Breaking: Amile Jefferson to Duke

Amile Jefferson has committed to Duke University, becoming the Blue Devils’ second commit in the high school class of 2012, joining shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Jefferson, a 6-foot-8, 200 pound forward from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, played at Friends’ Central School in Philadelphia. His team has made consistent appearances in the national rankings over the past few years.

Duke entered the recruiting process for Jefferson late in the game, but were able to come on strong enough to snag the power forward, who is touted by Scout.com as the #3 power forward in the class of 2012. Jefferson was also considering Villanova along with Ohio State, North Carolina State, and Kentucky. “Duke was always a school I had interest in,” he said in an interview with Scout.com on January 15. “I’ve been talking to Coach K. You go there, you know you have a chance to compete for national championships and play with some of the best players in the country.”

Jefferson averaged 18.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for Friends’ Central during his junior season. He led the team to its third consecutive PAISAA title and was named Gatorade State Player of the Year. One of the reasons why Jefferson is a great fit at Duke is because like many of his future Blue Devils teammates, he is not used to losing. His high school team went 75-9 in his first three years there.

He recently finished the regular season for the Phoenix when Friends Central fell 55-53 to The Westtown School in the Friends School League semifinal. Jefferson led the way for Friends Central with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks. They moved on to compete in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Tournament, where they capped off Jefferson’s illustrious high school career with a fourth consecutive state championship, finishing with a 22-5 record. Amile finished his senior season averaging 19.8 points per game and had a double-double in his team’s state title victory over The Westtown School.

Amile brings to Duke the perfect combination of strength, size, speed, and power. He’s the type of player that can hurt you all over the floor, with an uncanny ability to get to the hole and a quickly developing perimeter game. Head coach Jason Polykoff at Friends’ Central told Crazie-Talk that the most impressive part of Amile’s game was actually not one of his numerous physical tools. “One of the reason why so many schools wanted Amile was because besides his physical abilities he has such a high basketball IQ,” Polykoff said. “He’ll come into his college program with an understanding of the game that not all freshmen have.”

Polykoff contended that although Amile is one of the top seniors in the country, he still has some work to do before he takes his game to the next level. “He knows that he needs to get stronger and ready to play against these other guys that have these developed bodies. He knows he needs to improve his outside shot,” Polykoff said. “He can handle the ball for someone his size but he can always work on his perimeter game and attack the ball off the dribble. He finishes pretty well but now he’s got to be ready to finish with contact.”

His coach also told Crazie-Talk that Duke’s main draw for Jefferson was its tradition of excellence both on and off the basketball court. Playing for Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest basketball coach on the planet, is quite the draw, but Jefferson truly desired to play in awinning basketball environment. But according to his coach, Duke means more to Amile than just basketball. “I think Duke basketball aside, the academic reputation of Duke is very appealing to him,” Polykoff added. “He’s a kid that is used to going to rigorous academic schools throughout middle school and high school. If you can combine high academics with a good basketball program, that’s kind of his niche.”

One of the most impressive facets of Amile’s game is his unselfish outlook on the game of basketball. He is the type of player that will do whatever it takes to help his team win a basketball game, whether that is scoring 30 points or taking two shots and pulling down 15 rebounds or blocking five shots. “It’s very rare for somebody of his skill nowadays to be more concerned about the team than the individual, and he’s been doing that since he was a freshman, Polykoff said. “He just wants to win.”

The addition of Jefferson is a significant victory for the Blue Devils in what has proved to be a very difficult recruiting season. He will add extra depth to the team next year and has the potential to develop into a prolific scorer in years to come. His devotion to academics as well as basketball and the Duke basketball tradition indicates that Amile intends to stick around- don’t expect a one and done from this kid. Before he tries to take his talents to the pros, he wants to win a ring or two. Polykoff was adamant that the sky truly is the limit for Amile Jefferson. “If he improves the way he’s improved over the last four years, he’s one of the best seniors in the country right now I don’t see why he couldn’t remain one of the best players in the country at the college level.”

Welcome to the Duke basketball family, Amile. See you in August.

Tobacco Road Turnover

The Final Four has finally arrived, but for the second staight year, no team on Tobacco Road will be vying to cut down the nets this Monday. Instead, both Duke and UNC have shifted into offseason mode, which means a ton of chatter about early entry, recruiting, and projecting what next season’s squads will look like.

It’s safe to say that the top of the ACC next year will look very, very different.

On Monday, Duke officially said goodbye to Austin Rivers, ending an up-and-down season that, for better or for worse, revolved around Rivers. He became the stuff of legend on February 8th in Chapel Hill, but Duke struggled down the stretch and bowed out in Coach K’s first Round of 64 exit since 2007. Junior center Mason Plumlee still has yet to make a decision. This past season was Mason’s best yet, but he will likely not be a lottery selection in this year’s class. His decision will likely influence the decisions of recruits, like Amile Jefferson and Tony Parker. But until Mason chooses to go pro or not, we’ll have little to no idea what this Duke team will be like next year.

But Duke isn’t the only school with uncertainty lying ahead in 2012-2013. This afternoon, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall announced their intentions to join Tyler Zeller as potential lottery selections in this year’s NBA draft.  Sophomore Reggie Bullock is the only remaining member of Carolina’s starting five who will be returning next year. It has been rumored that freshman James Michael McAdoo is also considering leaving early for the draft as well.

Many Duke fans are glad we'll never have to see these guys again. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

As you can imagine, these losses will be a great loss for the Tar Heels in the team’s efforts to repeat as ACC regular season champions next year. Barnes, Marshall, Henson, and Zeller accounted for just over 68% of North Carolina’s scoring last season. Barnes, Henson, and Zeller also combined to form arguably the nation’s most formidable frontcourt. The three accounted for 54.9% of the Tar Heels’ rebounds in 2011, and were much of the reason why North Carolina was the top rebounding team in the country at 45.2 boards per game. You also can’t forget about the role Marshall played as a distributor, setting the ACC assists record while averaging 9.8 per contest. With Kendall gone and Stilman White headed on a religious mission for the next two years, Huckleberry Hound will probably look to senior Dexter Strickland and freshman Marcus Paige to take up point guard duties.

This decimation of Carolina’s roster is an interesting twist in what has been an eventful offseason for the ACC thus far.Even with a recruiting class of four players coming in next season, North Carolina is essentially starting from scratch. As Carolina looks to rebuild (or as the national media will say ad nauseum, ‘reload’) and with Duke’s roster in flux, N.C State seems primed for a run to the top of the league. The Wolfpack, fresh off of a Sweet 16 run, will add three McDonald’s All-Americans as freshmen (T.J Warren, Rodney Purvis, and Tyler Lewis) next season – with the possibility of adding a fourth in Amile Jefferson. The only current N.C State player considering the draft is C.J Leslie, but regardless of his decision, State will be very, very strong next season. If Plumlee does indeed enter the draft and Duke misses on its three remaining targets, it won’t be unexpected to see the balance of power shift away from the blues next year.

This is just the beginning to what looks to be an eventful offseason. We’ll know more and more about what the Blue Devils will look like in the coming weeks.

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P.S. Remember November 13, 2009, when Harrison Barnes promised to leave a legacy at UNC? That ‘legacy’ will include zero championships of any kind, zero Final Fours, and a losing record against Duke. That’s really something to Skype home about.

Follow us on Twitter @crazietalker!

Trey Zeigler Visits Duke

Central Michigan shooting guard Trey Zeigler is on Duke’s campus Friday, according to team sources. Zeigler announced he was transferring from Central Michigan on Wednesday after his father and head coach, Ernie Zeigler, was fired after the Chippewas went 11-21 last season. In two years at Central Michigan, Zeigler played a huge role in the Chippewas’ offense. He led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He will have two years of college eligibility remaining after he transfers.

The Blue Devils are very interested in the prospect of Zeigler joining the team. Although he did not receive an offer from Duke as a high school senior, Zeigler, a native of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. Despite not receiving an offer from Duke, he did receive interest from the coaching staff and was very interested in playing for Duke during his high school career. He received scholarship offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and UCLA before ultimately deciding to play for his father at Central Michigan.

He is exactly the type of player that Duke needs. Zeigler is a long and versatile wing player, something that the Blue Devils severely lacked last season. He has the ability to handle the ball and can play point guard, shooting guard, or small forward. He can finish at the rim with the best of them, and matches up much better on the defensive end with many of the ACC’s current stars. This news comes as a bit of consolation for Duke fans, as signs are currently pointing to both Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee departing early for the NBA. We are still waiting on official announcements from both of them as to their future plans.

Duke has a great record with recruiting transfers, and rarely has one who has visited campus not ended up playing for the Blue Devils. Notable Duke transfers from the past include Roshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones, and current Duke guard Seth Curry. Curry was the last player to transfer to Duke, coming from Liberty University after the 2009 season. He sat out the entirety of 2010 before becoming eligible to play.

The Promised Land: Lance Thomas Makes The Cut

In this crazy messed up world we live in, we can only be sure of one thing—we can find out anything we need to know about anyone from their Twitter bio. So how does Lance Thomas describe himself on Twitter? Let’s take a look:

Lance Thomas aka @slangmagic: The most driven person you will ever meet. Pro ball player. Music junkie. Doberman Pinscher lover.

From watching Lance bang down on the blocks for four years in Cameron, none of us can question his drive, and who are we to say he doesn’t love music and who doesn’t love hanging with a Doberman? But today Lance Thomas made the last piece of that 140-character Twitter puzzle a reality—he is a pro ball player, and not just any pro ball player. He is on an NBA roster.

This picture says 1,000 words about Lance Thomas's drive and determination (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

On the eve of this year’s strike-shortened NBA season, Lance Thomas received the greatest Christmas gift he ever could have asked for when he found out he had made the New Orleans Hornets. His journey to the NBA has been unconventional to say the least, but it perfectly personifies all that made Thomas a great member of the Duke Blue Devils: his grit, his determination, and his intensity. Let’s take a look at how he got here.

Thomas starred at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey throughout high school, leading his team to a state championship his senior season while earning McDonald’s All-American honors. He averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds that year en route to winning his second state title in his time at St. Benedict’s. Thomas committed to Duke in the spring of his senior season, waiting much longer than most other top recruits to sign with a team. He chose to attend Duke instead of staying local and playing college basketball at Rutgers.

Lance Thomas practices the same way he plays- hard. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Lance made an impact at Duke from the time he first stepped on the floor. Although it normally takes big men more time to adjust to the pace of the college game, Thomas impressed Coach K immensely during preseason workouts before his freshman year. His hard work paid off as Thomas was named a starter for the second game he ever played wearing a Duke uniform. He would go on to start games in all four seasons of his Duke career, including 39 of the 40 games in Duke’s 2009-2010 national title run during his senior season.

He was not a low post force during his time at Duke, that is no secret. In fact he never averaged more than 5.3 points per game during his time there, but Lance Thomas was the master of intangibles. While his teammates were scoring points, he was making sure he did the little things—grab rebounds, body up an opponent’s best big man, block shots, hustle, dive on the floor after loose balls and take charges. Those are the plays that would inevitably define Thomas’s career at Duke; that is the reason why when he calls himself “the most driven person you will ever meet,” we know he isn’t lying.

Becoming a national championship was a great accomplishment for Lance, but not where he envisioned the road ending (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Thomas strove to be an NBA basketball player. Playing for Duke is a great first step to take toward reaching that goal, but despite the quickly rising draft prospects of Thomas along with fellow seniors Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek during their 2010 championship run, none of them were drafted that season. When the NBA doesn’t come calling for some Blue Devils, they’re almost certain to receive offers to play in some of the top leagues in Europe. Lance could have jumped the pond like many of his teammates (Kyle Singler and Martynas Pocius in Spain, Jon Scheyer in Israel, DeMarcus Nelson and Daniel Ewing in Ukraine, or David McClure in Lithuania). But Lance Thomas didn’t want to play in Europe, he wanted to play in the NBA. So instead of taking a much larger contract to play for a European team, he gave the league a shot and tried to make a roster as an undrafted free agent. He played that summer in the Orlando league with the Nets, but did not make the preseason roster. Instead of taking his talents overseas to Europe, Thomas kept his dream alive when he was drafted by in the 2nd round the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League (aka the D-League).

Continuing to improve his offensive game in his only full season with the Toros, Lance Thomas averaged 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 46 games. This season did not pass without any additional adversity, however, as Thomas suffered a seizure on the court during a game against the Idaho Stampede on March 26, 2011, ending his season four games early. Luckily for Lance, he was able to make a full recovery and continue to improve his game. Lance’s stellar play in the D-League earned him a spot on the United States’ team for the 2011 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Thomas was a key contributor to the US team that eventually earned a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games, averaging 8.2 points and leading the team with 7.6 rebounds over the tournament’s five games. Thomas also shot 90% from the free-throw line and was the team’s leading scorer in its 94-92 victory over the Dominican Republic in the bronze-medal game.

Thomas returned to the Toros directly following his great performance on the international stage with renewed confidence and the same passion and intensity. This translated well for both Thomas and the Toros, who posted a 3-1 record in its first four games of the 2011 season. Thomas continued to step up his game, posting 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds over those four contests, including an impressive 24 and 16 in a victory over Tulsa. As the D-League season began the NBA lockout was finally drawing to a close. Training camps were set to open the day after the Toros’ fourth game of the year. This is when Lance received his second shot at the NBA, as his call finally came and he got invited to training camp with the New Orleans Hornets.

Thomas was never afraid to show emotion during his time at Duke (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Although he had received the call to training camp, Lance’s greatest hurdle was yet to come. His first preseason game was very promising, however. With much of the Hornet’s roster on a plane from Los Angeles following the Chris Paul trade, Thomas started for the Hornets in their first preseason game. He tallied eight points and seven rebounds in 37 quality minutes. This was the first sign that unlike his last stint with the Nets, Thomas might actually be here to stay. The Hornets’ second preseason game had me a bit more scared. As New Orleans tinkered around with its new pieces, Lance only played eight minutes and did not score. But when the final cuts were made on Saturday afternoon, Thomas was the one with the last laugh.

What will the Hornets gain from Lance Thomas? Let’s keep it realistic, he’s not going to start or even log significant minutes on this team this year. However, when he gets his chance, he is the type of player that always seizes an opportunity. Lance’s career in the NBA hinges on the same things that made his college career so special: the little things. He’s going to have to continue to be that guy that plays defense, rebounds, and fights for loose balls, but at least he won’t be struggling to adjust to a new role on an NBA team, that’s what he’s been doing since he started college.

Lance’s story doesn’t end here, in fact some might say that it is only just beginning. However, making an NBA roster does not guarantee that you are going to stick around. Thomas’s next task is going to be to fight for minutes and to keep a spot on the active roster. Hopefully Thomas’ hard work continues to pay off and he can make a career of it. In the end, it’s only fitting that the NBA’s season starts on Christmas day this year, because I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to wake up on Christmas morning knowing they’ve realized a lifelong dream.

Best of luck to Lance and all of Duke’s NBA players this season from all of us here at Crazie-Talk, and happy holidays to all of our readers! Stay Crazie, my friends.

Section 17: Bouncing Back

Where else can you find Dell Curry, Doc Rivers, Bill Cowher, Crazy Towel Guy, and Santa Claus all in the same place but at Cameron Indoor Stadium? For a non-conference game against a mediocre Colorado State team during the height of finals season, there were a fair share of celebrities in attendance. After last week’s loss, Duke needed to respond, and respond they did. The Blue Devils returned home to Cameron for the first time in almost three weeks and trounced the Rams 87-64. As examined in yesterday’s column, Coach Krzyzewski responded to last week’s blowout loss by making a lineup change, inserting Tyler Thornton into the starting lineup to replace struggling junior Andre Dawkins. Not only did this illicit a response from the team, but no one responded by stepping their game up more than Dawkins himself.

Andre Dawkins was impressive against Colorado State, netting 15 points in just 12 minutes of action (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Dawkins looked unstoppable on the floor, knocking down 6-of-8 shots for 15 points in just 12 minutes before taking a hard fall near the end of the first half and sitting out the second half with back spasms. But for the time he was on the floor, Dawkins looked unstoppable, drilling threes with reckless abandon and capping off fast breaks with huge dunks. I think the role of coming off the bench suits him more because he has often struggled to create his own shots. Being this team’s sixth man will alleviate much of that pressure. Dawkins has been so streaky throughout the year that it seems as though you can tell whether or not he’ll be a factor in the game after his first five minutes on the floor. You could tell being knocked out of the starting lineup gave him a little extra spark, and his energy was electrifying in the short time he was on the floor.

Seth Curry struggled shooting from the floor against Ohio State, and he was the only Duke player who genuinely struggled shooting the ball against Colorado State. But unlike in the Ohio State matchup, Curry was able to make himself useful on the floor even though he wasn’t knocking down shots. Curry is starting to look more and more comfortable distributing the ball as he notched eight assists on Wednesday night, the highest single-game assist total by any Blue Devil this season.

Miles Plumlee was a force on the inside, scoring a season-high 14 points (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

After last week’s debacle in Columbus, you can be assured Duke focused on controlling the paint at practice this week, and that is exactly what they did. Miles and Mason Plumlee each turned in one of their best performances of the season. For Mason it seemed a bit more business-as-usual, contributing 14 points on 6-for-7 from the floor to go along with 10 rebounds. He really took advantage of the undersized Rams on the defensive end, amassing five blocks and four steals on the contest as well. Mason also had one of the highlights of the game when he soared down the lane to throw down a monstrous dunk over a Colorado State defender in the game’s opening minutes. Miles got himself a bit more involved on the offensive end than we’re accustomed to seeing, adding a season-high 14 points of his own with five rebounds and three blocks. Both Plumlees showed off an array of post moves and showed no fear on the defensive end.

Austin Rivers made three shots from beyond the arc en route to 17 points on the night (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers’ 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting doesn’t look like anything spectacular on the outside, but it made me really excited on the walk home from Cameron. This was the first game, in my opinion, where Rivers never stuck out on the offensive end of the floor. He didn’t force shots, he didn’t turn the ball over, and he blended in perfectly. He is truly beginning to fit into this system. Sometimes with great players it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see. To be able to practically forget about Rivers and watch him rack up those kind of numbers is exactly what shows how scary good this guy is.

Josh Hairston only contributed four points and three rebounds in his 14 minutes of play. This wasn’t his best game of the year, as he was certainly exploited on defense (something that rarely happens) on more than one occasion. However, I do believe this dunk, which was only good for #5 on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays from the contest, speaks for itself.

Although Coach K’s most noticeable adjustment might have been the insertion of Thornton into the starting five, I believe the most important change might have been Krzyzewski’s utilization of a deeper bench. Coach K has typically stuck to an eight man rotation throughout the year, but last night’s game featured 10 Blue Devils all playing double-digit minutes, with only freshman Michael Gbinije’s minutes coming in garbage time. Duke used this game as an opportunity to try a bunch of different sets, and was not afraid to sub three or four players out at a time, even early in the game. This deeper bench shows that Krzyzewski is becoming more confident in his younger players to take on more significant roles, something that will be crucial with ACC season quickly approaching.

All in all it was just what we expected. Duke shot the ball incredibly well and was able to dominate a physically inferior Colorado State team on the inside. They adjusted their rotation and were able to respond from a tough loss with a convincing win, and there were definitely some promising performances from role players that will hopefully be replicated in the near future. However, we need to keep in mind who we were dealing with. Colorado State is a .500 team that has lost to the likes of Stanford, Southern Missouri, and Northern Iowa, none of whom you’ll see come close to cutting down the nets in March. Our next matchup against a Washington who pushed #11 Marquette to their limit at Madison Square Garden will tell us a lot more about the direction in which this team is going. Hopefully our newfound momentum carries through. Until then, stay Crazie, my friends.

2013 SG Matt Jones to Duke

Duke secured its first commitment in the class of 2013 on Monday night, as 2013 SG Matt Jones, out of DeSoto, TX, tweeted that he intends on playing his college hoops as a Blue Devil.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/matt_jones8/status/141298183706918912″%5D

Jones’ commitment is the latest in a string of elite guards to call it for Duke. Known for his ridiculous shooting range and athleticism, it’s likely that Matt will make his mark as a Blue Devil–perhaps like other elite guards from Texas.

Check out a few of Matt’s highlight tapes, courtesy of BallIsLife and CityLeagueHoops. You should also check out this interview with Jason Jordan of ESPN Rise from earlier this month.

Welcome to the family, Matt!

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Duke Fans!

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Crazie-Talk!

Enjoy your holiday, we’ll be back soon with a recap of last night’s thrilling win over Kansas and thoughts on our upcoming game against #3 Ohio State. Until then, enjoy another photo of Tyler Thornton and the highlights from GoDuke.com.

This man is a surprise assassin. Don't be fooled, Jayhawks. (Photo via GoDuke.com)