From the time I started my journey in college basketball, there’s never been a time when I didn’t feel like I had something to prove. I was lightly recruited before going to Liberty and I had success there, but I had to prove myself as a college basketball player before going to Duke.
Everyone at Duke believed I could play at this level, but there were people in college basketball circles saying I’d never be able to consistently contribute in the ACC, let alone be an All-ACC player.
I’ve had a lot of doubters, but part of the fun I’ve had has been overcoming that type of stuff. I know I can never get complacent, and that continues to push me year after year. When you hear stuff like that, you can’t help but be driven to work harder, be better and prove people wrong.
I put all of my energy into being the best player I can be and to do that, you can’t listen to what other people say. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your game.
For me, the confidence comes from the work I put in in the gym. Whether it’s in a workout setting, in practice or in a pickup game, I work on every shot I take and every move I make so it becomes second nature.
The biggest year for me, maybe in my entire career, was the year that I had to sit out at Duke after transferring from Liberty. That was a national championship team in 2010, so being able to play against guys like Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer every day in practice and work on my game – make some mistakes and find myself on the court – was a tremendous learning experience.
Coach K was still on me every day, even though I wasn’t on the court helping him win games. He pushed me to be the best player I could be. He didn’t want it to be a wasted year. That’s what he and Coach Collins always used to tell me – “Don’t waste this year. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.” I felt like I needed to treat the practices as my games to prepare myself as best I could for the following year.
Even after I developed into that All-ACC player, the doubt didn’t go away. The adversity I faced with the leg injury my senior year was a weird situation. I wasn’t able to practice much so that I could play in games, do anything to help the team win. I’d always relied on practice to help me build my confidence, so it was tough to just be able to shoot some set shots and do conditioning on the bike.
The biggest thing that helped me through that situation was the confidence Coach had in me. That was huge for my confidence. He felt I was still going to be good enough to help the team win even though I couldn’t practice. My teammates were huge for me, too. There was never anything like, “He doesn’t have to practice, but he can go out there and start, play 30 minutes.”
That’s just the Duke culture. It’s all about winning. At the end of the day, they knew I’d be there to help them win.
I had surgery right after senior year, and I was trying to get back physically while adapting to the NBA game. I went to the D-League and got off to a good start, which really helped me build confidence.
I was able to get a couple 10-day contracts with different teams, but I didn’t really get on the court much. I felt like I could play at that level, but without getting the chance to do it, you never know. When those contracts were up, I would go back and try to dominate on the D-League level, work on my game and fine-tune some things.
I knew that when I got the opportunity, I had to be ready for it.
Then came the Summer League in 2015. I didn’t really prepare for it any differently, but my family and my agents were in agreement that it was my last shot. If I didn’t get a guaranteed deal after that Summer League, I was going overseas.
I wanted that shot to make a team and play in the NBA consistently. I hadn’t really had a bad stretch over the two years prior. My confidence was high. I just needed a chance.
Coach K used to call me in the summers and tell me, “You can play in the NBA. You can be a guy who comes in and gives a team a spark.” He continued to give me confidence, and that helped me out a lot heading into the 2015 Summer League.
Everything came together for me that summer and I was able to lead the Summer League in scoring. A lot of hard work went into being ready to seize that opportunity, and it felt great to see it pay off.
Then came the moment I’d dreamed about for the last few years – getting that guaranteed contract. After how I played in the Summer League, I had an idea that I was going to get an offer, but to actually sign on that dotted line and get a full opportunity to stick in the league felt unbelievable. It was a special time for me, my family and everyone who stayed in my corner.
Now, the goal has changed. There are a lot of players who get opportunities in the NBA and don’t take advantage of them. My goal now is to stick in this league and make the most of my opportunity. I want to make a mark and be a consistently good player.
A lot of that mindset goes back to my time at Duke. Coach K always talks about consistency and the importance of staying focused on what you can do to help the team win. Because I lived that with him as a college player, I feel like I can accomplish that on the NBA level.
It makes me happy to reflect on the journey to this point, even though it’s far from over. I feel like there are a lot of good things in store for me, but I know everything is rooted in having confidence in myself. That’s just one thing I learned at Duke that I carry with me every day.