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A Difference-Maker

by Nate James (1997-01, 2007-present)

Story by Duke Basketball | Devils Life November 4th, 2016

These days, recruiting a kid and his parents pretty much go hand-in-hand. It’s very difficult to get a kid to come to Duke if his parents aren’t in agreement that this is the best place for him. Everyone has to share the same vision.

At the end of the day, parents are typically concerned about the same things – they want to feel good about the coaching staff, what the roster may look like because they want their child to have the opportunity to play and develop, the level of academic support and the overall environment their son will be placed in.

At Duke, we are very fortunate to have a lot of amazing selling points that put parents at ease. It’s important that you make the right impression with parents from the start. You certainly try to develop a connection with the recruit, but the rapport you establish with his parents goes a long way.


We look for certain qualities when we decide to get involved with a potential recruit. The first being talent, obviously. They have to be good enough to play at our level. The second is their commitment to academics; how prepared they are to succeed academically at Duke. The third is the character of the young man. All three are weighted the same and are of extreme importance.

Coach holds each of those qualities with equal value.

During the recruiting process, we take notice of a kid’s character by how he interacts with his parents. Do they show love and respect toward them at all times? If someone doesn’t treat their own parents with respect, they certainly won’t do so with us.

Parents who have taught and instilled in their son the old-school values and morals of showing respect, having manners, treating people the right way and working hard every day are appreciated by everyone. Those are the things we want in our program. They all play a role in how successful a player will be once he sets foot on our campus.

Jack White with his parents, Jeff and Rachel, brother Ben and sister Emma.
Harry Giles with his mother, Melissa.
Antonio Vrankovic with his father, Stojko.
Frank Jackson with his parents, Al and Juleen, and his sister Kayla.

When I follow a kid on social media, more often than not I’m also following his parents, too. It’s a great way to get a glimpse of who they might be and the things they’re thinking about. It’s helpful to have resources to be able to get to know parents as best we can.

All parents are invested in their children, but with the type of kid we recruit, the stakes are often higher. They’re all very good players ; not all will go to the NBA, but we’ve had more than most programs that do play professionally. Parents want to make sure that this is the right place for their son and that he’ll have everything he needs to be able to accomplish his goals.

Amile Jefferson collage courtesy of Quetta Jefferson.
Chase Jeter with his mother, Kim.

Every kid is different. The things Coach K spoke to my about during my recruitment when I was a player weren’t the same things he talked about with Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor or Brandon Ingram. They had far greater talent and ability, so that warranted a different discussion. However, the core of what we offer at Duke is the same for every student-athlete.

Having the opportunity to attend one of the best universities in the world, play for the best coach of all-time, play with amazing teammates, perform on the brightest and biggest of stages, contend for a national championship every season and join a brotherhood that you’ll always be a part of. Wow! Those are some fantastic selling points. What player or parent wouldn’t want those things?

Luke Kennard with his parents, Mark and Jennifer, and sister Lauren.
Nick Pagliuca with his parents, Steve and Judy, sister Stephanie and brothers Joe and Jesse.
Jayson Tatum with his parents, Justin and Brandy.

I think back to the 2015 team and the parents’ complete support of not just their children, but the entire team. I can remember games in hostile environments when our guys had a lull and they needed energy that they weren’t getting from each other. Then, all of a sudden, you hear the parents cheering and supporting the team from the stands and giving them just the jolt they needed to get back on track.

We had the Okafors cheering for Justise Winslow, the Jones family cheering for Quinn Cook, the Plumlees cheering for Matt Jones and Amile. It became such a contagious thing where everyone could feed off of it and the players’ parents really gave us a lift when we needed it.

They were so special; it wasn’t about “me or mine,” it was about “we and our.” They thought about the entire team and not just their sons. Now, that’s sharing the same vision – a championship vision!


The kids in our program are so great because they come from great people. That’s what we look for in the recruiting process, and that’s something we’ll continue to look for because it’s a difference-maker.

Grayson Allen with his parents, William and Sherry.
Matt Jones with his parents, Mark and Arolynn, sisters, Alex and Jordan, and brother Mason.
Justin Robinson with his father, David.