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Courtesy: Duke Athletics
Catching Up at K Academy
Courtesy: Duke Sports Information
Release: 06/17/2019
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At the 17th annual K Academy Duke basketball fantasy camp held in May, radio play by play announcer David Shumate had a chance to catch up with a few of the dozens of former Blue Devils in attendance…

Gene Banks
1978 & 1980 ACC champion

DS: You were here with Coach Foster and then played your senior year when Coach Krzyzewski was getting started. I know it didn’t begin with a ton of wins, but did you see what this could become as Coach K goes into his 40th year now?
GB: No doubt. I think I saw it when we went to North Carolina State (in 1981). We had an away game, and he changed the offense and made adjustments. People call it the pentagon now, but the idea was to spread the offense and it changed the game and we won (56-47), and it was his first ACC road win. Then I saw some other things in the Maryland game we won at home. They were nationally ranked (No. 13), he made some adjustments and we won (55-54). So I saw a lot of promise in Coach way back then, it just took time and recruits.

DS: It’s easy to think of him as a leader in the game of basketball now, but what was he like as a leader back then in his early 30s?
GB: Very emotional. He knew how to grab your attention and let you know what was important. And then of course he brought that Army background and the importance of structure. He also knew how to get into your head, and he got into mine several times. That’s one of the reasons why I led the league in scoring, because of him getting in my head regarding shooting the ball, and shooting it with purpose. He had all of the qualities when I was there. It just manifested itself over the years to the point where now we have five NCAA championships.

DS: You talk about him getting in your head — it feels like he can do it in so few words. Is that fair?
GB: You know, he learns how to do it with looking into your eyes and feeling your spirit. He doesn’t get everyone right, but eight out of 10 he gets them pretty perfect.

DS: We’re here at K Academy and you’ve obviously been connected to the program for a long time. What keeps you coming back?
GB: It’s an amazing situation. I know people have had these things, but to get back and be the thread from when I was playing to all the new guys coming up… we all sit around — Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen, all of us — we just sit around and chat. To have that kind of brotherly thing, it’s for real. I follow them and they follow me, it’s amazing. I’m very fortunate and thankful to God that I’m living in this time to experience something like this. I look forward to this every year.

Luke Kennard
2017 ACC champion

DS: Now that you’ve been in the NBA for a few years, I know you’ve had to deal with some injuries, but what has that experience been like?
LK: It’s been amazing. You know Detroit, they brought me in and made me feel at home right when I got there. I’ve loved every minute of it my first two years and hopefully I continue to play for a little while longer. But I’ve had a blast, it’s been so much fun, everything I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid. I’m just continuing to work and get better each and every year so it’s been good.

DS: There’s such a huge debate going on in college basketball now with guys leaving early and what should be the right way to handle that. You obviously left early — what advice would you give to those guys as they’re trying to make that decision?
LK: You want to feel comfortable about it, make sure you have the right people around you to help with those decisions. You know, college is great — I think coming to college is the most important thing for you to develop. Coming to Duke, I felt like it propelled me even more, and even quicker than other schools possibly. I enjoyed my time here, I loved every minute of it, loved every second of it. The people I built relationships with were amazing, so college was really important for me looking back at it. But just trusting the right people, trusting the right coaches will help you make the best decisions.

DS: There are so many of you who have come back (for K Academy) — what does that say about the connection you all have with this program?
LK: It just speaks to how special this place really is. It’s called “The Brotherhood” for a reason, honestly. Just seeing everybody back, seeing how close everyone is, the relationships you built — it’s just something special. I’ve enjoyed any chance I’ve had to come back here. I still connect with Coach K, the other coaches, teammates, old players. You know, honestly, it was just a blessing to come here and just be a part of a place like this.

DS: You talk about Coach, and this will be his 40th season coming up. When most people think of him they see his importance to the entire game of basketball. But anyone who’s played for him feels like they have an individual relationship. What’s your relationship like with him?
LK: Oh my gosh — it’s something I honestly would have never dreamed of before coming to college. The relationship we’ve built is special and the way that he continues to reach out to me on bad days, good days, he keeps up with what everyone is doing. I don’t know if I could say that about a lot of other coaches, but anytime I come back here he makes me feel at home. He talks to you and really gets in depth with everything that’s going on with you. Coach K is special to me and he will be forever. Not only is he a great friend, but he’s also the best coach in the world. I was just lucky enough to be able to play for him.

Matt Jones
2015 NCAA champion
2017 ACC champion

DS: Let’s start with what’s new with you…
MJ: I just finished up in Stockton (the G League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings). The season went really well. I was able to show more of my game and at the same time we had a really good team. Obviously making the playoffs was really good for us. I decided to stay around for the summer, the Kings want me back in training camp, so I have some options out there. But it could go either way because I’m for sure thinking about going overseas as well.

DS: You are one of the guys who has not only played for Coach K, but also won a national championship with him. What did he mean to you in your time at Duke and even after you left here?
MJ: Honestly, he shaped the way I think about life, and obviously basketball as well. One thing that Coach really would harp on is pursuing moments, and since I’ve left Duke that’s what I’ve been doing, both on and off the court. I’ve been pursuing moments, whether it be with my friends or in Stockton trying to go for a championship. I think that selfless mindset really carries over in a lot of ways and it’s helped me out tremendously.

DS: These days in the collegiate game, guys are so often asked about going pro early. From your perspective of having been pro for a few years now after four years at Duke, why was the college experience so valuable?
MJ: It allows you to be a kid. Once you’re a pro it’s all about making money. Your teammates have families so you don’t really have a full understanding of what they have going on. And you’re also young. I mean being a pro, when you’re still trying to get connected, it can be very lonely, and as a kid you don’t want to be lonely. Besides that, there’s also the cerebral aspect — I don’t think you’ve gone through enough to succeed like you want in the NBA. And obviously when trials come, that’s when you see who you really are. I believe in college, you’re able to go through trials and learn from them and still have a stable environment, whether it be coach or wherever you are. There’s just so many things that you learn from college, and for one thing, it taught me how to be a man. It gave me a chip on my shoulder and I wouldn’t have got that unless I went to college. And that’s something that would bode well for everyone.

Shane Battier
2001 NCAA champion
1999, 2000 & 2001 ACC champion

DS: When you walk back into Cameron, what does it bring back for you from when you played?
SB: Oh man — so many memories, so many great memories. I still get the chills every time I walk into this place. I’ll never forget when I was in high school and the first time I walked into this place. I’ll never forget the first time we had Midnight Madness as a freshman. I’ll never forget the first time I played Carolina here. Just so many great memories in the building and it’s always special to be back.

DS: Any specific one that stands out from when you played?
SB: (Laughing) I probably remember the losses more. We didn’t have very many of them so those are the ones that stung. But obviously getting my jersey retired and having my parents here, beating Carolina my freshman year, and going undefeated a couple years in this building. There’s just so many tremendous memories and great teams, and players I’ve played with, and obviously Coach K — there’s just no place like it.

DS: How would you describe the impact Coach K has had on you?
SB: Well, I wouldn’t be where I am today as a father, as a front office executive, a two-time NBA champion, a collegiate champion without Coach’s influence. He’s been such a positive role model for me and for anyone who’s ever played under him. We’re all very, very lucky to call him our coach.

DS: You reference your titles in college and as a pro. How would you compare those two experiences?
SB: Well I tell people all the time, it’s like having multiple kids — you don’t love one more than the other, you love them differently. And that holds true for my college championship and my pro championships.

Jahlil Okafor
2015 NCAA champion

DS: Let’s just start with a quick update about how things are going with the Pelicans…
JO: Nothing too new. It’s just the offseason grind right now, just trying to get into the best physical shape as possible, as is the case for all the guys in the NBA that aren’t in the playoffs. I’m enjoying the playoffs, trying to learn as much as I can about the game. And right now I’m just enjoying being back at Duke, my second home; this where I’m the happiest, where I’m carefree.

DS: What is it about this place that makes it so special for you?
JO: It’s the bond we have with this place and with one another. When I’m coming back for K Academy, I know I’m going to see Justise (Winslow), I know I’m going to see Amile (Jefferson), usually I’ll see Quinn (Cook) but he’s in the Finals right now. I just know I’m going to see all of those guys I have a great bond with, and of course just being able to be here and be around Coach K that’s always a blessing. He’s the best, he’s had my back through everything that I’ve been through and everyone else here. Any time I have the opportunity to be here, I try to be here.

DS: You just mentioned Coach briefly — what sort of impact has he had on your career?
JO: Man, I can’t even find the words to describe how much he’s meant to me, on the court and off the court. Just having his support, I can’t explain it, but as long as you have Coach K supporting you, I know I can call him late at night and he’ll answer. It just means a lot. It means a lot to me and my family and all of the guys in this program.

DS: I see you on the sidelines (for K Academy games), you seem like you’re into it — is coaching in the future for you?
JO: (Laughing) I don’t think it’s for me personally, but I do enjoy watching the games and working with the guys.