College Hoops

Nate James Talks This Year’s Duke Squad, Preparing for Upcoming Season and More

Duke basketball associate head coach spoke with the media Thursday. In the 30-minute session, the longest tenured member of the coaching staff entering his 15th season, James touched on a variety of subjects, including the development of Duke’s returning players, what he’s seen from the freshmen, and how the Blue Devils have been handling practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On what he has seen from freshman Henry Coleman III so far:

“I think he’s doing a lot of the same things that we saw while we were recruiting him. He plays with amazing energy, extremely tough – obviously he has the physical makeup to bring that type of power and strength and athleticism to the game, which he’s done each and every practice. Whatever team he’s been on, he’s given them a jolt. He’s an energizer bunny. Wherever you place him on the floor – I think we toyed around with having him play the five, the four, a little bit of the three – he’s done a really good job of just adjusting to whatever we’ve thrown at him. Overall, just a tremendous kid to be around every day. He’s one of those type of kids that you look forward to coaching him. I’m pleased where he is. He has room to continue to grow like all the guys, but we’re just excited because he competes, plays hard and is fun to watch.”

On if graduate transfer Patrick Tapé’s experience is translating and how freshman Mark Williams has developed:

“It is, but I would tell you it’s slightly a little bit different than you may think because Patrick didn’t play last year, so he sat out. Also, Mark, who went to IMG [Academy] but he had some tendinitis issues, so he missed a great deal of the season. So, you have two big guys who are new, who are learning and developing unlike a typical grad-transfer player in Patrick. With Mark, he’s just this seven-footer who’s still trying to figure out how to use all of his tools, and because of the level of play at his previous high school before transferring to IMG – the speed, the athleticism, the physicality of each and every practice – those two guys are learning a lot. Patrick, because he’s older, he’s just stronger right now and I think he’s really trying to impose his will on all the guys that he’s going up against. I really like that about Patrick. Both kids though, whatever you tell them to do, they try to do it to the best of their ability. With this group – I can kind of go down the list and I’ll probably sound like a broken record, but all the players, they love being in the gym, they want to get better and they are extremely easy to coach. Now, I just hope that remains to be true when we actually start playing against a real opponent. But those two big guys have brought it every day and I like that.”

On what he expects from freshman Jalen Johnson this season:

“Well again, just like Mark (Williams), he transfers to IMG as well and we were all so excited because we know the level of talent, not of just their opponents at IMG, but in their practices. They have 10 players that are going to all go Division-I, and unfortunately with his injury and not playing there, you have to adjust to this level of talent. It took a while to find his stride and how hard you have to work and things don’t come easy. It can be a walk-on that you’re going against, but that walk-on has been in our program for two or three years and is a little bit older and is going to challenge you probably a little bit more than you expected. I think he’s finally trying to understand that you have to bring it every day, and now that he’s being a little bit more consistent and stringing some days together, with his natural talent and ability, he’s going to be one of the best. Especially in the open floor, he can really get out in transition. [He’s a] big time athlete and his passing ability – I haven’t seen too many guys, and I’ve obviously been here at Duke and have seen some pretty good players. He can really see and find his teammates and he loves doing it. Offensively, in terms of his shooting and being aggressive, he’s really a pass first player and I think we’re trying to get him to understand, ‘When teams play off you, have confidence to shoot your jump shot. If you have that mismatch, whether it be a four guarding you or a five, use your ball handling and playmaking ability.’ He’s starting to do that.”

On if he thinks sophomore Wendell Moore Jr.’s involvement in social activism this summer helped him develop

“Absolutely. First and foremost, Wendell is a sharp young man and is very in-tuned with what’s going on. Obviously, everything that has happened and is continuing to happen with all the injustices that Black people face, that makes people want to come together, want to find out solutions, want to figure out how we can all get better and get better together. I think that really sparked some things in him wanting to show that leadership, bring his community together, being one of the people to spearhead different
meetings and just wanting to make sure his voice was heard. I think seeing him back on campus now with the team, he’s a different kid. I think now that he’s a sophomore, experiencing everything that has happened – not just with all the social issues, but the pandemic – it really caused people to kind of reflect on what we all can do to make our environments better, and he’s done that. I’m very proud of him, to see him grow. Normally, guys like Wendell, they’re only around for a year, but now to see a talented player come back, now he’s becoming a man, he’s a sophomore and you hear the voice. All the things that we try to instill in him as coaches, everything that Coach K talks to him about – you hear him talk in the locker room or he’s on the floor and you’re like, ‘OK, this kid is starting to get it.’ All of you who have kids, as parents, when your kid starts to get it, some of those tough lessons, it just makes you feel good. That’s what Wendell is and he’s going to continue to grow as a leader and because of that, his game has taken off. We’re really excited to see that. I’m very proud of him. He’s definitely matured and I look forward to him being one of our really outstanding captains this year.”

On senior Jordan Goldwire’s evolution during his career and his influence on freshman Jeremy Roach:

“J Gold (Jordan Goldwire) – we recruited him, I made a few feeler calls looking for a guard that can really lead the Blue team, someone who has the athletic makeup to push our starters in practice and maybe eventually be a solid player in our program. Freshman year, we believe Jordan did that, but he was young. We had a young group of guys who were inconsistent and [we had] a lot of long talks before and after practice, watching film to help them get better. His first couple years, he was just OK, and I think that one thing about Jordan – he is a believer. He does believe in himself, and I think a lightbulb went off. Like I talked about with Wendell [Moore Jr.], being in our program – especially a guy who’s been in our program for three or four years – you really want to try to see them turn the corner. Coming in as not a highly-touted player – I think he barely scratched the top 100, and now he’s receiving a scholarship to Duke and everyone’s like, ‘What in the world, where did this kid come from?’ I think he took that as a challenge. He took that as, ‘I have to show everyone that I do deserve to be here and I’m good enough to wear the uniform.’ I think he took that type of approach and then junior year, he not only was good enough, he helped us win some big-time games. I’m very proud of his effort, going from a player that was not highly touted to someone that became a starter. No one would have ever expected this, but he’s our leading returning player in minutes played. Kudos to him and his hard work. We’re going to need him to have a great year this year, pushing Jeremy, because Jeremy is the most talented player. Sometimes, when you have a veteran guard who’s a senior, who’s kind of in his mind like, ‘I paid my dues,’ now what are you going to do when you have this freshman who’s a primetime player and is going to need to have the ball in his hands. Now, what do you do? Are you concerned about where you are in your position and kind of guard what you believe you worked hard for, or are you going to help your teammate out? Are you going to say, ‘My goal is to win a national championship and I’m going to help you. In order for us to do that and win some games, I’m going to pressure you every day in practice, I’m going to help you, I’m going to try to teach you all the lessons that the coaches taught me over the years, all my experiences, to help you along,’ because we don’t have a full year for Jeremy to get whatever lesson. You’ve got to get that right away, because as soon as things tip off, it’s full steam ahead. So far, Jordan has done a great job of doing that. I think when we have every player looking out for the name on the front and not the name on the back, that’s when you have a true sign of being a team and being together.”

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