Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 1.5 million home-schooled children in 2007 (the most recent year for available statistics) in the United States. Last year, Justin Jackson became the first home-schooled young man ever to make the USA Basketball U16 team.
The 6’7″ wing from Spring, Texas has been a bit of a trailblazer for the growing homeschooling movement. In 2011, Justin won the Maravich Award, which is given annually to the best home-schooled basketball player in the United States. This year, Jackson was honored with the Sullivan Award, which is bestowed upon the top home-schooled player who has already won the Maravich Award.
Jackson plays for the Homeschool Christian Youth Association, which is a Houston organization of home-schooled kids that gather to play sports against other programs. Along with Danrad “Chicken” Knowles, Jackson, an efficient and potent wing, helped lead his HCYA Warriors to a 37-13 record, including wins in January at the Flyin’ To The Hoop Tournament in Ohio, where the then-sophomore was named to the All-Tournament team. Later in the season, in front of thousands of spectators, HCYA went on to win the undisputed national championship of homeschool basketball by defeating the Oklahoma City Storm 63-50 to capture the National Gold Ball, homeschool basketball’s highest team prize. Following the season, MaxPreps named the Texan to its Sophomore All-American team.
At home, Jackson, the oldest of four, is nurtured by his parents Lloyd and Sharon, who met as students at Blinn College in Texas, where his mother played basketball and his father was on the track team. Twice a week, Justin attends classes locally to strengthen his education. Jackson, a cerebral, pious, and poised young man, earned a 4.0 grade point average while taking a challenging class schedule that included Calculus.
Last summer, Jackson teamed up with Duke recruits Jabari Parker, Theo Pinson, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor to help lead the USA Basketball 16U team to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Cancun, Mexico. Jackson averaged 10.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, while his team went undefeated throughout the tournament.
This year, Jackson, a rising junior, has been the leading scorer for a balanced Houston Hoops 17U AAU team in Nike’s EYBL. The Texas sharpshooter has shot 54.2% from the field, including 41.3% from beyond the three-point arc, and 82.4% from the charity stripe. Houston Hoops, the AAU organization which helped develop incoming Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon (an AAU teammate of Jackson’s last season), has won fifteen of its twenty EYBL games and looks to be major contender for next month’s Peach Jam Championship in South Carolina.
I recently spoke to Justin about a plethora of issues, including his faith, experience winning a national title, playing with USA Basketball, being a role model for home-schooled kids, and Duke’s interest in him.
How do you feel you’ve played so far during your AAU season with Houston Hoops?
I feel like, individually, I’ve played really well. Our team has done pretty well. We’ve lost a heart-breaker or two, but, individually, I think I’m playing pretty well.
How do you compare it to the competition you face on your high school schedule?
In high school, I’m obviously one of the key guys for my team. I feel like I’m a key part on this team, but we have so many good players. So, I just have to come out here everyday and work as hard as I can and everything will come from that.
For the sake of the audience, can you explain both your affiliation with Homeschool Christian Youth Association and how you currently go about home schooling?
Yeah, sure, as far as the HCYA team, all of the home-schoolers in the Houston area come try out for our team and then, just like a normal school, they break them into the varsity and the JV and the other levels. Then, for the actual school, I go to private tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
That’s when you get your science and math, as your mother was saying.
Yeah, that’s right. Well, pretty much, all of my classes. They then give you homework for the rest of the week and then I have to complete it before the next class.
What was the experience like to win a national title? I was reading that you played it at Missouri State, in front of approximately seven thousand people.
It was awesome. We actually had a coaching change about halfway through the season and it was a change for the better. So, we ended up going, I think, like 25-3 after the coaching change. We just came together, we became a family after that. So, it was great.
Wow. Who’d you guys hire, Phil Jackson?
(laughs) Yeah, someone like that.
You’ve won both the Maravich Award and the Sullivan Award, which are normally the two highest awards given in the home-schooling basketball world.
Yes, this year I won the Sullivan Award, which is basically, if a guy wins the Maravich Award before he’s a senior, it’s just an award that they give out. The Maravich Award is basically given to the best home-schooled player in the country.
You had a 4.0 GPA this year and your mother was telling me that you were taking Calculus as a sophomore. Can you talk about the importance of academics in your life and in your family?
My family has put an emphasis on academics since I played basketball as a little kid. Academics always comes first in our family, basketball comes second, so I just put all that effort into my schoolwork so then I can play basketball.
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses as a basketball player?
Strength-wise, I feel like I’m a good all-around player. My biggest strength is offense. I can really score with the ball. As far as my weaknesses, obviously, I’ve got to get stronger and then just lateral quickness for defense. I’ve got to get better.
How have you gone about trying to improve in those two areas?
I actually spend time trying to lift weights during the high school season.
At home or in a local gym?
At home. And then for lateral quickness, I just use the ladder, jump rope, and stuff like that.
I’ve talked to several of your teammates about this, guys like Jabari, Tyus, and Jahlil, but what was your USA Basketball experience like?
The experience was great. Just to go out there with 27 of the best players in your class and be able to say that you tried out for the team is great. And I got the opportunity to be on the team, which is just tremendous.
And you contributed heavily, averaging double-digit scoring.
(pauses) It was probably the best experience that I’ve ever had…and certainly in basketball.
Was it a grueling tryout period for you? I know that some people even had issues with the altitude.
Oh, yeah, first of all, the altitude up in Colorado. And then we had two-a-days, which your body doesn’t want to do, but that’s when you have to push through and keep working.
In terms of visits, have you taken any recently or do you have any planned?
During the high school season, I took a visit to Ohio State. We’re trying to figure out if we can get one visit in, if we had an open weekend or something like that, preferably late in June, but the visits may have to come in August.
Now, you haven’t always lived in the Houston area. You lived for five years in Cincinnati. I was talking with your parents about that.
It was good. We made a lot of good friends. Obviously though, all of my family is from Texas.
Your mother had mentioned that your parents actually met at Blinn College, where some football fans may remember that Cam Newton went.
Yes, they did, but, yeah, Cincinnati was nice.
What are you looking for in a program, whenever you do decide?
Academics is first, and then I’d have to become comfortable with the coaching staff because obviously I’m going off for four years and I just feel like I’d have to become comfortable with them. Those are definitely my two most important factors.
Given a choice, are you looking for a coach that is more like a friend or someone that will push you?
Obviously, I want to get better. I’d like to get to the next level eventually, but I still want to have a friend as a coach.
I didn’t mean that it necessarily was exclusive, just given a choice. I’m sorry.
Oh, sure. I feel like all of the coaches that I’ve talked to, well, most of them try to sell the school and I’ve tried to have a good relationship with all of them. Most of them have said we’re not going to be here to tell you how good you are or tell you what you’ve done is awesome. We’re here to try to push you to get you to be better. I hope they’re sincere.
Who do you try to model your game after?
Kevin Durant. His body type is a lot like mine, but I think Reggie Miller might also be another one.
I’ve heard the Miller one, in terms of body type.
Yeah, a lot of comparisons, but probably those two guys.
The next one I haven’t discussed with any player outside of maybe just Jabari, but your father was saying that your faith is an important issue to you and your family.
Yep. I think I became a believer when I was about eleven.
That’s fairly early.
Ever since, that comes first. My relationship with God has to be there and just…
Is it challenging at times being in your teenage years?
It is challenging, with all of your surroundings and everything like that, but that’s when I have to keep my faith even more strong.
As I said, I don’t usually ask people about that, but, since your parents mentioned its importance..
That’s fine. I’m glad that you did.
Can you give a quick comment on Jabari, Jahlil, and Tyus?
Obviously, they’re some of the best players in the country and they’re also great guys.
Who was your roommate with the USA team?
My roommate was actually Aaron Gordon.
Obviously, another talented young player.
Yeah, but I talked to Jahlil and Tyus quite a bit. I’ve also talked to Jabari. They’re just good guys. I just think they’re really good people.
Jabari’s about as good as it gets.
I know it’s early for them, but Duke has expressed interest in you. What do you know about the program?
I actually just started talking with Coach Capel. I guess he wants to get us down there, let us speak to the coaching staff and stuff like that. They haven’t offered me yet, but they do seem really interested.
What do you know about Coach K and the program itself?
Obviously, Coach K is one of the best coaches to have coached and the program is one of the best programs, so that combined, it offers one of the best options.
What position do you feel you’re best suited towards, a two or a three?
Mainly a two, but I feel like I’m pretty versatile. On the high school level, I’ve played everything from the one to the four.
What do you feel most comfortable defending?
Oh, probably the two or the three.
I think you’re best suited to the three or as a tall two from watching you at various EYBL and camp events. Basketball-wise, in terms of allocating time, how does home-schooling benefit you?
Well, obviously it gives me more time to go into the gym, but, sometimes I don’t even get any time at the gym because there’s so much schoolwork. For the most part though, it gives me more time to just hang out and get more work in in basketball.
Do you play any other sports or are you focused on basketball?
Oh, just basketball for me.
I was speaking with your mother last night about how the scheduling allows you to be more efficient with your time. In terms of basketball, what are you working on primarily right now?
Right now, I’m focused on trying to get quicker and also to get stronger. Those are the main general things.
Those are your two main things. Well, since you mentioned it, how have you been working on your strength and conditioning?
Well, on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I usually try to do some strength and conditioning.
What does that consist of?
Usually, weights and, if I don’t have access to the track, I’ll use a treadmill. I’ll do some slants or just run a mile as fast as I can. Just trying to improve my speed and shoot for new goals.
Speaking of that, did your dad play as well? Your mother mentioned that she played in college at Blinn.
He actually ran track at Blinn and then he tried out for basketball at U of H (University of Houston) and made a few cuts, but, ultimately, unfortunately didn’t make the team.
Well, still he showed initiative and must’ve had some ability. Is it true that North Carolina was your favorite program as a child?
Well, we just grew up liking North Carolina, but, ever since we’ve gotten into recruiting, I’ve taken the position that I need to be really open-minded. You know I’ve been really open and so that has really nothing to do with the current recruiting process and won’t have an effect on my college decision.
Sure, there’s plenty of kids that approach recruiting that way. What schools have offered you or expressed interest in you?
I think I’ve been offered by Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Washington, Georgetown, and Ohio State. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Stanford and some others are just recruiting me at this point.
Oh, Stanford as well. I assume Stanford is also intrigued by your profile as someone who is serious about basketball and academics.
What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
You know I’m actually a pretty quiet kid. My life is pretty private.
Don’t worry. So am I.
Thanks. Not many people really know what’s going on in my life, outside of my close family. So, I guess you could say that I’m a pretty quiet kid.
Trust me. It gets easier with age, but this is still challenging for me to even to talk to you.
(Laughs and then pauses) Yeah, thanks, I know what you mean.
How would you assess your defense at this point?
You know I’m long. So, I try to use that to my advantage.
How long is your wingspan at this point, if you happen to know?
I think my wingspan is 6’10” or 6’11,” but I haven’t measured it recently. I try to use that to get wide, but I obviously need to get quicker. In the meantime, I’m using my wingspan, spacing, and footwork to try to make up the difference. Right now, I try to use my wingspan to make up for some of the quickness that I don’t really have.
I’ve been trying to monitor your lateral quickness. What style of play would be best suited to you?
I like teams that play together. Obviously, in college, most of them do.
Yeah, I guess that I was wondering if you’d prefer to play in an uptempo offense, half-court..
Yeah, something uptempo, but I feel like I can contribute offensively in either type of setting.
What style of play do you play primarily in high school?
Oh, we play pretty much of a run-and-gun style of play. It’s very fast paced, but we’re still pretty good in half-court sets and I’m very comfortable playing in either way.
We talked about wingspan before, but what’s your current size?
I’m about 6’7″ and now about 180.
I saw you, at times, last year in AAU, but I also watched you play as a rising sophomore at LeBron James’s Skills Academy.
Last year was a challenge. Obviously, there were some great guys or players in the class of 2012 and they were bigger and stronger than me. It, sort of, woke me up. It woke me up as a competitor and as a player. I walked away recognizing the areas that I needed to get better in and quickly. It was a real wake up call, but very helpful.
Do you know Rasheed Sulaimon pretty well?
Oh, yes. Well, as you know I actually played with him last year. I think that, in the end, he’ll be very successful at Duke.
Do you think that he’ll be able to make an immediate impact at Duke?
Well, I haven’t really looked into their whole rotation or anything like that yet, but I think that he can definitely help them and he’ll be a great teammate.
Have you ever met Kevin Durant, by the way?
I haven’t, but I’ve heard he’s nice to people and a good role model.
Do you view yourself as a role model for other young people that are schooled at home?
I do. It’s sort of crazy, but, when I got to these homeschool tournaments, people are always asking for my autograph and sometimes for advice.
Do you like it? I had heard that you’re a bit of a rock star at these events, where you’re playing in front of thousands of people.
I enjoy it, but I try to never get wrapped up in it. Obviously, as you know, my parents are always there to tell me not to get wrapped up in it.
They seem very grounded.
Yep, they are and they keep me grounded. (Pauses) For the most part, though, it shows me that I’ve got to be a leader because there are so many little kids looking up to me.
Who were your role models, growing up?
Oh, definitely, my parents.
Can you give a quick scouting report for the audience on Justise Winslow?
He’s a good guy and a great basketball player. I’ve roomed with him in AAU basketball this year. He’s a good guy and I’ve gotten to know him a little bit. He seems relatively grounded and, on the basketball court, he’s one of the best players. He’s a great person and a great basketball player.
When you’ve been in those hotel rooms, have you guys talked about going to college together? Or is that not even in the cards?
Well, I’ve talked to a few people about that actually, but not him.
Obviously, I’ve talked to Jahlil and Tyus, but, right now, I’m still so open and have no idea where I’m going. So, right now, it’s just sort of throwing stuff out there and seeing what their thoughts are. It’s stuff to think about, however.
When do you think that you’ll decide by?
Probably, it will be by the beginning of my senior year.
Who will you look to for guidance, whenever you do decide?
Probably just my parents.
Your parents mentioned that you read quite a lot. What are you reading right now?
My parents bought me this, well, biography of a bunch of NBA players. I’m really reading about a lot of them right now and it’s inspiring.
In high school, you may play between fifty and sixty games in a season. I think this year you played exactly fifty games. How do you think that differentiated or, perhaps, helped you, in comparison to some of your peers?
It was tiring, but it all was worth it, once we won the National Championship.
That’s all. Thank you very much, Justin.
Oh, thank you, sir.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski addressed the media today and, as usual, his summer session provided a lot of information. The biggest news to some was that it is now official that Andre Dawkins will redshirt this coming season. But there was so much more. In fact, there was so much information that I decided to just share several interesting notes from today, so read on and enjoy.
– Coach K said that last season’s team was not good defensively out front. The perimeter players were not big enough or long enough to effectively pressure the ball. However, he expects they will be better able to apply that pressure this season with improved size and length on the perimeter. Improving the team’s on-ball pressure will be addressed in the off-season, as will reinforcing defensive concepts out front.
– Coach K said this year’s team would be more versatile and would benefit from having three senior leaders in Mason, Ryan and Seth.
– Ryan Kelly has fully recovered from his injury and is currently working out in Las Vegas.
– In fact, all the Duke players are currently in good health.
– Mason Plumlee is on an internship and is working out in Chicago.
— Alex Murphy left two days ago for Finland to play on the Finnish National Team. His Mom played for Finland’s national team as well. Coach said that Murphy would get a lot of playing time. Duke will use the 6’8″ Murphy on the perimeter or in the SF role. K said having him on the wing would stretch the court and allow Duke to do some different things.
– Seth Curry will play off the ball more in order to hunt his shot. Thornton, Cook and Sulaimon would be the primary ballhandlers if the season were to start today.
– K did not mention anything about Josh Hairston losing weight in the off-season, but did say that Josh could play more on the perimeter than he has in the past.
– Marshall Plumlee is up to 240 pounds, and K believes last year’s redshirt season would help him. He likes his work ethic and enthusiasm, and mentioned his toughness as well.
– Incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has played well and K believes that he, like all players do, will grow from the experience of playing international basketball.
– One peeve that Coach K mentioned was the transfer rate in college basketball. He thinks it’s just out of control, as more than 450 kids are moving to different schools. As the NCAA is not doing much about the problem, K believes that college hoops needs a governing body to address issues like this.
– Coach said the one-and-done mentality has always existed but that players now leave more quickly when facing controversy or any type of difficult situation. He noted as well that sometimes kids leave before the book is written, and referenced 2010, where Duke’s senior-laden team blossomed into champions.
– Also on transfers, K believes that transfers are being recruited harder than high school prospects now, and he implied the battles were vicious. Again, he recommends that studies needed to be done to support controlling this trend.
– He mentioned some teams trying to improve their APR as well, as that measure will have UConn on the sidelines of the NCAA tournament this year.
– Coach was aked if in the future he would recruit differently in light of having lost Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers back to back, after only one year apiece at Duke. He said there are no real recruiting philosophies that he could describe in the current climate.
– He also said that Rivers and Miles Plumlee were expected to do well in the upcoming NBA Draft, and that the success of former Duke players in the league enhances perceptions of Duke and helps Duke’s image with new prospects.
– Coach said that he faces challenges with Team USA from both the effects of the condensed NBA season as well as injuries. They have yet to finalize a roster. He glowed when talking about the play of Russell Westbrook, and scoffed at so many analysts who examine his game under the microscope, noting that Westbrook is just 24 years old. He said LeBron James would play for Team USA for sure. In discussing LeBron, Coach K stated that some kids learn in different ways and that while James has had to learn some tough lessons, he is a special and gifted player.
– When questioned whether it bothered him that N.C. State and North Carolina seemed to be getting more love, he quipped, “I like what we’ve done” and preferred to talk about that. He gave a bit of a sly smile at that moment, and there is good reason for that. My take is that K was saying, in effect, “let people overlook us. That’s exactly what we want them to do.” And if you truly know hoops, then you realize Duke will be just fine this coming season and when it’s all said and done, the Blue Devils will sit in their customary position at the top of the league.
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With Amile Jefferson’s announcement he would be attending Duke University, Duke’s recruiting efforts for the 2012-13 season came to a successful end. Jefferson, a power forward, joins combo guard Rasheed Sulaimon in a class that also includes forward Alex Murphy and center Marshall Plumlee, two players who redshirted last season.
While ESPN ranks Duke’s 2012 class at number 11, that ranking only factors in Sulaimon and Jefferson. Including redshirts Murphy and Plumlee, as part of the incoming class, results in a very strong group, which certainly deserves a Top 5 ranking. Duke has been unfairly criticized recently, by certain elements across the recruiting world, as having been left behind. Results certainly outweigh the rhetoric.
Balance is a nice characteristic of this class as it contains a combo guard (1/2), combo forward (3/4), power forward (4) and center (5). Another characteristic is talent. In the final RSCI rankings for 2011, Alex Murphy was ranked 49 with Marshall Plumlee checking in at 61. For 2012, Rasheed Sulaimon is 17 while Amile Jefferson is 20. RSCI has not finalized their 2012 rankings.
Let’s take a look at each incoming player.
Alex Murphy (6’8” 220): Last summer Duke fan site message boards were buzzing about the possibility of Murphy breaking into the starting line-up. Comparisons to Kyle Singler were common place. After suffering a concussion in practice, Murphy fell behind in his preseason development and decided to redshirt. Considering he left high school a year early, the decision passed the common sense test.
The exciting element of the story is Murphy was talented enough to compete for a spot in the starting line-up 12 months ago. With a full year of practice and participation in the strength and conditioning program under his belt, Murphy is the leading candidate to be the Blue Devils starting small forward in 2012-13.
In regard to the redshirt season, associate head coach Chris Collins recently commented, “The biggest gains that we saw with Alex throughout this season were with his confidence and his strength.”
My expectation is Murphy will be in the starting line-up at small forward from day one. Additionally, when Coach Krzyzewski decides to go with a smaller line-up, Murphy is strong enough to slide into the power forward position.
Rasheed Sulaimon (6’4” 180): After winning the 3-point shooting competition at the McDonald’s All American game, Sulaimon proceeded to score 18 points including going four for eight on 3-pointers to help the West beat the East 106-102. At the Jordan Brand Classic, Sulaimon made three of six 3-point shots and scored 13 points as the West beat the East 99-95.
As talented an outside shooter as Sulaimon is, two different skills are what excite me. First, Sulaimon demonstrated significant defensive ability during three All Star games. Additionally, he displayed an ability to run the point. Those two skill sets compel me to compare Sulaimon’s potential to Nolan Smith.
My expectation is Sulaimon will come off the bench in the early season while competing to break into the starting line-up. Whether he eventually starts or spends the entire season as a reserve, he will play starters minutes as a freshman due to his talents on the defensive end of the court.
Amile Jefferson (6’8” 200): In the official press release announcing Jefferson’s decision to attend Duke, Coach Mike Krzyzewski stated, “We are ecstatic about Amile joining us. He is going to be able to help us right away.”
At the McDonald’s All American game, Jefferson recorded eight points, three rebounds and two steals in 14 minutes of action. Moving past the statistics, and just watching the game, Jefferson demonstrated versatility and smoothness on the court. He did not dominate, in fact he did not even standout, but to the seasoned eye, he looked like he belonged.
My expectation is Jefferson will average low double digit minutes per game as a freshman, perhaps as many as 12 to 15 minutes. With his length and low post offensive skills, Amile will be a key contributor in relief of Ryan Kelly. Over the course of his career at Duke, Jefferson has the potential to develop into another in the long list of versatile forwards to succeed as a Blue Devil.
Marshall Plumlee (6’11” 225): The younger brother of Miles and Mason, and McDonald’s All American is reputed to be more of a true low post player than either of his older brothers. Gaining muscle mass should be a major objective for Marshall over the summer and with an entire year already spent in a college level strength and conditioning program he should have plenty of success.
However, from a High School Hoops article I wrote in December 2010, after watching Christ School play Quality Education Academy, the following sentence stands out, “On offense, Plumlee operated mainly out of the high post and delivered a couple of nice passes for assists.” Duke will need Plumlee to operate out of the low post, while Ryan Kelly mans the high post, so hopefully my observation of his tendencies as a high school senior were more a function of his team’s offense and less a function of his comfort zone.
My expectation is Marshall will see consistent but limited minutes in relief of older brother Mason and to a lesser degree Ryan Kelly. His objective over the course of next season should be to gain invaluable game experience to facilitate his moving into a starting role as a sophomore. Marshall projects to be a four year player who will excel as a junior and senior.
Tom Konchalski has been evaluating high school basketball players for nearly forty years. In a business filled with fly-by-night operations, charlatans, non-athletes, and simpletons, he’s the exception. Mr. Konchalski is a disciplined, compassionate, learned man of faith who keeps his eyes open and his ears to the ground.
In an age of social media, where a seventeen year-old with a Twitter account can call himself a recruiting analyst, the 6’5″ Queens native still utilizes a typewriter for his HSBI Report and sends it via mail to more than two hundred college programs. Author John Feinstein ’78 once wrote of the veteran scout that he was the “only honest man in the gym.” Unfortunately, it’s a fairly apt description of the AAU circuit on many summer nights.
Recently, I spoke with my mentor, consigliere, and friend about twelve players who have, at least, received interest from Duke in the classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014. Never prone to hyperbole, the McDonald’s All-American voter graciously gave his candid assessments.
Rasheed Sulaimon: “He’s a very good player. He’s athletic and has good size. He has skill. He plays a team game and lets the game normally come to him. He’s a guy who I think is going to be a good team player at Duke.[private] I think he’ll be a good system player at Duke and Duke’s system fits him quite well. He should become a very good player for them and I don’t think he’s going to be a player who will be a one or a two years and done for them. He’s going to be around for three or four years. You need those kind of players because those are the types of players that Duke has had most success with. Defensively, he has the body, the strength, and the quickness to be a very good defensive player.”
Amile Jefferson: “He’s a young colt who’s waiting for his body to blossom, but he has a really good feel for the game. Right now, he’s probably more of a 4/3 and, obviously, he’s going to have get stronger, but, in the ACC, it’s not as if he’s going to the Big Ten or the Big East, which is even more of a physical conference. In terms of style of play, if he were to go to Duke, that would be a good pick, but he’s still got to get stronger in order to be able to play both sides of the court. He’s a guy who has some perimeter skills..not an explosive athlete, but, when he starts to working to improve himself physically, his legs will get stronger. He will get quicker and he’ll get more lift off the ground. He’s a guy who has a good feel for the lane and the baseline. He’s almost like an old-time player around the lane. He knows how to finish without going above the rim or jumping over people. He knows how to use his body to get between the defender and the ball. He knows how to shield the ball and reverse it. He has a really good feel for the game and he’s a really good kid. He’s also a good student.”
Shabazz Muhammad: “Shabazz Muhammad is a guy who may be the best senior in the country right now. I don’t think he has the potential to be a superstar. I think there are other people who may have a higher ceiling, such as guys like Jabari Parker, Nerlens Noel, and Julius Randle. Right now, he just plays so hard. He’s high energy, but he has some holes in his game. For example, he never beats you going right. When Mater Dei, for example, beat them in the fifth place game at the City of Palms, Stanley Johnson did a really good job of defending him because he overplayed him to his left. He ended up with thirty anyhow, but most of those came in the second half after they were already down twenty. He’s an extraterrestrial athlete and he has great work habits on the floor. He gives you great second effort. He’s left-handed, which is an advantage. He can hit some threes off of the catch. He’s got to work at getting the ball on the floor and being able to change direction. He’s got to build up his right hand, but he’s a terrific athlete. He’s a guy that when he goes to college, I don’t know if he’s going to be ready to go to the NBA after one year because he does have these areas of his game that he needs to develop. He’s a guy that you’d love to coach. He’s a classic coaches’ player because he plays so hard, especially for a guy like Coach Krzyzewski that sees in him the kind of effort that he was used to as a player and a coach for Army and in his earlier, lesser talented teams at Duke, where they just showed so much toughness and great effort. I think that was the attraction there.”
Tony Parker: “Tony Parker is a good player. He’s a really good kid. He has good hands. He has good skills. The key thing for him is conditioning. He’s lost some weight and he’s got to lose some more weight. He’s actually in better shape now than he was over the summer, but he’s got to lose even more weight and improve his conditioning. I don’t think he’ll ever be a star, but I think he’ll be a very good, solid player and kid who’s a good student and I think he probably sees himself as staying around a while and not leaving. He’s a four or a five, depending on where he ends up. He can step out and hit a mid-range shot, but he’s never going to be a perimeter scorer. God didn’t give him that body to shoot jump-shots and play on the perimeter. That body has got to be used inside. What he’s got to do is sculpt that body, change his body somewhat, and ultimately use it as a weapon.”
Jabari Parker: “Now, he’s a guy, who, since the end of his sophomore season, really did change his body type. He shed a lot of that baby fat. He’s gotten quicker. He got a lot more lift off of the ground and he’s also improved his perimeter skills. He’s become a pretty good three-point shooter. The one thing that I haven’t seen with him… and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him this summer.. is that I’m not sure if he has the disposition to dominate a game, although, maybe… when he was younger, he was looking to simply defer to his upperclassmen. He’s got to become a little bit more assertive. In big games, he’s got to learn to take over games, which I think is a learning process for him. That said, if you want to talk about guy that has athleticism, a good feel for the game, plays the game the right way, and has a really good skill set for his size, he certainly is one of the best players in the country, regardless of class. When I saw him at the Peach Jam, for example, he showed certain things, but I think a lot of it has to do with his personality. He wants to defer to the older players somewhat. He doesn’t want to try to take over completely. He hasn’t become a prolific scorer in the Chicago Public League just yet, but there are a lot of weapons on his Simeon team so I don’t think you’re going to see him average twenty-five or thirty points. He does, however, need to come up big for them in their biggest games. With his size, athleticism, and skill set, he’s got to be even more of a factor for them. Right now, I don’t know that he quite realizes how good he is and can be. Everybody says that he’s a very humble, grounded kid, but he may not realize just how good he is.”
Julius Randle: “I’ll tell you what… he was spectacular down at the City of Palms. Against Riverside (Riverside Academy of Louisiana), I thought he was bothered by the size and I thought he tried to initiate too much of his offense, after he was bothered by the size of Riverside in the first half. In the second half, I think he played too much on the perimeter to try to counter them. Now, here is a guy that has a Wayman Tisdale body, he’s left-handed, and he can shoot the ball. He’s actually strong with his dribble. He can take the dribble through traffic. He has a tremendously high ceiling. He could be a great, great player. I really like him.”
BeeJay Anya: “BeeJay Anya, as Coach Jones mentioned, is in so much better shape. He said that when he got cut from the USA basketball team that it really was a wakeup call to him. He took it to heart and became dedicated to improving himself physically. He trimmed down, lost weight, improved his conditioning, and just got in better overall shape. Right now, he’s so much more active. He runs the floor more consistently. He can stay in the game for longer stretches. He has more range rebounding-wise. Before, his rebounding range was his arm length, which is considerable (astonishing 7’9″ wingspan), but now he can really go out of his area and grab some rebounds for his team. His offense has gotten better too, but I think he’s just so strong. As you know, he’s retained his strength and he knows how to use his body and you saw the difference. He’s a man-child. He improves and he keeps on working. The thing that you notice about the DeMatha kids, you know, Morgan Wooten isn’t the coach there, but one of his disciples is and they’ve retained the same work ethic. Also, it’s the same character that you’re finding with their kids. They have good kids. They have talented players, but, if they’re not good kids, they’re going to get them out of there.
Theo Pinson: “Long, 6’5″ to 6’6,” he played with CP3. He’s very thin, but a skilled player. He’s a young guy, who was 6’5″ to 6’6,” who can handle the ball and shoot the ball with range. He looks like a fine prospect, but I want to see more of him.
Jahlil Okafor: “He’s a big, strong post player inside. Because Thomas Hamilton tore his meniscus, there was more responsibility put on him. He’s a terrific kid, very friendly, very smart. That’s a good school. That’s probably the best public high school in the Chicago system academically. He’s a big, strong kid inside who doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He doesn’t try to be a perimeter wannabe. He recognizes and utilizes his strengths. That’s a valuable thing. He’s not a 6’10” kid who wants to go outside, loft up threes, and show that he can dribble the ball or change direction with the ball. He knows what he is. He’s a power player inside. Ben Franklin said that there are three things hard in life: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self. I guess he’s read Ben Franklin.”
Wayne Selden: “First of all, when you look at him, he has a man’s body. He’s a sophomore, but he should be a junior. So, he’s a reclassified kid. When he goes to college, there’s not going to be any physical adjustment that he’s going to have to make when he gets there, which is an advantage. Even when you look at the guys who go from college basketball to the pros, the guys who give you the most instant impact are those that have already prepared their bodies for the next level. The two kids who went straight from high school to the pros who had the most instant impact and who wound up earning Rookie of the Year in their respective years, 2003 and 2004, were Stoudamire and LeBron James. They entered the league with NBA bodies. Well, he’s got a college body, right now. He’s a strong, tough physical kid, who’s also very nice kid. His skill level has really improved. When I first saw him, which was the summer before his freshman year, he was more like a 6’4″ power forward, but he has been able to develop his game and learned how to handle the ball, while keeping that physical mentality. They let him bring the ball up the court and sometimes play a little point guard, but he doesn’t see the court like a point guard and he’s certainly not a point guard. He can, however, handle the ball, get to the basket, and shoot threes. In terms of his shot selection, he can sometimes put up poor shots, but, overall, that’s improved as well. He’s a guy who has great physical ability and he’s a guy who has elevated his skill level. The next thing is for him to further understand the game, but he’ll probably end up as a big two guard or a big combination guard. Once again, he’s a very nice kid. He’s also a terrific prospect.”
Stanley Johnson: ” He’s a good basketball player, but a terrific teammate. He plays in a program where there’s a lot of players and there’s a system. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a star, but he knows how to play the game and he plays both ends of the floor. He’s their designated defender and he can defend multiple positions. He’s the guy who defend Shabazz Muhammad very well in the City of Palms and he defended Isaiah Austin, I believe, for several stretches in their prior game against Grace Prep. He’s a strong, physical kid, who’s about 6’6,” who’s not a great athlete, but he knows how to use his strength and his shot discipline is very impressive. He takes shots that he knows he can hit. He’ll take an occasional three. He’s not going to create off of the dribble or anything like that, but he’s also not going to try to. He generally lets the game come to him. He’s a very good team player and system player. They play a lot of people. They’re like the Noah’s Ark of basketball programs. They’ve got two of everything, (laughs) but he stays on the floor most of the time because he offers them a lot on both ends. He can handle the ball, defend the opposition’s best player, and just really seems like a good teammate and a terrific kid.”
Noah Vonleh: “He’s a big, 6’8″ kid with good skill. He can guard pretty well and he’s also a versatile defender. He gets down in his stance pretty well. I think he wants to be a perimeter player. I think he needs to use his strength and size a little more than he tens to do right now. He seems very coachable. He’s very athletic and has a good body. He has good skill for his size. Right now, he’s not a small forward and I think he’s got to realize that. His game has probably got to start a little more inside. He’s got to get a little more developed. He’s a guy that eventually with his size and, if he can develop his skill set, might become a three, but he’s got to develop his game. He’s another kid who should be a junior, but he’d, at least, be a young junior. He’ll graduate at eighteen, whereas, before he would’ve graduated at seventeen. He’s certainly one of the best players in that class.”
Overall thoughts on the 2013 class: “Well, before, there were those three big three and there were the Harrison twins who are very close behind. Those twins will be very good. You like Andrew (Harrison) more, which is appropriate and fits in with today’s Gospel (laughs). I think those three have more upside than anyone that was in this class. The seniors in this class…I’m just, well, I think that Shabazz and Kyle Anderson were probably the two best seniors in this class. They’re very good players. Kyle, from the neck on up, is the best high school player in his class, but, from the neck on down, he just is not. Those three, however, can be really stars at the college level and they can be stars at the pro level. They have so much physical ability and they have skill.”
On whether Jabari Parker and Julius Randle could play together: “Jabari can play with him. Randle is a four/five, with, for example, more perimeter skill than Nerlens. They could be interchangeable. The thing that I don’t know is that, with the transcendent talents that they are, I don’t know if any of them would want to share the spotlight, with the way kids think right now. That said, if two of them went to the same college and stayed for more than one year, that’s a national championship team. If they stay together for one year, that still may be a national championship caliber team. Who knows?”
Best long-term potential of Parker, Randle, and Noel: “I couldn’t say. I’ve seen Julius and Nerlens play four times this high school season and I just haven’t seen Jabari play as often, but let’s just say that they all have Brobdingnagian potential. The sky is the limit for each of them. They can be as good as they want to be. They can each be truly impact players not only at the next level, but on the level beyond that.”[/private]