The third of four children born to the affable Mark and Arrolyn Jones and raised in the diverse Dallas suburb of DeSoto, 6’5″ Matthew Jones, who, in late November of 2011, became the first pledge to Duke in the class of 2013, has carved his niche in this world by developing into one of the elite shooters in his class. Although he once described himself as a “chubby kid,” Jones grew well beyond his parents’ heights and has worked hard in the gym to stay lean.
The more recent focus of Matt Jones’ development has been centered around learning to handle the basketball more, being aggressive on offense, looking to become a better passer, and attempting to become a more focused defender. The beneficiary was DeSoto (TX) HS, which compiled a 33-3 record and was ranked nationally for stretches of the season, including after they defeated Simeon Academy of Chicago with fellow incoming Duke freshman Jabari Parker in an early season victory.
In recognition, Jones, who averaged sixteen points and nearly six assists for the top-ranked squad in Texas’ largest classification, earned All-State honors in Texas and was named a McDonald’s All-American. Clearly coming from a wellspring of a genetic pool, Jones joined his sister Jordan, a 5’8″ key freshman reserve guard for the Texas A & M Aggies, to become just the third pair of brother-sister McDonald’s All-Americans.
After playing more of a self-described “team game,” with four shots in thirteen minutes, at the United Center in Chicago for the McDonald’s All-American game, Jones felt the need to be more aggressive at this year’s Jordan Classic game at the Barclays Center. With his close friend and former AAU teammate for the Texas Titans, Julius Randle, a Kentucky commitment, suiting up for the East squad, Matt Jones teamed up with his future Duke roommate, 6’8″ Jabari Parker, to lead the West squad, which was coincidentally coached by his DeSoto coach Chris Dyer, to a 102-98 win in Brooklyn.
What was the experience like both here and the McDonald’s All American game?
It was a big honor. There were a bunch of great players and they were great people too. I definitely had fun with that experience. In Chicago, there was a lot of love. I mean, I really felt wanted and with the Jordan Brand, we’re just getting started. I know I feel like it’s going to be a great weekend. I’m seeing most of the same people that I saw last week. We’re definitely having fun, we’re definitely talking a lot. It’s been fun. Just getting a lot of gear.
That’s a nice backpack and case for your shoes.
Oh, yeah, definitely.
What have they got planned for you? I heard that you went to see Spike Lee last night. What did you see with him? Did you see the new “42″ movie?
We just saw a bunch of clips and he was talking about them. I mean, Spike Lee is definitely an ambassador for the movie business. It was a lot of fun to see him.
It’s amazing the places that basketball can take you.
Oh, yeah, I’m grateful for the experience. It’s just such a great experience to just be here, to have this opportunity to be here and to see a bunch of great people. Tonight, I think we’re going somewhere fancy to eat. (laughs)
I mean, I’m definitely very grateful.
Did your sister give you any advice either about either your senior year or the hoopla that comes with McDonalds American game and the various all-star games? She had a great freshman year and she was really coming along at the end.
Yeah, she did. She basically told me to just soak it all in. I mean, she didn’t really get into like, a bunch of details or anything like that, but she just told me to have fun and live it up because you can only be in this place one time. To just soak it up and be hungry. She definitely just said to take advantage of the opportunities.
Your father said she was more like a firecracker and you’re a little bit more calm. Is that true?
Yeah, I’m definitely calm. I definitely get slandered sometimes by my dad for being too non-chalant, so I mean, it definitely rubs off. And she is a firecracker.
How would you characterize your senior year?
It was a great season. We beat a whole bunch of players like Cat Barber, Jabari, and Jarrell Martin..all of them McDonalds All Americans and I mean, we definitely had a good season. We didn’t end it like we wanted to, but overall. I mean, the ending was tough.
You’ll eventually get over it.
Size-wise, how tall are you?
I’m about 6’5″, 190.
What do you think you’ve improved on most since last summer?
I think really, my handle. I’m really just more confident with it. That’s really it, sir.
That’s good to hear. Has it helped your mid-range game, as well?
Yes, sir. It definitely does. It definitely like helps my confidence to create off the dribble more and just turn my shot into a more lethal weapon. A really lethal weapon.
I know you want to be a Ray Allen type of player.
What has the staff asked you to work on?
They haven’t told me much, but they told me to be more of a killer. To just have more of a killer instinct.
I thought you were a killer sometimes when I saw you, at least in AAU.
Yes, sir, I mean, they just want me to be more consistent with my killer instinct (laughs)
What did you talk about with Jabari? He mentioned you spoke with him last night.
Yeah, I mean, we just talked about life. Well, I just tried to get to know him. I just wanted to get a head-start when we go to Durham.
You might be roommates.
Yeah, we might. We definitely talked about a lot.
For the audience that doesn’t know him, what would you say he’s like?
He’s a great kid. I mean, he’s really funny. He’s just so down to earth for being such a great player. I mean, he’s just very down to earth and a humble kid.
Can you tell the audience a little bit about your family?
Well, I have two sisters and one brother.
Well, now, he’s a firecracker.
He is, he is. I have a sister that goes to A&M. She just finished her freshman year. She did pretty well and I have another sister that sings. She goes to the Chicago Institute.
I remember your father said that.
I mean, we definitely have a talented family.
Is Mason a player at all? He’s sort of a bigger guy.
He had a tournament last weekend and he hit six three’s, so…
So, he’s got your pure shooting.
Yeah, yeah. Yes, sir.
What position does he play?
He plays shooting guard.
I remember talking briefly with Kyrie last summer in Las Vegas and he was yelling “Uncle Drew! Uncle Drew!”
Yeah, that’s him.
Is there anything different that you’re going to do in this game that you didn’t do in McDonalds?
I think, basically, I’m going to be a lot more objective. I mean, at McDonalds, I was just trying to play team ball and trying to go for the win. But like, in this game, I just want to end my career right. I definitely want to go out there and get the win and be aggressive. Yes, sir.
I saw you picked the #13 for next year. How did you come to that number?
I just wanted to start a new career with the number 13. It really doesn’t mean anything in terms of why I chose it.
Have you thought about what you’d like to major in at all?
I haven’t really thought about it, but something generally with health or something like that. I don’t really know.
What would you like to do after your playing career is over? Would you like to be a coach or a broadcaster?
I’ve thought about coaching, but, like, I don’t know. Maybe Coach K will give me a ride on that chair, I don’t know. (laughs) But I don’t know. Other than that, I haven’t really thought about it.
Do you have a favorite basketball memory?
Probably the McDonalds All American game, so far. I mean, you know, last week, it was just such a prestigious event to be able to go there and soak it all up.
Well, I thought it was an honor you deserved.
Yes, sir. Thank you.
What expectations do you have for both you and the team for next year?
Just a hard working group. I mean, of course, we have a bunch of athletic wings and a really good team all-around. We’re just trying to work hard and an athletic team all around. We’re just trying to go hard.
What about from you, specifically?
Just a little bit of everything. I’m gonna try to use my shooting as a weapon all over the game and just go over there and play defense. I just love playing defense. I’m definitely going to bring that. I’m going to just try.
Is that the thing you want to be known for? Being a sharp shooter and playing lock-down defense, as well?
Yes, sir. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the mentality. That’s what I want to bring.
Lastly, describe yourself for the audience that may not know you.
I’m just basically a humble kid. I like to have fun. I’m just a normal person. I like to laugh and chill and basically just do whatever you’d see a normal kid do. That’s basically what I do.
And what’s your relationship like with your father? Does he give you advice?
I mean, he’s cool, he just gives me advice. He’s very religious and spiritual. It’s cool though. He’s just my dad, so he’s going to be there to talk to me anyway.
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.
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: 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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: 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.
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]
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.
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.
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]
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]
The Nike Peach Jam is in full swing and we are here in South Carolina to bring you updates on all the action and the latest on the many Duke prospects here. Austin Nichols, Matt Jones, Julius Randle, Justise Winslow, Theo Pinson, and Jahlil Okafor are but a few of the informative interviews we have on tap. In addition, there are some younger kids starting to catch the staff’s eye as well. You can learn about them and much more as a member. Considering the bevy of interviews we have up for Blue Devil Nation Premium members, if you’ve been on the fence about it, this is the perfect time to join.
Here is the recap of the Friday day session:
Howard Pulley 74 Team Texas 65
First of all, this game had some intensity to it, as Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, the Duke staff and others crowded the court to the point where they would not let any more people into the gym once the game started. The game was much closer than the score indicates. A Julius Randle turnover allowed Pulley to go up 4, but he then came down to score and “and one” inside, which cut it to 1 with little time left. Pulley’s Tyus Jones drew a triple team and found an open teammate for a 3 and that pretty much sealed the deal. After a Team Texas miss, Jones quickly scored again on a drive and then assisted on another trey and that made the final score 74-65. Despite his team being upset, Randle was a beast again, scoring 31 points and grabbing 17 boards. While aggressiveness is something Randle thrives on (and as he told BDN, he feels he can take anybody off the dribble at any time) his aggression sometimes causes turnovers and could also make him foul prone at the next level. But the big picture with Randle is he is a big-time force on the floor. One coach sitting beside me quipped, “It’s hard to evaluate the players around him and those who defend him in that he’s so good.” I have to agree. Then there was Tyus Jones, a smooth, spunky leader on the court who thinks [private] “team first,” yet still gets his own shots too. Jones’s late heroics helped his team to a win; he finished with 24 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds. Randle and Jones are now the number one and two scorers at the entire event.
Capel will follow Team Texas
Jeff Capel has been sitting with his brother Jason for much of the camp today. Capel said he would go to Orlando and the AAU Nationals and be anywhere Julius Randle and Matt Jones were playing. So, yes, there will always be a Duke presence as Randle nears his decision.
Semi Ojeleye continues to play well
Ojeleye scored 20 points and grabbed 3 boards as his team coasted past Bluff City Legends. I just love his size and strength. I have a mini-interview coming with Semi. I will tell you that the Duke staff feels really good about their chances with him, and that it could be over in the near future. He’s just a Duke kid through and through.
Jahlil Okafor struggles?
Part of the problem is his own play, but part is his teammates just not looking for him. While I think the latter is the main culprit, still Jahlil was not impressive in Mac Irvin’s loss to CIA Bounce. He fouled out in 15 minutes of play and his numbers were dismal: 2 points and 0 rebounds. He has not helped himself here so far. By the way, Andrew Wiggins had 21 points for CIA. He is one of the four best players in camp.
The dysfunctional bunch known as Boo Williams is again winless. In their first game, Anthony “Cat” Barber and Al Freeman jawed hard at one another, and it took a while for Barber to let it go. Talent and no production makes college coaches pause. Freeman and his game are still a bit of a wreck. Note: the Duke staff has not watched a single game this squad has played. And wasn’t star forward Troy Williams supposed to have decided? Hmm.
Marcus Lee struggles as well
Marcus Lee is foul prone in a big way, and he once again finished the game on the bench as California Supreme lost again, and is now 0-3. Lee had 2 points and 5 boards; his offense is anemic. Yes he’s talented and long, but putting all the hype aside, he is a little overrated and I am not the only one who feels that way.
From my conversation with him, this really seems like a good kid. He has recently been offered by Calipari and Kentucky, and he spoke highly of them, but Duke is on his list and he also spoke well of Coach K and his recent U-17 camp experience with Team USA. His production here has been good; he went for 16 points and 8 rebounds in his team’s two point win this morning.
Yes, Theo! You do have an offer!
Theo Pinson has had an offer for over eight months. Odd how nobody knew, but the bottom line is he does now. More may come out from this, not that it even matters at this point. In the morning game he scored 23 points to lead CP3 to a 75-71 win over California Supreme.
Don’t miss Andrew’s interview with Austin Nichols. The Duke coaches feel he will take all five of his visits before deciding.
Future Blue Devil Matt Jones has helped lead Team Texas to a 2-0 record thus far at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC. BDN Video caught up with him after one of his games to get his thoughts on the tournament to date.