For a self-described “goofy kid,” 6’9″ Austin Nichols of Memphis has a serious game. Blessed with a 7’2″ wingspan, he is one of the most skilled big men in high school basketball, and has demonstrated the ability and desire to get out and run the floor.
On a senior-laden Briarcrest Christian team, the junior averaged over eighteen points and nearly ten rebounds, while leading the city of Memphis in shooting for a second consecutive year. Nichols, who has added twenty-two pounds (he is now up to 202 pounds) since last year, was named Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball.
Nichols and fellow Duke recruit Robert Hubbs III, an ultra-athletic shooting guard from Dyer County in Tennessee, have been forming a nice one-two punch on the AAU circuit for M33M this year . They will be playing in Minneapolis and Las Vegas later this month.
Last summer, Austin attended Duke’s camp, and began a relationship with the Duke coaches. Before being introduced to Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Nichols first spoke with Associate Head Coach Chris Collins and later Coach Steve Wojciechowski. Coach K came and watched both Nichols and Hubbs play. In April, Austin became the first player this spring to be offered a scholarship by Duke.
In June, Nichols trained in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, Colorado for the United States U-18 team that eventually competed for the FIBA Americas Championship in Sao Sebastio do Paraiso, Brazil. He was one of the fourteen finalists, playing alongside incoming Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon and fellow Duke recruit Julius Randle.
This month, Austin has been busy competing in the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas, NV and the Reebok Breakout in Philadelphia, PA before he rejoins his friend Hubbs for AAU competition around the country.
While his twin sister will be a freshman at the University of Tennessee and his oldest sister will graduate in August from the University of Memphis, where his mother is an alumnus, Austin Nichols, who has a 3.4 GPA at Briarcrest and a strong Christian faith, plans on cutting down on his extensive list of college suitors in about six weeks. Recently, Nichols, who has the deep Tennesseean voice of a young country music singer, spoke with me about a variety of topics, including playing alongside Hubbs and Randle, his improved overall game, and his faith.
You’ve been on a nice run this year, winning Mr. Basketball and being a part of USA Basketball.
I mean, I definitely worked hard for it. It’s a dream come true, especially to become a part of USA Basketball. Even though I got cut, it was a great experience in Colorado and I had fun and everything like that. I met some new guys. And then winning Mr. Basketball, that was a great experience.
It’s the highest honor in your state.
Oh, yeah. I was just excited and I worked hard to get it and I realized I want to work harder to get another one.
What was it like when you received the Duke offer? You were the first guy that they offered this spring.
Yeah, I talked to Coach K two or three times before he offered and I was shocked, just shocked. It was April. I started talking to Coach Collins first and then I started talking to Coach Wojo and then I finally started talking to Coach K and he offered in early April.
What was your initial reaction like?
I really didn’t believe it at first. It really hit me about a day or two later.
Coach K had seen you play a few times at that point?
Yeah, well, I went to their camp the summer before. They saw me there and then, yeah, over the early summer, he saw me a couple of times.
I watched you a few times last year on the AAU circuit. In your opinion, what would you say you’ve improved on most over the past year?
Getting stronger, improving my jump-shot, keep running the floor, I think my offensive rebounding has improved.
You look a little stronger as well, I must say. Or at least bulked up from last year.
Yeah, I was 180 last year, I’m now up to 202.
What would you like to be? What’s the next step for you in terms of weight and size?
I’d like to get all the way up to 220 by Christmas.
Yeah, I think it’s going to be hard, but I think I can do it, adding lean muscle.
For the majority of the audience who has never seen you play, what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are I have long arms, I can run the floor. Man, my weaknesses are probably my jumpshooting.
Oh, really? You think that is your major weakness?
Yeah, I can hit that 15-footer, but my 3-pointer really needs a lot of work.
Oh, you’d like to move your range out even further?
Yeah, I would. I just don’t feel as comfortable that far out.
By the way, do you view yourself as a 4-3? What position do you view yourself as?
Usually as a 3-4, sometimes even a 5, depending on the match-up or the line-up in the game.
With your twin sister at Tennessee, how will that affect your decision?
She’s going to be a freshman at Tennessee this year. I’m actually about 3 minutes older than her. She got held back, I mean, I got held back in 7th grade.
I assume it was purely for athletic reasons, right?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Absolutely, that’s right. And she, I mean, we always talk. We’re really close, so whatever she thinks that I might be interested in.
Does it give Tennessee a competitive advantage?
No, not really. She is there for me, regardless of what I decide.
Does she play basketball at all?
Oh, yeah, she played until 6th grade.
I was just curious about your various connections. By the way, who do you try to model your game after? You have, sort of, a unique one.
I’d have to say Dirk (Nowitzki) and then secondarily, I’d have to say Pau Gasol.
So, you like to model your game after sort of tall, relatively athletic guys who have the versatility to step out and shoot it?
Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely, those are my type.
What about the pull of Memphis?
Great coaching staff.
Yeah, they definitely are.
Your mother went to Memphis as well, as I recall.
Yes, she went to the University of Memphis. She didn’t play basketball, but she was I think part of a band.
Well, that counts for something. She’s bringing spirit.
(laughs) Yeah, thanks. She wants me to go to Memphis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. She‘ll support me. They’re really aggressive at recruiting me. I have to see. I’m neutral right now.
I was reading that you were planning on cutting down on your list relatively soon. What would you like to get it to and what is the mindset behind it? Is it to try to cut the list to a more manageable number?
Probably in a month and a half. I’m not really sure how low I’m going to cut it to, but yes, to make it more manageable.
By the way, are you a pretty good student?
Yeah, I’m pretty good. A’s and B’s. I’ve got about a 3.4 GPA.
That’s about double most guys here.
Well, that’s at Briarcrest Christian, where Leslie McDonald went. Speaking of Leslie McDonald, has he tried to influence you about North Carolina?
Yeah, about four weeks before school was out, he came by the school, he came to talk to me about going to North Carolina. Well, not just going to North Carolina, but being a college player. He was kind of getting me ready for it, waking me up early, telling me you had to get ready to go to practice, and just setting my mind right.
Do you think you have a good work ethic?
Yeah, I tend to think so. I get in the gym pretty constantly.
Well, for the most part, you have to to maintain at this level. What about public versus private? Will that be an issue for you when picking a college? You obviously go to a private school right now, but I didn’t know if that was an issue. Will size be a factor as well?
Well, actually, I went to a public school until 7th grade, so no, I can’t say, not really.
So, it doesn’t really matter to you, per se?
No, it doesn’t really matter.
This really varies from player to player, depending upon the level of competition or talent they face and what the level of talent they’re accustomed to playing with, but how would you compare your high school basketball versus AAU? How does the competition compare as well?
High school versus AAU ball? Well, AAU ball is definitely faster. School ball is definitely slowed down a little bit more.
What style of play do you prefer?
Fast, loose, let’s push the ball. I like to run, I think it’s an advantage I have. I like to push the pace.
You shot about 67% from the field this year in high school. How did you remain so efficient? Was it you were primarily playing inside?
Yeah, I led the city of Memphis two years in a row in field goal percentage, but I really don’t know how I do it. It sort of just happens.
Having seen you play the last few days, I know how. Can you give a quick scouting report on Robert Hubbs?
Oh, he’s a great player. He can run, he can jump, he can shoot the ball. He’s a great ball-handler. He’s just a great player overall. He’s been great to play with.
Back to you, what about your defense? You obviously take pride in it. You’ve been a good shot-blocker in the past and I know you put up some good numbers in high school. Also, how much do you attribute that to your length?
Well, in school ball, I average about four or five blocked shots a game.
Well, you’ve got the length or wingspan.
Yeah, I’ve got the length and when I’m guarding a defender out, I try to use my length to keep them at a distance. I don’t try to play right up on them and they don’t quite realize my length and jumping ability. Some guys find it pretty frustrating.
On this year’s Briarcrest team, will you take on more of a leadership role? Do you think of yourself as a natural leader?
Yeah, well, on the high school team, I’ve been one of the youngest kids. Like last year, we had six or eight seniors on the team, so I didn’t have an opportunity to be a leader, but this year, I’m definitely going to take the role. I’m definitely going to take the role.
What about Faith? I was reading in several of the accounts that that was an important issue for you. It’s not something that I usually get into, but it came up Jabari Parker as well. Is it an important issue for you and will it factor into making your college decision?
Yeah, well, definitely when I make my decision for college, I’m definitely going to go with a coach that walks through Christ. That’s why I go to a Christian school, to be close to Christ. My parents are both Christian.
I always wonder. There are some guys that say it and there some guys that walk that life. It’s a difficult period in your life.
Yes, it is.
In terms of visits, I know you’ve gone on a couple locally. Do you have any planned?
Yeah, I mean, I may go on a couple in August. August 1st is the first day I can get back on the road, but I’m not sure yet though.
In terms of a basketball or a football school, will that factor into your decision at all? Some of the schools on your list are known more-so for their football programs. Does that matter to you at all?
No, it really doesn’t matter. It’s along the public-private lines.
In your mind, what would you like to improve upon to be “college ready”?
I definitely would like to add muscle. I’m not sure what weight. I’d like to improve my ball-handling and my shooting. Those are primarily the three things.
Can you tell the audience about your family and yourself away from the court?
Well, personally, I’m just a goofy kid off of the court. Like I said, I walk through Christ. I go to church. I’m just goofy, I’m just a regular kid, I guess.
What about your family? Are you close-knit?
Oh, yeah, definitely. We’re definitely close. I mean, especially with my twin sister, I can tell her just about everything.
Is it just the two of you or do you have any other siblings?
I have an older sister. She’s a senior at Memphis. She’s about to graduate in August.
Do any of the guys on Team USA try to recruit you, would you say? It’s certainly an interesting dynamic.
Well, first of all, Coach Donovan was there. He’s trying to recruit me.
No, actually, what I meant was more along the lines of the players. Guys like Nate Britt or Rasheed Sulaimon.
Oh, okay, well, I wouldn’t say they really recruited me, but they talked with me about it. I mean, they’re good guys and everything. I met them and we talked, but I would just say they gave me positives about each of the schools.
In an article about you and USA Basketball, it indicated that you had taken yourself out of the competition at the very end. Is that true and, if so, why did you do it? What was your mindset behind it?
The way I was playing, I don’t think I could play that way in Brazil. So I thought it would be better for me to drop out and let someone else take that spot.
I guess that was selfless of you.
Yeah, well, hopefully. It’s just what I felt at the time.
Who do you turn to for guidance in big decisions?
Definitely my parents and my sister.
Your older one?
Actually, both of them. When we have time in August, we’re going to sit down and pray about it.
What are your overall thoughts on your performance at the LeBron James camp?
LeBron has definitely been a great camp. I’ve learned a lot. They have great teachers.
What are your goals for next year?
Well, since it’s my last year, I’d like to just have some fun.
And win a state title, I would think.
Oh, yes, definitely.
Who are some guys that you are closest to on the circuit?
Jabari Bird is one, Robert Hubbs, and probably third would be Stevie Clark.
By the way, what is Hubbs like off of the court?
Oh, he’s cool. He’s real nice. You’d like to deal with him.
Thanks, I haven’t talked to him.
He’s a real cool dude. You’d like him.
The next one is something that I was thinking about when I was coming in here. As you may have heard, they basically wiped out four AAU directors. In terms of AAU ball, how do you protect yourself against others that may have ulterior motives in helping you and helping your game? Do you ever think about stuff like that? What’s your mindset with that?
Yeah, I definitely thought about that. I just have to play my game.
I’m sure you’ve had people try to come at you and get into your life.
But you’ve been able to keep them out?
I have so far, yeah. I just try to keep my circle tight. I don’t know what to say.
All right, can you talk about keeping your circle tight?
Oh, yeah, one of my good friends Jarnell Stokes told me on the USA trip all about that. He told me that I had to keep my circle tight. He said you don’t know who’s watching you and who’s trying to come at you.
I think that’s very important.
Yeah, that’s the way I feel too. It’s definitely going to be my family and I don’t know much from there.
And lastly, about Julius Randle, can you give the audience a scouting report about him and what was it like to play along side him?
He’s like a 6’9” point guard. He’s huge, he can get in the lane whenever he wants to. He’s a great player. He can shoot it, he can dribble, he can do whatever. I love playing with him. He makes me better every single time. He raises your game.
Who would you say is the best player you’ve had to guard so far or hardest guy to guard?
Probably Julius Randle or..no, it’s definitely Julius Randle.
Despite being the youngest member of the United States U-18 team, 6’9″ Julius Randle led the squad, which included one college sophomore and nine incoming college freshmen, in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots.
When speaking of Randle, USA Men’s U-18 National Team finalist and fellow Duke recruit Austin Nichols said, “He’s like a 6’9” point guard. He’s huge, he can get in the lane whenever he wants to. He’s a great player. He can shoot it, he can dribble, he can do whatever. I love playing with him. He makes me better every single time. He raises your game.” In the FIBA Americas Championship game against Brazil, the tournament’s home country, Randle rose to the occasion, as the McKinney, Texas native scored eighteen points and grabbed twelve rebounds to help Team USA secure the gold medal.
This was not the first championship for Randle, an avid Lakers fan, this year. In March, he led Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, TX, to its second state high school title in his three years. The left-handed Randle scored twenty-six points in the team’s championship victory over John Paul II HS, also of Plano.
Prestonwood played a very challenging schedule, competing in the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina, the HoopHall Classic in Massachusetts, and the City of Palms in Florida, where the then-junior Randle captured the MVP award, after outplaying seniors Ricardo Gathers, Shabazz Muhammad, and Isaiah Austin in consecutive games. For the season, Randle, a MaxPreps Junior All-American, averaged 21.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists for the Lions.
On the AAU circuit, the ultra-competitive Randle forms a lethal one-two punch with 6’5″ Matt Jones, a sharpshooter who has committed to Duke University, for the Texas Titans. One Titans parent described them as their version of Batman and Robin. They play with the trust, comfort, mutual respect, and seamlessness that is formed by playing together over the years on the hardwood and asphalt. The duo has helped lead the Titans to a 15-5 record during Nike’s EYBL games, where Randle’s mother, Carolyn, a former basketball player at University of Texas-Arlington, has been a constant and steadying presence.
Julius Randle, who veteran scout Tom Konchalski described as having “a Wayman Tisdale body,” has been as dominant as any player over the duration of the Nike EYBL season. Despite being frequently double-teamed, he’s leading or among the leaders in multiple statistical categories, including total points, rebounds, free throw attempts, and defensive rebounds, and in total has averaged ten rebounds and nearly eighteen points per game during EYBL play.
In the marquee matchup of the AAU season, Randle and Jabari Parker, the consensus top two players in the class of 2013, went head-to-head in Oakland, California as part of the Nike EYBL. On a court with as many as four future professionals, Randle dominated the game, scoring 23 points and snatching 13 rebounds, while Jones helped hold Parker to fourteen points and six rebounds in the Titans’ 63-59 victory. Many were hoping for a rematch at the upcoming Peach Jam, but Parker suffered a foot injury while competing with the USA U-17 team in Kaunas, Lithuania, and will reportedly be sidelined for Nike’s marquee AAU event.
After Randle visited the Duke campus in Durham, NC last January, the Blue Devil coaching staff was a fixture at Randle’s AAU games in April. Duke coach Jeff Capel has now developed a lengthy and strong relationship with the Texas star and his mother. The recent commitment of 6’8″ wing Rodney Hood may mean that the 6’9″ Randle becomes Duke’s primary recruiting target in the class of 2013.
Over the past year, Randle’s work with trainers Jeff Webster and Tyler Relph, both former college basketball players, has helped him improve his ball-handling as well as his conditioning and speed by trimming his body fat through intensive cardiovascular work.
Recently, Julius Randle spoke with me about a variety of topics, including what he’ll be looking for in a college program, the matchup with Jabari Parker, and playing alongside Matt Jones.
Let’s start with USA Basketball.
It was a great experience. I mean, it was a way different experience than anything I ever had. It was really amazing for me and I really enjoyed it.
I didn’t talk to you right after the matchup with Jabari, but it seemed like both of you guys were pretty emotional both before and after the game.
Yeah, yeah, it was highly anticipated all weekend. I just had to go out there and do what I had to do.
What was the mindset going in and what were you feeling after you got the win and you played great?
My mindset was pretty much the same as any other game, which is to go out there and destroy. To just go out there and be who I am. I put a lot of hard work in and it helps me to build my confidence and so I expect to see results.
I had wanted to ask you this awhile ago, but I’ll ask it now. Was winning the second state title different for you than winning it as a freshman? Do you feel more ownership or leadership on this one?
I mean, it’s always a special thing, but you win one and you just feel like you want to get another one. It’s always a special experience for me.
You had games during the regular season when you were putting up 50 points, 46 points.
(laughs) It just felt like the basket was an ocean that day.
How has playing a challenging high school schedule in events like the City of Palms, the Hoop Hall Classic, Beach Ball Classic, etc. help prepare you for AAU ball and camps like this?
I mean, it just always has me well-tested. Every game I go out there just keeps me on my toes. It forces me to always play my A-game. It mentally keeps me sharp. It develops me as a player by putting me against good players every game.
It also helps you deal with all of the traveling and everything.
Yeah, it does.
And what’s it like playing as a one-two combo with Matt Jones? You guys have that sort of coveted inside-outside game that programs really like.
I’ve been playing with Matt for years, so he’s a great player. He’s always been a hard worker and it shows up in the games. I know whenever I’m in a game with him, I can always depend on him.
Can you give the audience a quick scouting report on Matt Jones?
He’s one of the best shooters in the country. He can score now in a variety of ways. He’s been working hard on his defense and can guard almost anybody. He’s got great size for a guard too. He’s definitely one of my best friends.
In terms of visits, I thought that I heard you were going to visit Kentucky and N.C. State officially. Have you visited anything recently? I mean, I don’t know how you’d have time. And do you have any others planned?
No, no, I didn’t have time to visit any schools recently, but I got to sit down and see what visits I want to take.
If you had to choose between the two, would you choose a hard coach or more of a buddy coach?
I guess I’m just looking for a coach that I can really trust. A hard coach is fine with me because I know he’s going to push me, because I know in the back of his mind he has my best interest. That’s basically what I’m looking for.
I know some guys seem to be looking for a friend.
Yeah, no, that’s not me. I’m just looking for a coach that’s going to push me to be the best player that I can physically be. That’s all I can ask for.
You were talking before about going out and destroying people. The one thing that I noticed about your game is that you have this sort of internal fire that if somebody knocks you, if somebody challenges you, that you sort of have this really competitive thing inside of you that you don’t necessarily see with a lot of big guys. Is that an accurate statement do you think?
Yeah, I just go out there and play with a chip on my shoulder. Anything, the littlest thing, can piss me off.
Yeah, anything can light a fire under me. I mean, any extra motivation is fine, but I’m self-motivated.
That’s what I was getting at. What about a leadership role for you? Do you view yourself as a leader at this point?
Yeah, I mean, I try to be vocal a little bit, but I also go out there and show my teammates the level of effort that they need to bring.
Did you have that on the USA team as well?
I didn’t know what the dynamics were.
Marcus Smart was probably our leader on that team. He’s the big-time leader. We kind of just wanted to take the identity of the team, just hard workers. We just try and prepare for the games and stuff like that.
At this point in your career, what do you view yourself as? More of a face-up player or a back-to-the-basket guy?
I definitely feel that I’m more of a face-up guy at this point. I definitely feel more comfortable facing up. It’s something I’ve worked on to get me to this point. I like to play on the perimeter against great defenders and then take the smaller defenders on the post.
I would say the one thing that has noticeably improved in your game over the last year is your handle. You’ve gone from doing maybe 2-3 dribbles and pull up to now bringing the ball up the court and looking like you’re more comfortable putting it on the floor in half-court sets. I used to think it was a bit of a vanity thing, but you turned it into an asset. I know you liked Lebron James. Was that the sort of model you were going for as a 6’8,” 6’9” guy? Was that the kind of mold that you were going for?
Yes, just a point-forward or whatever.
Yeah, that’s what I mean.
Yeah, I feel like I can now do a lot of other things on the court. It’s just given me mobility.
In the past, you mentioned that one of your long-term goals was to win an NCAA Championship in your home area of Dallas.
Yeah, it’s a goal of mine. That’s just something I want to do.
Actually, speaking of Texas, do you have a rivalry with the Harrison twins at all?
No, not really. I mean, I haven’t played them in a while. They’re great players, so when we play, it’s always a battle.
For the others who don’t know, describe your relationship with Coach (Jeff) Webster.
I’ve known him since the fifth grade. He’s always had my back. I know he’s always going to be there for me.
In terms of your recruitment, what are the factors that will help you ultimately decide on a college?
Number one is a coach that I know I can trust, number two is education, and number three is of course going to develop me. Those are really the three things.
Do you know when you’re going to cut down on your list of schools?
I’m going to sit down and think about what schools I really want to get serious about and I’ll probably decide after the AAU season, after the summer probably. I haven’t really thought about the number of schools that I want to cut it down to.
(Another interviewer passing through) What’s your general interest level of Kentucky?
I mean, I guess it’s generally pretty high. They’ve been recruiting me since my freshman year.
What would you say you’ve worked on the most over the past year?
Just my in-between game.
What are your expectations heading into the Peach Jam?
I mean, I go in with the expectation that we’ll win it.
Who would you say is the best defense against you?
I guess I’d say box-and-one.
When you see someone for the first time, like for example in this game, James Young, what are you trying to establish? What is your mindset heading into it?
My mindset is pretty much the same, even if it is for the first time. It’s just attack, attack, attack.
In terms of that issue, do you think you have to intimidate your opponent with aggression?
No, no, it’s just my mindset of attacking.
Before you were mentioning about playing with a chip on your shoulder. Away from the court, has it ever been an issue in terms of you shutting it off? I mean, you seem to be a pretty happy kid.
No, it really hasn’t been a problem for me. I’ve been able to separate the two pretty well.
When you talk with college basketball coaches, do you prefer to talk about purely basketball or other sort of life things?
It really doesn’t matter to me. Any conversation is fine.
Sure. I remember that you were a Lakers fan. What did you think of their acquisition of Steve Nash and what do you think their chances are next year?
I mean, I just hope they play good next year and they have a chance to win it.
Do rankings matter to you at all?
No, not at all. I just want to be the best that I can be.
Is trust an issue for you? Before you were saying that you wanted to be able to trust the coaches.
No, I mean, I have my circle of people that I trust.
I saw that you tweeted about being a dream chaser on NBA draft night and why you wanted to be drafted two years from that night.
It’s just something I set out to do. It’s a goal of mine.
What do your mother and your sister think of all of this? I know that they’re very tight with you. You had told me that you loved them to death.
They just support me in all of the different things that I do. They make me have the confidence to move forward and work. It’s unconditional.
Do you hate doing interviews? (laugh)
(laughs) Oh no, it’s fine.
In terms of position, what do you think of yourself as?
I like to think of myself as a point-forward.
You work with Tyler Relph…
Yeah, he pushes me. He’s been a great trainer for me.
Physically, one thing that’s clearly noticeable about you this year versus last year is that you’ve gotten leaner. What’s been the key to that? Cardio? Nutrition? Changing your diet?
I would say diet and cardio. That’s what I would tell anybody to work on. It’s helped me a lot.
What are you down to in terms of weight and body fat?
I’m down to 235 and I don’t really know my body fat.
Speaking of recommendations, one of your teammates out here was a talented freshman named Diamond Stone. What would be your advice be for a freshman like him? I mean, you’re not that far removed.
I would say don’t get caught up into the hype. Just focus on yourself and getting better and how you can help your team. Don’t get caught up in all of the rest of the stuff that will come at you.
Because you were once that highly touted freshman..not that you’re that old now.
Yeah, exactly. I feel like I was in those shoes just a little while ago. I know what they’re going through.
What is your relationship like with the Duke coaches?
I mean, I have a great relationship with them. I talk to them all of the time. They talk to my mom a lot. You know, it’s going to come down to a trust thing.
Would you say you trust them?
Yeah, I’d say I trust them. It’s just going to be about what system fits best for me.
There is always a lot happening around Duke athletics, and this coming week is no different. BDN Monday Musings takes a look around in our latest group of tidbits.
Kyrie Irving injured again
Kyrie Irving suffered an untimely injury when, during a Cavaliers practice, he hit his hand out of frustration — breaking a bone in the hand — and will now be out of action until the start of training camp. Irving is, of course, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year who most recently was a member of USA Basketball’s NBA Select Team. Here is more on his injury. BDN wishes him a speedy recovery. For the record, according to BDN’s recruiting analyst who was recently in Las Vegas watching Team USA’s preparations, Kyrie’s play was as good as any guard in the USA camp.
The Nike Peach Jam is upon us
One of the more popular stops on the AAU circuit is the Nike Peach Jam, which is held in North Augusta, SC, just minutes from the site of the Masters golf tournament. This event provides coaches with one of their last opportunities to scout the Nike kids. Only the top teams qualify for the tournament, which ultimately crowns the best team on the “Swoosh” circuit. In fact, the importance of the event caused several players to back out of the Nike Hoops Summit this past weekend.
Several key Duke prospects will participate in the Peach Jam, and BDN will be there to bring you all the action. Our most recent offering for premium members is a very interesting interview with big man Jahlil Okafor, who stated on record how bad his team wanted to win it. The Nike Peach Jam was one of the first events that Blue Devil Nation covered, and it’s always one of my personal favorites. BDN has now been around for ten years and our message board is celebrating its 5th anniversary this season. Want more great coverage? Join today!
Team USA preps and also entertains the troops
What an exciting summer it is for Duke fans, as they get to see coach Mike Krzyzewski try to mold another gold medal-winning national team. During yesterday’s practice several members of our military and their families got to watch their heroes work out at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C. “They humble us. I mean they do so much for our country and represent our flag,” said Timberwolves and Team USA forward Kevin Love. “We just go out there and play basketball. So they are the reason we have our freedom.” Team USA will take on Brazil today; here is the team’s entire schedule through theLondon Olympics.
Just 47 days remain until the Duke football team kicks it off against Florida International in Wallace Wade Stadium on September 1st at 7:00 EST. There is no update on Blair Holliday, who was recently injured in a horrific boating accident. Please keep his family and Blair in your prayers. But Duke Football will have to suck it up and prepare to start practice, where they will undoubtedly be hampered by the loss of Holliday at wideout, where he was slated to start. In fact, this is the position that will be watched most closely in the pre-season by media and coaches alike.
The ACC Kickoff happens in Greensboro this coming Sunday. This event marks the unofficial media start to the season, as coaches and players meet and the pre-season projected standings and All-ACC teams are released. BDN will be there as always to bring you full coverage, including the comments of Duke Coach David Cutcliffe.
In a move designed to shed $18 million from their payroll, Elton Brand was released by the Philadelphia 76ers. But Brand was quickly picked up and signed by the Dallas Mavericks, who outbid the rest of the league for his services.
Mason Plumlee named to Honor Court
Mason Plumlee was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches 2011-12 Honors Court today. The Honors Court awards the talents and gifts that these men possess off the court and the hard work they exhibit in the classroom. Plumlee, a double major in Psychology and Cultural Anthropology, also received CoSIDA First Team Academic All-America honors last season. On the court, he was named third team All-ACC while averaging 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Plumlee also shot 57.2% from the floor and finished the year with 12 double-doubles and a school record 60 dunks.
North Carolina Pro-Am
The N.C. Pro-Am has kicked into high gear on the campus of N.C. Central University, and more Duke players could be participating in the event this week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. There really hasn’t been enough play thus far to warrant us passing on our opinions of the players we’ve seen, but that will change in the coming weeks. There are several interviews from the event up on the site already, and even more for members on the message board.
Big men sometimes have a reputation for reaching their full potential later than do players at other positions. But at sixteen, Jahlil Okafor may already be the next great American center. The grandson of Nigerian immigrants, the 6’11″ Okafor was born in Arkansas, but he’s been raised in the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago. Recently, in Kaunas, Lithuania, the remarkably efficient center won the MVP at the FIBA U-17 World Championships, averaging 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per contest, while shooting 59.5% from the floor.
This AAU season, he’s formed a potent duo for the Mac Irvin Fire with 6’8″ Jabari Parker, a Duke recruit who was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Okafor is scheduled to compete with the Chicago-based AAU program in the Nike Peach Jam next week in North Augusta, SC. During Nike’s EYBL season, Okafor, a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American and an All-City player at Whitney Young HS, averaged nearly twelve points and six rebounds, while shooting a blistering 69.2%, second highest of any player overall.
On Tuesday, USA Basketball flew the gold medal-winning U-17 team to Las Vegas to meet with this year’s United
States Men’s National Team, which was training for the upcoming Olympics in London, England. Jahlil, an amiable and bright young man who is blessed with an infectious smile and a baritone voice, was able to watch the Olympic squad practice under Coach Mike Krzyzewski and scrimmage against the USA Select team, featuring Kyrie Irving. A rising junior in high school, Okafor took pictures with the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, LeBron James, and the NBA’s scoring leader, Kevin Durant, while watching his favorite Olympic team member, Kobe Bryant.
At the practice, Jahlil, the first player that Coach K offered a Duke scholarship to in the class of 2014, graciously offered to let me hold his newly-minted gold medal and then spoke with me about a variety of topics, including a USA Basketball teammate that he’s decided to play with in college.
What was the team experience like for you with USA Basketball? Obviously, you must’ve dominated them, in order to get the MVP. The word is that they may not let you back in Europe.
(laughs) It was amazing. You remember we started the process almost two years ago, in October 2010. Around that time, the goal was to win a gold medal. It’s been a two-year process. To go down there and win, with everybody playing the way they did and, you know, everybody getting along, it was just a perfect experience.
This was a tight unit.
Yes, very tight. We’re all brothers. We all love each other. We all get along very well. We won every game by forty or more.
I know. The stats kept coming back and it just looked like a misprint or video game numbers.
Exactly, what we were able to do on the court was almost ridiculous. We all got along so well too. Now, when I’ll be away from these guys, I almost don’t know what I’ll do without them. It was amazing.
Now, you’re seeing Team USA right here. They flew you out to Vegas and we’re in the same gym as some of the greatest players who’ve ever stepped on a court.
(laughs) Yeah, it’s just ridiculous. We were just in a small room with LeBron, Melo, KD, Kobe, Blake Griffin, CP3, Deron Williams, you know, all of those guys.
It’s a little mind blowing.
Yeah, it definitely is. It’s incredible to watch them talk to each other and watch them talk with Coach K and watch them talk over the game plan. We were just on the side watching, but, yeah, like you said, it was mind blowing.
Are you going to watch practice and the scrimmages?
Yeah, I’m definitely gonna watch practice. Well, some of us are going to have to leave a little early, but, luckily, I’ve got a later flight back home. I get to have an extra hour or two hanging around these guys. That’s like a bonus time. (laughs) I feel so blessed.
Who’s your favorite of all of these guys?
My favorite? That’s gotta be Kobe. Kobe is just always involved. He’s like the closest thing to MJ I’d have to say. It’s definitely Kobe. That’s the player that I was watching before anybody else.
Alright, now among your teammates, who was your favorite? Tyus (Jones) was your roommate, right?
Yeah, exactly , Tyus was my roommate.
What was he like as a roommate?
Well, I mean I already knew what he was like. He’s like a brother. You know we’re going to the same college.
He’s a nice kid.
Yeah, he is. We’re going to the same college.
Oh, you are?
Oh, yeah, we decided on that over there. We’re already planning on it.
Well, that’s big.
Yeah, that’s something new, but we just like being around each other so much. It made sense.
Well, fortunately for you guys, you’ve got great options…and that’ll be one lucky school. When do you get the medal and where will you keep it?
Oh, I’ve got it (pulls it out of his pocket). It’s right here. I’ve had it in my pocket for a long time.
Do you mind if I get a picture of it later?
Oh, yeah, sure. You can hold it, if you’d like to.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to touch it. I don’t want to break it or drop it or anything.
(laughs) Oh, no, no, you can touch it, if you want. We worked hard for it and I’d like you to.
All right, then, it’d be my honor.
Here you go.
Oh, wow. Wow. It’s beautiful and heavy too.
Yeah, yeah, I can’t get over it. I love it. It’s amazing, man.
Yeah, it is.
By the way, right over your shoulder is Tyson Chandler. What do you think of him? He’s around your size.
Oh, yeah, I love Tyson Chandler too. He’s a player that knows his role and plays it really well. He brings it on defense and he’s athletic too. He’s somebody that I look at a lot because we play the same position.
What was it like playing with and even sometimes matching up with Dakari (Johnson, an athletic 6’11″ center)?
It was fun. Dakari Johnson is like one of those players that I have been playing with since I was in third grade. We met up in camps and the Olympic Trials, obviously. We talk to each other every time. He’s one of my friends.
He’s a good kid too. When you’re battling guys your own size, what’s it like for you?
Yeah, well, usually, I’m either double or triple-teamed, so I always hope for isos. Even when we match up in the EYBL, they were doing double-teams.
When you’re in the low-box and you’ve got a guy of a similar size or, perhaps, even bigger elbowing and fighting for position with you, does it feel substantially any different for you?
No, not really. In practice, I go against Tommy Hamilton. With my AAU guys, we have guys that I practice with that are of a similar size. It makes it interesting and fun.
What was the hardest part to get prepared for, in terms of USA Basketball?
Oh, definitely the altitude. It was something I was working on.
Were you guaranteed a spot?
Oh, no. We weren’t guaranteed anything.
What would you say was your role on the team?
Double-double. I had to give a double-double. I tried to help us bring a lot more rebounds and try to control the game on the defensive and offensive boards. Try to man the center spot.
Do you have any visits planned?
No, not yet. My mind’s been pretty focused on the USA team.
What was your reaction to the cover story with Jabari? Did you think it was fair?
It was definitely fair. He doesn’t think it was fair. He doesn’t believe it. He’s a great player. I don’t know if he’s definitely the best player since LeBron, but he deserves all of the attention he gets. He deserves all of the hype he gets. He’s just so humble though. He really deserves it.
What do you think the aftereffects are, in terms of expectations and pressure? As a quick example, I was in the stands and I heard people say, “Oh, he’s no LeBron.” Jabari told me that it’s kind of ridiculous that he’s being compared to the MVP of the whole league.
They can’t get mad at him. He didn’t say he was better than LeBron. Somebody else said it. I know there are some people out there who think he was the one who said it, but it’s totally wrong. You know him, he’s a humble kid. He’s just a kid. I don’t know why they take advantage of him or get people mad at him. He didn’t ask for it.
In terms of big match-ups, do you get more amped up or nauseous before the game?
I definitely get excited, but that really happens before every game. Especially when you know when you’re playing against one of the top players.
So, there is a different mentality when you go up against players like that. I wondered about that with you.
Yeah, there definitely is. Like during the game, you can feel there’s more of a buzz in the air. You got a feel that more people are watching you.
By the way, I’ve never asked you. What is your favorite NBA team? Are you a Bulls fan?
Oh, I’m definitely a Bulls fan. I like the Lakers a little bit, you know, because of Kobe, but I’m definitely a Bulls fan.
What player or players, either past or present, do you look at and say “yeah, I’d definitely sign on for that guy’s career?”
It’s really two guys. Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. Yeah, I’d like to be a mix of those two players.
Well, Hakeem was certainly incredibly skilled and is of Nigerian descent like you, but he killed my Knicks.
(laughs) Yeah, absolutely, and Shaq was so dominant and a Hall-of-Famer.
He was dominant and he’s got some personality like you.
Well, thank you (laughs).
I know you like to travel and you visited New York in the spring. What did you see and do there?
Oh, yeah, I went to visit a friend of mine and I went to the Five-Star Basketball offices. We went around Manhattan. We went to, like, the Spiderman show.
I thought I heard from a source that you went to the Flight Club (a bi-coastal sneaker store, specializing in hard to obtain sneakers)? Are you a “sneakerhead”?
Oh, yeah, I was there. I’m not sure if I’m officially a “sneakerhead”…I have about seventy or eighty pairs.
I think you qualify. Wow.
Do you still like to travel a lot?
Oh, yeah, I’ve been able to go all over. I mean, sometimes it can be a little too much, but when you’re with your family or your friends, it’s great to be able to share experiences like that and see new things.
Does your family usually come when you travel?
Well, my dad usually comes.
Give us a little preview for the Peach Jam. Do you think the team is gelling?
Oh, yeah, we’re definitely expecting to win the Peach Jam. We feel like we’ve got all of the pieces together on this team. As long as we keep rolling and playing together, I think we’ll have momentum and we can win it all. I think we’re going to be definitely the best overall team there.
Thank you again, Jahlil. Congratulations. That’s a major accomplishment, big fella.
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.
Since last we profiled Chicago’s Jabari Parker, he has led the United States to a Gold Medal at the FIBA Americas 16U Championship in Mexico, where the 6’8″ wing was named the MVP of the tournament. Over the past month, Parker stood out against the nation’s best at the LeBron James Skills Academy and helped take his relatively young Mac Irvin AAU squad deep into several tournaments including the Peach Jam, Fab 48, and, most recently, into the finals at the Desert Duel.
Recently, Jabari spoke with us about a variety of issues, including his USA Basketball experience, his recent profile in Sports Illustrated, and a scouting report on some of his recent teammates, who also have received recruiting interest from Duke.
What schools are you considering? Kansas, Washington, Duke, Illinois, and Michigan State.
What’s going to influence your decision when you choose a school? The best program where I can fit in, a program where I can develop as an individual, both in basketball and character-wise.
[private] (Other site) Chicago basketball, is that the best basketball in the country or what? I would say in the country because, as a public school, we don’t have the ability to recruit as the other schools do, so I always consider us one of the best high school programs in the country.
What did you learn about yourself at the academies? I learned that these guys are just as good as me, so I have to work hard, I have to make myself stand out through hard work.
What do you feel you need to work on? Not just being an individual, but being able to have your teammates play around you and it’s not about one person…Just getting to loose balls and playing better defense, too, cause you know I can lag on that. And getting my jump shot improved, too.
What’s it like playing in front of college coaches? Not a lot of pressure, but, you know, I’m kind of used to it, but it’s good because you know… Do you find it makes you play or act differently? Do you find it motivates, excites, or even makes you a little nervous? It makes me kind of motivated because I can show them what I’m not good at and show what I’ve improved on and lacking in skills.
Do you feel you’ve improved as a shooter over the past few months? I’ve gotten better, but it needs some work. You know, I’m just getting in the gym and getting shots up. I’m not thinking about it too much, but just.. Getting comfortable with your range? Yeah.
What was the USA Basketball experience like? It was very good. It was very aggressive. It’s kind of different from the States because they called a whole lot of ticky-tack fouls. In the national game, they let you be more physical where hand-checking is allowed.
How long does it take you to get used to the rules, etc.? Well, it took me about a week. We practiced in Colorado Springs, so they had us learn the rules.
What about winning the MVP? It must have been exciting. It was good. I was actually surprised because you know Aaron? Yeah, Aaron Gordon.. He played well and just my teammates..they were just as good as me, so when I got it, I felt honored.
What were the highlights of the trip? The highlight was obviously winning the gold medal, but other than that, I meant… Yeah, but off the court, we went to Chichen Itza. It was one of the Aztec pyramids or something like that we got to see. It was like another wonder of the world. We got to see that up close.
Oh, that must’ve been a great experience. Forgive me, but what’s the latest in your recruitment? Missouri just offered me, Tennessee just offered me, and UConn, too.
Who’s been after you hardest since that June 15th deadline? Illinois and DePaul. DePaul has sent me a lot of things. They kind of get under you because they’re the local school.
Have you enjoyed playing with Jahlil Okafor? He said he looked up to you. What’s your relationship like with him? Oh, that’s like a little brother to me. Jahlil’s very good. He’s a really big person down-low that you can throw the ball down to. He’s looking to be like me- one of the top players in his class. He’s very dominant.
He had mentioned how you had slimmed down on your body and how he was going to try to do the same. Yeah, with me and him, it’s all about our bodies are different. Growing up, it’s about eating the right food. You can’t get away with taking a lot of days off.
Can you give the audience a scouting report on Theo Pinson? Oh, Theo’s very good. You know, without the ball, he can run the lanes very well. He’s very athletic. He’s just good for his age. He can do so much that other kids can’t do at his age. He’s a very natural player. Yeah, he’s very natural.
What was the experience at LeBron like? It went well. We did a lot of skill development, getting coaching from all different levels- from the NBA down to high school. You know, it just brings different views.
What sort of things did you learn? Footwork, just different footwork… and skills as far as reverse pivots and face-up game.
Speaking about those five or six schools that you mentioned before, can you mention something about each of them? Well, they each have great coaches, they have a long history, they’ve been able to win, you can also develop as a person too with them and you can trust them. I just like that the coaches there are all good. I think I can fit into their systems well.
What makes you think that you can fit into their systems? Because it’s versatile. I’ve been scouting throughout the players they had and I’m similar to some of those players..the ones that are able to post inside and out and play the small forward position.
How likely is it that your schools are likely to change from here on out? It’s able to change, there are a lot of schools trying to come in, but you know, things can change, I guess. I just like those schools.
I guess I was just curious, but do you have a friendly rivalry with Julius Randle? Well, you know, he’s a very good player. You know, me and him are a rival on the courts, but me and him get along very well and we talk. We share words and we talk about schools. I just like being around him. I know you guys are often associated on a national level. Yeah, yeah.
In terms of visits, have you taken any recently? Do you have any upcoming? I don’t have any visits planned because, you know, I’ll be busy. In August, I really don’t know.
Who are some coaches that you’ve enjoyed talking to? It was surprising to see Jim Calhoun, you know he just won the National Championship..and his interest in me being very high. He’s always won national championships and he plays in the Big East.
Have you spoken with Durant and what advice did he give you? I met Durant in Chicago and… I remember you really looked up to him, I remember that he was one of your favorite players. I’m glad that you had the opportunity to meet him. Yeah, he’s a very good guy. He was always involved with us. He also worked with us individually as well. He also told us that we need to work hard and told me not to let my talent be wasted by not working hard.
Did you get to play against him at all? Yeah, I got to play against him. How did you do? I did okay. He didn’t really play to his full effort, but…
How far along do you feel you are in terms of your recruitment? I think it’s getting there. I think it’ll be before my senior year. I’ll be able to decide one day. Only time will tell.
(Kentucky site reporter) You mentioned Kentucky. You’ve gotten a little interest from Kentucky. Have they called you since June 15th. Yeah, they called my parents and they didn’t really give me any insight into what was said. They just said that they were very interested in me.
(Kentucky site reporter) Do you feel like you have an offer from them? Not really, because I think that they’re interested in other kids from the 2012 class. But Coach Orlando, he contacts my mom sometimes. (Kentucky site reporter) What would be your interest level if they did come through with an offer? It would be so-so.
Have you visited all five of them? I have visited all but Kansas. I haven’t visited Kansas yet. I’ve been away and at the camps. I haven’t visited them yet.
Is that something you want to do or thought about? Yeah.
Since we’re getting near the end of the season, how do you feel you and your team are playing right now? I think we’re playing well, you know. We’re playing well as a team. This spring, you remember we were struggling a little bit, when we were trying to get used to each other and our surroundings. Right now, we’re starting every game strong and everybody is playing well with each other.
What is the importance for you and your teammates of going out with a bang…ending the summer on a high note? I’ve been playing pretty well this summer. You know getting a lot of hard work in, between the Nike Skills Academies and the LeBron James Camp… and I’ve just tried to grow from there.
It translates also back to AAU ball. Yes, it does. It really started from USA camp. We worked very hard from there and coaches there just said, you know, to play as hard today in practice as you will tomorrow in the games. We all tried to take that to heart, you know.
Speaking of USA Basketball, what was it like playing with Tyus Jones? How did he mesh with the team as your point guard? Oh, yeah, it was really good group and Tyus was one of the best guards at passing. He really facilitated more than he scored for our team, but, you know, he could score anytime that he wanted.
In terms of watching tapes or games of older players, which ones have you enjoyed watching most? I’ve actually enjoyed watching a lot, but recently I was watching the Boston Celtics against the Houston Rockets. I just loved to watch Larry Bird move around the floor and seeing how he stayed active and involved. Then, I’ve also been watching the Portland Trailblazers against the Nets or I mean the 76ers back when they had Doctor J and just trying to take from that and how they played hard and how they would try to get their baskets.
I saw you yesterday trying to incorporate the bank shot, which is sadly missing in a lot of the younger guys’ games. Oh, yeah, definitely.
What did you think of the recent SI article? Yeah, it was real good. You know I appreciate it. The guy interviewed me and he thought I was a very good guy. Yeah, well, you are. Thanks, you know I’m just glad with the way it turned out and I appreciated his time. I’m just so glad that I had an opportunity to have an article on me and I never want to take it for granted.
How do you account for the improvement in your explosiveness? When you’re dunking the ball, how much does the thought of igniting the crowd play into what you’re going to do? You know I just started to get a little more bounce. Sure. Yeah, and you know the weight going down has helped me a lot as far as being lighter and helping me stay in the air a little longer.
What about your match-up with (Kuran) Iverson? He’s got a lot of tools too and he’s around your size, age, and athleticism. Yeah, I’ve got to say that he brought the best out in me. He made me play harder and not so sluggish. In the beginning, I thought he got the best of me and so I needed to come out strong for my team in the second half.
Thank you very much. It was great to see you, Jabari. It was great to see you.[/private]