Tag Archives: Jabari Parker

The Consigliere: Tom Konchalski on Duke Recruits

Legendary Scout Tom Konchalski
Legendary Scout Tom Konchalski, Photo by Kevin Armstrong

Tom Konchalski is a 6’6″ sexagenarian who can walk into a basketball gym from South Side of Chicago to Harlem and South Florida to Maine and be enthusiastically greeted by coaches at all levels, anxious players, and grateful parents. Modest, focused, loyal, industrious, pious, honest, and generous, Mr. Konchalski embodies all of the qualities that his heroes, Mother Theresa and C.S. Lewis, championed.

For the better part of five decades, the Queens, NY native has analyzed recruits, coached players, and advised coaches, parents, Athletic Directors, and players. A devout Catholic, Mr. Konchalski has prayed on the behalf of everyone from the ’69 Mets to Coach Jack Curran, his high school gym teacher and future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who passed away last month at the age of 82.

A consummate workaholic, Mr. Konchalski travels via public transportation and the generosity of his legions of friends to observe recruits on an almost daily basis with the ferocity of a hungry lion eying cheetahs. His omnipresent yellow legal pads and Bic Cristal pens have been the tools of choice to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of everyone from LeBron James as a freshman to seniors looking to catch on at a Division-III college. In a world of three-minute YouTube highlight videos misconstrued as scouting tapes and fly-by-night internet recruiting charlatans looking to broker players, Mr. Konchalski is refreshingly anachronistic.

Three days ago, a pair of his friends, Bernard King, who invited Mr. Konchalski to join him on his official trip to the University of Tennessee, and Rick Pitino, who worked closely with Mr. Konchalski as a counselor at the Five Star Basketball Camps, were announced as inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Author John Feinstein ’78 once wrote that Konchalski, the publisher and editor of the HSBI Report, was “the last honest man in the gym,” but the statement doesn’t quite convey all that he has done for this game and the people involved in it at all levels.

Recently, Mr. Konchalski, a friend and mentor, gave his assessment of the 2013 Duke commitments and some Blue Devil recruits.

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Duke Incoming Freshman Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Incoming Freshman Jabari Parker, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Jabari Parker: Well, obviously he has a great combination of size, skills, athleticism, and savvy. To proclaim him the best player since LeBron as Sports Illustrated did last year is that it raises the one question about him that I have which is whether or not he can be an assassin. LeBron was an assassin. Kobe was an assassin. I think he was better as a junior than Kobe was. I saw Kobe a lot. Kobe was always an assassin. Obviously, he has great skill, size, and athleticism. He’s productive and has a very mature understanding of the game. He’s also got very good character and he’s coachable.  He’s thinking about staying two or three years. It would be a wonderful thing if he did. It would be a breath of fresh air. It would be a tremendous thing for college basketball if he did. I would say the closest player to him at Duke would be Grant Hill because they’re forwards, they’re both big forwards. Eventually, he’s going to be a three-man. He’s a hybrid forward right now. He’s closer to being a three-men offensively than he is being a three-man defensively. He’s just a forward right now, a hybrid forward, that’s got to tighten his body.

I’ll tell you what he did. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he really tightened his body. He lowered his percentage of body fat. He became much more athletic and much more explosive. He’s got to continue to streamline his body, maybe see a nutritionist, and get on an exercise regimen. I guess the closest comparison would be Grant Hill although Grant Hill was a different physical type, but overall, Grant Hill is the closest comparison in terms of Duke players.

The one reservation I have about Jabari…here’s a guy who has an obviously high basketball IQ. When he’s in shape, he has good athletic ability. He had improved his athletic ability towards the end of his sophomore year and towards the beginning of his junior year and he has skill. The one reservation that I had was whether he had a killer’s instinct.  I didn’t know if he’s an assassin. He’s developed more of a disposition to take over games and to be assertive in the last year.  Now, that’s something that I think runs contrary to his nature. He’s got to overcome his off-the-court temperament. He’s got to be bipolar or sort of a schizophrenic to be a good basketball player. You have to be a lot meaner on the court than you are off, but I think he’s making strides in terms of his aggressiveness and assertiveness and willingness to take over games, not to defer to other teammates and whatever..to be the go-to guy..and that’s what he’s got to do because I think Kobe always had it and LeBron always had it, but, for the most part, it’s something that you’re born with..that kind of toughness and aggressiveness and wanting to really take over games. Crush the opponent and when they’re down to sort of put your foot on the neck and that sort of thing. And I think he’s made strides in that regard. I hope he gives serious thought when he goes there not to be an automatic one-and-done. Not that it may not happen, but he should have an open mind in that respect.

Semi Ojeleye, Photo by Andrew Slater
Incoming Duke Freshman Semi Ojeleye, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Semi Ojeleye: Semi Ojeleye..his win or strength is his versatility. He can defend multiple positions. Now, I think he’s going to be even more valuable to them on the defensive end of the court. He’s an inside-outside player who I really liked. He plays a lot much more for result rather than effect. He’s not a guy who goes out there to showcase his different skill sets. He’ll step out and hit the three, he’ll handle the ball, he’ll play a little bit on the perimeter, and he can go inside and bang a little bit too and generate some points inside. He’s really..I’ll tell you what he does..he plays quick. I really think he’s going to be a terrific Duke player because I think it’s more likely that he’s going to be a three or four year player. He’ll really stay around and help them on the defensive end and he can guard the four-man, he can guard the three-man, even at times be able to guard a two. I really think he’s a major recruit for them. I hadn’t really paid attention to him at the Boo Williams, but you had mentioned him and I didn’t really remember him, but when I saw him down at the Peach Jam, I really, really liked him.

Duke Recruit Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Jahlil Okafor, Photo by Andrew Slater

 Matt Jones: Matt Jones has a very unorthodox shot. He’s a bit streaky as a three-point shooter. He’s long and lean, he’s got to get a little bit stronger. He’s a big guard who I think has growth potential as he gets stronger and shoots the ball. You know, he doesn’t have good rotation on his shot. He has an awkward shot, but it puts the ball in the basket. For the most part, it’s been effective for him. He’s another guy who’s going to be a three or four year player with them. Hopefully, Jabari will stay for more than one year and if you get a Jabari, you’ve got to take him, but you’ve got to build the program more around guys that are going to be there three or four years. You’ve got to have balance.

 Jahlil Okafor: Jahlil is a guy who has terrific skill for a big guy and another guy who is a very intelligent person like Jabari. And, you know, he’s not an explosive athlete, you know he’s not a bad athlete and he runs okay. Obviously, I think he can really streamline his body and, when he gets to college, people are going to get him into the weight room. He’s going to do an awful lot of work. His percentage of body fat with drop dramatically, but he has terrific hands and really good skills for a post player. You know that he can step out, shoot the elbow jumper, he’s a good passer, he can pass out of the post, and he’s not quick-reacting to the ball, he’s not quick moving laterally to the ball in the lane around the basket. That’s what I think he’s got to work on- his body and also his lateral movement. But just in terms of overall, he has a big strong frame, he has a superior basketball IQ for a big man. Usually big, young guys don’t understand the game as well as he does. He’s very intelligent and, you know, another nice guy who can be, you know, because of his size, he can be down the road, you know, I’m not saying he’s more skilled than Jabari Parker, but because he’s 6’10″, 260 or 270 or whatever he is, I think he can be an even greater influence on the game than Jabari Parker. I would say he’s about 6’10″, they list him at 6’11″. I think he’s a legitimate 6’10″ when I stand next to him. He’s a major weapon both on the high-post and the low-box. He can be a major, major factor in college. On the defensive end, I don’t think he’s as much of a shot-blocker. He impacts the game through intelligent positioning.

Quickness is comprised of two components. It has a physical and an extra-physical component. The physical component is just how naturally quick you are. The extra-physical component is, first of all, mental preparation and correct technique. You could be quicker just by being mentally prepared and alert. And the other part using correct technique, but I think he’s a guy, I think any big guy, ought to live with a jump rope. Both those guys, in particular, should live with jump ropes. They both have the kind of bodies where they can put on weight and where, if they’re not careful, but I think both of them should live with it as their daily routine for both of those guys. They’re both guys who are extremely intelligent and have very good skill and they both, I think, can be really dominating players at the college level if they stay around long enough and possibly dominating players at the level beyond that. I think at the college level, Okafor is a center. He’s a center because he’s a force. If a college coach can fill the middle of his lineup with a point guard, a leader, someone who’s going to run the team and with a quality post-man like that, well, then that’s the team. Everyone wants that one position down…Fives want to be fours, fours want to be threes, threes want to be twos, twos want to be ones, and ones probably want to coach the team. But if you look at even a great team, they’re teams that have dominating big men and great guards. The wings fill in around those players, but that’s what you need. You need someone that’s going to run the team and organize the floor, hopefully contain the point guard at the other end of the court. Hopefully contain the ball at the other end of the court. Stop dribble penetration from their point guard and you need a big guy in the post. You need to be able to score easy baskets.  And even the thing is, even as 3 point arc-oriented as most teams are and as many college teams are, and how Duke has become increasingly, still, the more post-offense presence you have, forget about even on the defensive end, the more open 3′s that show up. Most 3-point shots are shot off of inside-out action or relocation. Things like that. Just in terms of the half-court, the more you can draw the defense in, the more you can open up the spot-up outside shooters. In the past, Duke sometimes has become too reliant on that and not as much of an interior offensive presence. Both of those guys are going to be terrific players.

 Trey Lyles: Trey Lyles is a 6’9″ kid with good skill, good body, and the guy who has a real good feel for the game. He has a high court

Duke Recruit Trey Lyles
Duke Recruit Trey Lyles

IQ. Usually that’s a term that’s more applied to perimeter players. When you talk about guards..especially point guards…in terms of high court IQ, but he plays for result rather than effect and he’s very efficient. You know he can score. He doesn’t need to have the ball on the floor in order to score, although he can put the ball on the floor some from the high post. But the main thing is that he’s very efficient. He does an awful lot offensively without the dribble. And he’s a guy who, you know, can score. Can score from the high post and down in the low box. When he went to Basketball Canada when they had their camp at the end of the summer and they had Steve Nash, who’s the Jerry Colangelo of operations of Basketball Canada right now, they had all of their guys…Jamaal Magloire came in to work with the big guys and everyone was there and they had all very good young players. Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo, then they had Andrew Wiggins, and Tyler Ennis, and Trey Lyles. Trey Lyles, from what my brother told me, is as impressive as any player that they had in their program.  They are really, really high on him. When they played down in South America in FIBA Tournament, you know, he had a very good tournament. When he came back, people in Basketball Canada are as high on him as they are on Andrew Wiggins. He doesn’t have quite the athleticism that Andrew Wiggins has, but what really, I think, makes him different is his understanding of the game and his efficiency for a big guy. Usually, big young guys aren’t as..well, they don’t have the feel for the game that he does and they don’t play with the degree of efficiency with which he plays.

Duke Recruit Tyus Jones, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Tyus Jones, Photo by Andrew Slater

 

 

Tyus Jones: He’s a point guard, combination guard, a high scorer. He can handle the ball, control the tempo, he plays at different

speeds. He’s very good. He has a very good tempo to his game. He has a very good sense of ball security with his game.  He shoots the ball extremely well.

 

 

 

 

Kevon Looney: He has size. He was 6’7″, 6’8″ when I saw him in Chicago. He can play on the

Duke Recruit Kevon Looney, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Kevon Looney, Photo by Andrew Slater

perimeter and in the low-post, he can defend. He’s probably a better low-post defender than he is a perimeter defender right now.  Well, certain players he can defend on the perimeter. He’s got a nice stroke, he sees the floor well, he’s a good passer. I really think he can be an elite level player. Now, I’ve only seen him once. I can’t think of any more skilled power wing players in the class of 2014.  In terms of position, assuming he grows, I think he’s more of a perimeter player..because I think at that size with his skill set, it makes him more valuable.

 

 

Duke Recruit Theo Pinson, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit Theo Pinson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Theo Pinson: Pinson is a big kid with a lot of quickness. He’s got good skill level, he can shoot the ball, he handles the ball well, he uses his great athleticism to defend multiple positions. I don’t think he’s a knock-down shooter, but he’s pretty good.

 

 

Duke Recruit, Photo by Andrew Slater
Duke Recruit, Photo by Andrew Slater

Justice Winslow:  He’s a lefty from Houston Hoops. He’s an intense competitor. He’s versatile. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths. He’s strong enough and athletic enough to post and score inside. He can rebound. I don’t think he’s much of a three-point threat right now, but he has a good mid-range game. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s a kid that’s very strong, great body, and he really uses his strength to post-up in match-ups against others. He’s really a very difficult matchup because of his versatility and his range. He’s also very skilled with the ball. He can get to the basket. He’s a very difficult matchup because of his strength, his quickness, and his ability to get the ball to the basket. He really plays hard. He’s a very intense competitor.

 

 

 

Malachi Richardson, Photo by Andrew Slater
Malachi Richardson, Photo by Andrew Slater

Malachi Richardson: People talk about him being a second guard, but I don’t really think that he quite is now. He can shoot the three and he’s a very good three-point shooter, but he’s, you know, a big wing who’s probably more of a 3/2 than a 2/3 right now. He’s a guy who has a great touch, who has a lot of athletic ability, and has a good body. You know he’s grown an inch since his freshman year at Trenton Catholic Academy and he’s got a lot of potential. If he wants to be a two guard, he’s got to be a little better playing off of the dribble, a little better playing with the ball, and he’s got to work awfully hard at guarding a two guard because, right now, his better defensive nature is as a three man. What he is right now is a skilled wing with good size and a lot of athleticism..and at an early age, in terms of only being a sophomore, so he has an awful lot of potential.

 

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6’3″ Isaiah “Boogie” Briscoe, Photo by Andrew Slater

Isaiah Briscoe: Well, I mean, he played terrific against St. Anthony’s and didn’t play like a sophomore. He was very assertive, he was very aggressive, looking to take the ball to the basket, and really forced the issue. Here’s a guy who has size, can shoot the ball, he has aggressiveness, he is not intimidated at all. The one thing here, I think, about him is that he’s got to be very careful about his body. It’s going to be very imperative for him to get on a good diet and to stay in as good a condition as he possibly can because he has the kind of body type where he can put weight on. He’s a decent athlete, but he’s not a great athlete. He’s not a tapered athlete. He’s not someone that when you look at him you think “athlete”. When you look at him, you see someone who is a scorer and a guy who scores primarily on his aggressiveness, which is based on his temperament. He has a scorer’s temperament. He doesn’t defer to anyone. He’s ready to play against the best teams in the country right now. He won’t be intimidated. He won’t back down.

He’s about 6’3″. I don’t think he’s really a lead guard. I think he’s a combination guard right now, but he can handle the ball. You know what they try to do. They try to take anyone who can dribble the ball three times without kicking it into the seventh row, they try to call him a point guard or a lead guard. That’s not it at all because, first of all, not only do you have skill with the ball, but it’s more of an attitude. It’s more of a temperament, it’s more of a disposition to try to make other people better, and really, you know, a real good leader. A real point guard or a real lead guard is someone who thinks, he probably thinks pass before he thinks shot and I think that’s not the case with Isaiah. You know, he’s a guy who can handle the ball and will make plays for some other people, but his first instinct is to look to score himself. Almost by definition, there are more piano carriers than there are piano players, so I mean, anyone that can score like him, you don’t want to take that away from them. You don’t want to domesticate him too much and it’s easier to find someone to set the table than to find someone that will put the ball in the basket. Coach Taylor is probably going to give him the opportunity to display with the ball in his hands next year, but I don’t think there are many synthetic point guards or lead guards. I think it’s more something that you’re born with. Leadership and temperament are what makes a true point guard. [/private]

City of Palms, Jabari Parker, Recruiting is Hot!

276487_249024271815605_690735912_nIt’s that hot time of the season again for Duke basketball recruiting, and Blue Devil Nation will be in the thick of things to bring our paying members all the latest from the trail. BDN Premium is our extended subscription service, which features a private message board and hands-on coverage of the basketball and football programs, both the recruiting and the actual team beat itself. To bring you timely and accurate inside information, we believe one has to be there, right in the middle of the action.  And we are.

Starting today, members will be treated to updates as they happen from the City of Palms Basketball Tournament, which is loaded with the nation’s top prospects, including Jahlil Okafor, a center that Duke is very interested in. Okafor is a Chicago native, as is another name that is on the tip of everybodys tongue, Jabari Parker. The multi-talented forward from Simeon High will make his collegiate decision tomorrow afternoon, and there is more than a little buzz surrounding his commitment.  Members can get BDN’s collective thoughts on the matter. And our opinions should count for something, for as a BDN Team we’ve had numerous interviews with Parker (which you can see in our archives) and more in-person opportunities to watch him play than we can count. With the holiday season coming up, give the gift of BDN Premium or just give it to yourself and join a site that will give you one of the most Duke-centric experiences you can get.

Our football recruiting and team coverage is second to none.  It’s the best kept secret out there thanks to the dedication of our staff.  Our basketball coverage speaks for itself.

But no worries if you just want to visit Blue Devil Nation, for we will always have free offerings which include game previews and rapid reactions to all of the games we attend.

It’s an exciting time to be a Blue Devil fan, and we love what we do. Our staff of Patrick Cacchio, Andrew Slater, Tom Rubinson, Bob Green, Varand Khachadouri, Travis Boyd and our awesome team of moderators in Brad Jenks, Jay Dennis and Terry Rains, and of course our Admin, Susan Rego, all invite you to become a member today.  And to lighten the load on you, we are offering a 20% discount across the board on all memberships, be they monthly or yearly, which is by far the best value.  Once you have joined, we’ll send you  the 20% discount back through Paypal.  So if you join for one year at $100.00, as soon as your Paypal payment clears, we’ll send you 20 bucks back.  It adds up to just a few cents a day to unlock full site access and to stay informed on everything involving the Blue Devils.  See you on the inside!

Duke Basketball Recruiting Update – Key visits taking place


In our latest premium update for members, we have new information on Tyus Jones and more. Join today and get all the latest on the recruiting trail. Photo copyright Blue Devil Nation

As many of you know, the Duke Men’s Basketball staff has been on the road for official in-home visits with many key prospects. For our members only, BDN Premium recaps the latest happenings and previews what is to come (and there is a lot) in our latest team and recruiting update.

As a refresher, let’s start by recapping the visits that have already occurred.  The first was with Semi Ojeleye, who went against the grain by not inviting the full-on media onslaught that so often accompanies these things. Ojeleye is considered a perfect fit at Duke and he knew exactly where he wanted to go after Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski gave his final presentation.

In committing to Duke, Ojeleye, of course, joins shooting guard Matt Jones in the (current) two-man Class of 2013.  Jones committed to the Blue Devils long ago, but he still received a visit last week, which we’ll recap in a later update.

The Blue Devils then checked out the Tennessee home of Austin Nichols. Nichols is as close to a prototypical Duke frontcourt player as you can get, being a 6’11″ guy who can go inside/out. The worry from a few involved is that [private] Vanderbilt and Tennessee provide him an opportunity to play closer to home, and it is worth noting that his sister goes to Tennessee as well.  Many continue to mention Virginia as a player in this recruitment too, but the style of play employed in the Cavaliers’ system is a known turn-off. Nichols also raised some eyebrows when he decided not to participate with Team USA this past off-season, but that has not diminished Duke’s interest in him.  As mentioned in the last update, Duke gets an official visit with Nichols on October 6th, and the goal is to close the deal at that time or at least have a good indication of what will happen. One thing to look for is how he gets along with the players here. While Nichols is far from a sure thing, the staff does seem to feel good about him. Nichols was more of a priority for Duke than was Marcus Lee, the talented California frontcourt prospect who recently dropped the Blue Devils from his list.

Julius Randle likes Duke, but has 10 other schools currently listed as well and Kentucky making their play.

The Blue Devils also went into the home of Julius Randle, but minus the gimmicks and bling the other coaches used. This week, five more schools follow Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina with in-home visits, yet the puzzling thing is everybody with a pulse knows not one of these other five will make the final cut. A lot of people have been in Randle’s ear lately, and his recruitment is now the most hyped of his class. This one will go on for a long, long time, so strap yourself in for one stressful ride. I have been covering Duke recruiting for a long time, and I hoped to avoid the dog-and-pony show, but it never fails: one player changes his whole demeanor going into his senior year. It wasn’t that long ago that Randle gave four schools every indication that they would be announced as the finalists and then bam, we now have ten in-home visits? In any event, at the in-home they were straightforward with Julius as to what they have to offer and why Duke presents such a good opportunity for him, and Duke still feels they are in good shape with him.  The Blue Devils will be in it the day Randle chooses, but that day will not come until Spring.

But yes, Kentucky is in the mix in a big way and the Blue Devils cannot or will not match some of the things that Kentucky is about, offering a den of luxury and simpleton classes, easing the path for kids to coast to the League.  They are pushing the envelope to the edge with NCAA rules. They use the hip-hop culture, power personalities that show the bling and spoils of the life many only read about, and then they convince kids they’ll be in an environment that caters to their every whim. School? Really? Anyhow, Calipari and his assistant Orlando Antigua go to events like the Peach Jam, sit right in front of the NCAA Compliance people, and push the edges of the rules.  They know exactly where the boundaries are, and have found ways to use them to their advantage. Kentucky doesn’t hide the fact that they are a luxurious pit stop for prospects on their way to the NBA, and the lifestyle they offer is now swaying kids who valued education when growing up –  see Alex Poythress.  The school is at the forefront of overhyped dog-and-pony shows and in today’s culture, prospects who cannot see the bigger picture in life easily get caught up in it, making it a tough act for a school like Duke to go up against.  Until something is done and the charade is halted, Kentucky will be a regular thorn in the side of everyone involved in the recruiting process.

Justise Winslow is set to visit Duke during Countdown to Craziness. BDN Photo

Now, despite what I just said, I would not concede Julius Randle just yet. In no way do I feel BAD about Randle and Duke, but there was a time not long ago I thought the good guys were a prohibitive favorite. That in turn caused me to downplay Jabari Parker a bit, and I am not the only one who did so. The truth is Duke and other schools were asked to back off a bit on his recruitment awhile back, but they have been and will be in this one until the end as well. Despite what you have heard to date, let it go and start with a fresh take.  Duke’s in-home with the Parkers is on Friday, and it’s a big deal as Coach K will join Chris Collins to sell the Duke way and their vision for Jabari. Duke would of course take both Parker and Randle but realistically, that will not happen in the current landscape.  But they sure as heck would love to get one of them.  Expect Krzyzewski to go after both equally hard. In fact, he is doing so already.

As you know, the staff also goes to see prospects work out in open gyms. The most recent visits have been to see Trey Lyles, Justise Winslow, Karl Towns and Grayson Allen. They will continue to monitor each of them closely. Duke went to Memphis on Wednesday to watch Austin Nichols and Coach Krzyzewski will go to see Trey Lyles again today, because he wants a firsthand view.

Duke will visit Jahlil Okafor as well, now that the teachers strike in Chicago is coming under control. The Blue Devils have stayed strong with the big man and feel they’re in great shape at this time, but much work still needs to be done.

And let’s not forget the consummate winner, the outstanding point guard Tyus Jones. I got word last evening that Coach K will drop in on him today, which leads me to talk of the fast approaching Countdown to Craziness. Jones has confirmed he will visit for the affair, as will Justise Winslow, a key target in his own right.

Duke expects to get 2015 big man Karl Towns in Durham for CTC, as well as Theo Pinson, who is still on the mend from an injury. The injury to Pinson seems to have made his camp a bit more proactive, possibly out of fear of falling behind in the process. The Pinsons have taken their time with the process, but it’s getting to the point where they are starting to do some more serious looking, as well as watching more closely what other key players are doing in their recruitments.

That pretty much sums up the latest, and as always we ask that you keep the information here per contract agreement. A lot of times recruiting information is sensitive and does not belong in public forums, as those can give competitors unfair advantages. For me to continue to share information we all covet, it is important to adhere to set standards.

In closing, thanks for being a member of Blue Devil Nation Premium and supporting our efforts to bring you the best coverage available. Please let others know about us, and if you have further questions on hoops recruiting, Andrew or myself will do our best to answer them on the message board. [/private]

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

Duke Basketball Team and Recruiting Update – Where does Duke go from here?

Matt Jones and Julius Randle of the Texas Titans

In our latest update, Blue Devil Nation Premium recaps what has happened recently on the recruiting trail and gives you an idea of what to expect next.

It wasn’t that long ago that many were writing the Blue Devils off after being shocked by Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  For several weeks after the upset, there was only criticism. But three months have now passed, and the dark skies have cleared considerably, as Duke has added several key pieces for the future in incoming freshman Amile Jefferson and transfer Rodney Hood.

Amile Jefferson has arrived on campus.  He will spend plenty of time in the weight room, for there is a big leap from high school ball to the high major college game, and Amile needs to get stronger in order to contribute in a big way.   Jefferson will have the luxury to play behind Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly in his first season while learning the ropes, but the coaches will give him every opportunity to play when he is ready.

The Duke Men’s Basketball staff continued its recent momentum on the recruiting trail, landing coveted Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood this weekend. Hood is right around [private] 6’8″ and is long, lean and athletic. He is an outside/in player, meaning his game is geared towards the perimeter; he likes to get touches just beyond the free throw stripe, from which he is comfortable taking it to the hoop or popping the mid-range J. His ability to knock down those mid-range jump shots draws bigger players away from the hoop, keeps the opposing defense honest, and opens up things for his teammates. Hood is also a good defender and likes to get after it by using his length to his advantage. While he did not dominate the SEC as a freshman, Rodney was a very steady force on a veteran team.

Hood’s game has changed little since I saw him on the AAU trail, with the exception of some natural physical growth.  But his frame can still use some muscle, and that is what Duke Strength and Conditioning Coach Will Stephens will focus on as Rodney sits out his transfer season at Duke. One of the things that impressed Hood on his visit was the Duke facilities, which are NBA-quality, and frankly a far cry from what he was used to in Starkeville. Sources also say he liked the structure of the team and its organization, something that he found lacking at MSU.

For the record, we here at BDN never wavered from the position that Hood was a Duke lean, and by now you guys should know how to interpret my cryptic messages enough to have figured this one out.

Rodney will be on campus this coming Wednesday, July 4th, and he will participate in the N.C. Pro-Am.  We’ll head over to that event provided we can stand the ridiculous heat.

Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is already on campus and getting accustomed to his surroundings. He is hanging with the guys, including Nolan Smith who is in town. Quinn Cook arrived today as well, and he is ready to hit the ground running after spending a lot of time with Nolan in Portland. Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston will be back around the 4th of July as well, and all should play in the Pro-Am.  Seth Curry played in the opening night of the event and played well.  He and some teammates even picked up Sulaimon at RDU yesterday.

Ryan Kelly has fully recovered from his injury and Mason Plumlee is looking stronger than ever.  Both benefited from their time at the Amare Stoudemire Camp, and they have both been working on adding new shots to their offensive arsenals.

Alex Murphy is stuffing the stat sheet for Finland’s National Team this summer.  The staff has been very impressed with his play and progress since he’s arrived over a year ago.

Mike Krzyzewski and the staff circled the wagons after the Lehigh loss and decided they wanted more athleticism and toughness, and I believe they are on the road to reshaping future rosters in that way. But don’t get caught looking ahead, for they are more than a little excited about this season’s team, especially because Coach loves flying just under the radar on the national scene. The staff feels this year’s team will be able to defend the perimeter better and is excited about using the length of Murphy on the outside along with Sulaimon, Thornton, Curry and Cook.  One thing does seem odd though: Murphy and Marshall Plumlee have a year in the program under their belts, and seem like old-timers compared to Sulaimon and Jefferson.  Yet all four of them will be getting their first real minutes when the Blue Devils tip off the season.

The coaching staff is very happy with their recent recruiting successes, but there will be no rest at all. After spending some time with their respective families, Mike Krzyzewski, Chris Collins and Steve  Wojciechowski will head to Las Vegas on the 4th to work with the national team. So while they will only see the new kids on campus in passing, there are no worries, for Nate James and Jeff Capel will break them in before going back to hitting the recruiting trail hard themselves.

So where does Duke stand now with other recruits? Which direction will they go in? First of all, the staff can now afford to be a bit fluid in its approach, meaning the strategy can most certainly change depending on how some dominoes fall, but for now, let me share how I feel things are shaping up.  These are educated guesses.

The top targets are always the most talented and that means Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. However, the addition of Hood makes Randle, who is more of a banger, the top priority. Duke is all-in on Randle and they’ve made good inroads through Krzyzewski making regular calls, with Capel taking the lead assistant role. Duke will of course face the Tar Heels until the end on this one, and they too have gone all-in.  Some would even say that Randle may tip the balance of power in the rivalry. But keep in mind that UNC has other offers out and a bevy of bigs on their roster, while Duke can make him realize he is their man, and there are no others. When I say “no others” for Duke, I mean the Devils are not pushing hard with a lot of other big men at this time, but of course that could change. Randle has reshaped his body in the off-season, but what a lot of people do not know is that it was Mike Krzyzewski who made a suggestion for this to happen. If we’re not the leader for Randle, we’re certainly one of the leaders.

Meanwhile, Parker has been flirting a lot with Michigan State, but with a player of his stature, Duke will most certainly hang around.

Duke will also remain hot on Semi Ojeleye and quite frankly, I think he is the Blue Devils’ to lose, and they feel he is as enamored with them as they are with him. The bottom line is the kid is a perfect fit. This situation looks good, and it may only be a matter of time before he pulls the trigger — and it may even come soon.

Austin Nichols is a Duke-type big that would replace the loss of Ryan Kelly, so they are on him and could turn up the heat a bit more in the coming months. Nichols is being hit up hard by other schools too, but Duke remains in decent shape.  The Devils are also still interested in Nichols’s AAU teammate, shooting guard Robert Hubbs.

The picture is a little less clear past these two.  Al Freeman has faded a bit but remains a possibility. Duke could chase another big man, but are not doing so now.  We are completely out of the picture with scoring point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber,  who was never formally offered.

The Blue Devils still have interest in Ish Wainright and Marcus Lee as well.  I still think it may be hard to pry Lee away from the west coast, and the need for Wainright could diminish should Ojeleye pull the trigger for Duke.

Everything is still good with 2013 commit Matt Jones, although I can hear many of you getting worried about us being too loaded at that shooting guard spot.  Well, we are.  But it will play out — as it always does.  I’ll be discussing this later.

As for players beyond the class of 2013, we’ll cover that the next go-round.

To summarize, there is an overall positive feel around the program right now.  Recruiting is in a good place.  Duke and Coach K will remain in the limelight all summer, as Team USA goes for gold in London. We’ll cover several more recruiting events this summer and the Pro-Am, and we continue to work behind the scenes on site changes, including a facelift.

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Van Coleman breaks down Duke prospects and more for BDN

Without question, Van Coleman is one of the most respected talent evaluators in the recruiting world.  In our latest premium offering, Van shares his thoughts on several key high school prospects with BDN’s Mark Watson.  Coleman joins a long list of national analysts that have shared their takes on the nation’s best talent with Blue Devil Nation Premium, and as a member you will be sure to enjoy what he has to say about Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye, and several other Duke targets[private].

More to come on BDN Premium. [/private]