against us.  They have big offensive linemen – their backs are big and I just wanted to prepare for what they would attack us with.  I wanted to be prepared and play physically because you can’t be intimidated at all with those kind of guys.  I just wanted to come on the field and hit em in the mouth.

What happened on the interception you made … what was going through your mind or how did you play it?

Well it was a formation we had seen in practice.  Coach Mac (Intyre) and the LB coach had been teasing me a little bit because we knew this was a formation they went to.  A couple I had missed it early in the week and as soon as they came out – we were in the red zone at the time – I knew exactly where to go, just like Coach Mac said.

I then showed him a play on the computer where he forced a fumble and asked him to describe the play and what happened. (see picture left)

This was a play where there was a fumble recovery.  I guess their was a miscommunication between the QB and center.  There was a blitz called and the center snapped the ball without the rest of the offense being ready.  I continued to come with the blitz and forced him to throw it out.

You forced him to get rid of that ball early …

(smiling) Yeah.  I was going for the sack, but then I saw him throw it behind him.

A fumble is better than a sack in this case for sure.  Georgia Tech!  They run a similar set to Navy, but they are more physical and athletic.  You have to watch their wide outs and well, what are your thoughts on them?

Oh Yeah.  We definitely understand that Paul Johnson has brought the Navy mentality there.  It’s Navy with ACC calibre athletes and we will have to be prepared for the speed and the physicality.  We will continue to work on the schemes we did with Navy making sure people are accountable for their responsibilities.

The coach has really challenged the seniors.   During the teleconference he stated that they were really happy in the locker room last Saturday.  Also, I believe he challenged you guys after the Northwestern game.   As a senior and a leader, what do you do to keep this team prepared or on the edge?

We are just constantly reminding them and guys know the situation that’s at hand for the seniors and that we are getting ready for the last stretch, giving it our old and we ask them to do the same.  We constantly demand to give the most and everything that we have and we lead in that way to the younger players.  As a senior, I’m just living in the moment.

I know you don’t pay a lot of attention to the media, but some insist that Virginia wasn’t that good.  Do you still feel like you have some work to do or that you have to beat a team like Georgia Tech which is a pretty big favorite over you guys this weekend?

I think that we are never going to be satisfied.  Like you say I really don’t get into the media.  I could care less what people think about who we’ve played or who is coming up.  We are the ones who have to play and the ones preparing week in and week out.  We just have to go do what we have to do taking one game at a time.

Is there a bit of a swagger or a quiet confidence with the team this season?  Do you see things this season you may have missed in the past and that it is now coming together?

I would say that it is some strong confidence going on with this team.  We’ve tasted success and see the things we can do when we rise to the occasion or play the way we are capable of playing.  It’s not going to happen just because we’ve done it before.  we will constantly have to work and get better.  We are working on getting better each week.  We are not getting complacent at all.

An off week!  Good thing or bad thing?

I think it’s a good thing from a technique standpoint.  for me, I work on tackling, fundamentals and key reads.  At the same time we are also looking at film to prepare.  At the same time, I don’t like it becasue I feel kind of out of the loop watching other games and as a football player you always want to play when possible.

There is going to be a hostile atmosphere in Atlanta – your first road game this season.  Is this something you look forward to … being in a position where the crowd will be cheering against you?

Yeah.  I always like going on the road.  Especially going in 3-1.  It will be interesting and there will be a lot of people down there, some even cheering for us.

(Vince Oghobasse walked by going to the team elevator)  Tell me about your relationship with this guy.  You two are friends?

We met in the fifth grade and ever since then we have been best friends.  We went to the same intermediate school and the same middle school.  During high school everything is so close that it was done by random draw and we ended up at rival high schools.

He got a little annimated on the field this past Saturday …

(smiling) Yeah, it was funny.  We joked about it and he does a great job of getting into it.  We feed off each others energy on defense, so it was a good thing to see.

Good luck this weekend!

Thank you.

Be sure to stop back in this week for exclusive one on one interviews with Duke OL Fred Roland and Thaddeus Lewis.  The Blue Devil Nation is your source for Duke Football coverage.[/private]

Quick hitter #7 – QB, Thaddeus Lewis talks of TD’s to Riley, and fan support

[private]What do you think of your performance against JMU?

I think it was okay.  There’s always room for improvement after the first game.  The mistakes we made in the James Madison game will need to be corrected.

Do you feel like last weeks performance helped further develop the fan base?

Definitely!  The fans stayed out there in the rain during an hour delay to see what Duke had to offer.  We came out there and performed to the best of our ability and tried to give them what they came to see.

You had two hook ups with Eron Riley for touchdowns.  Is it safe to say he is your main man?

Definitely!  There is something about Eron that you know if it is thrown his way, he’s going to come up with it.  On the two touchdowns … the first one I was kind of surprised to see him get in my vision and he never hit that route, but he kind of got there … you know, it’s just what the defense gave us.  He was open in that situation.   I have a feeling Coach wants to get him in position to get more catches than he actually had.  You’ll see a lot more of that this year.

It seemed that play was designed to go another way …

Yes.  It was a smash combination.  They covered Eron pretty well, but he got to the backside.  In that situation you have to use your eyes to work the cornerback either way.  As it so happens I was trying to look back this way to see if I could move him a little bit and Eron came in my vision.

What did you think about the Blue Devil Walk and the pre game festivities?

I thought that was great.  You know, just to see the fans, students, faculty and everybody cheering you on … you don’t always have that where you are use to getting off the bus and you are gone.  Just having that walk and getting a connection with the fans before you get out there on the football field and you feel as one.  The fans don’t always get to see you up close and give you a handshake on a one on one basis like they did during the walk.

Is it safe to say that kind of thing made a difference in the teams play?

I can definitely say that the fan support makes a difference.  It’s like the twelfth man on the field.  We need that extra boost on third and long offense or defense.  Just to get a win – that’s going to make them come back and cheer you on again.

What are your thoughts going into the Northwestern game?

It’s going to be a good game, it was last year.  They’re a different football team, so we will definitely have to go out there and prepare well.  I’m pretty sure they are working hard.[/private]