When I look back at my first season of college basketball, the biggest thing that stands out in my mind is how much of a learning experience it was.
Everyone’s journey is different. In terms of the learning process, it took me a little while to fully catch on to everything. That’s ok. The beauty of college is that you have time to grow.
The first year of college basketball is a significant adjustment for big guys. There’s just another level of strength you have to have to compete at this level. The speed of the game really increases. You also go from being the best player on the court in high school to a level where everyone is at an elite caliber.
One of the most important things about last season was that my teammates and coaches were always supportive. There were times when guys would get frustrated if I messed something up, but I was frustrated right along with them.
The easy way out for a guy in that situation is to just pack up his bags and get out. That’s not who I am. Duke is where I want to be. Everyone here at Duke had my back during the down times. It’s a family, not just a team, and that’s one of the most important things that people should realize about this program.
Throughout the season, I did everything I could to help the team and reward my teammates and coaches’ faith in me. One of the most important moments for me came when we played Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament. Unfortunately, it ended in a loss, but in that game I felt everything start to flow right. I was able to score some points, grab some rebounds, make some hustle plays. It felt great.
From that point, I felt confident and comfortable on the floor. I felt like I belonged. Even though we didn’t make it as far as we wanted to in the tournament, I felt like I was able to contribute to the team winning games.
About a week after the season was over, I made the decision to attend both summer sessions at Duke. Aside from the ability to get ahead in the classroom, the resources we have here at Duke made the decision an easy one for me.
My summer routine has basically been:
Start the morning with team breakfast. Either a basketball workout or a lift in the morning. Class from late morning to around lunchtime. Stop for food. Come back to the gym for either a basketball workout or a lift (whichever we didn’t do in the morning). Play open gym with my teammates in the late afternoon. Grab some dinner. Back to the gym again for one last workout.
Through all that work, I have no doubt my game has improved in all areas this summer. The biggest thing, though, is confidence. When things get tough, I’ll be able to fall back on the knowledge of how much I’ve been in the gym, how much work I’ve put in this summer. That will carry me through a bad day. With that confidence, I know I’ll always be able to keep pushing forward.
There were times last year when I didn’t feel great. The feeling of not succeeding at the level I expect from myself is not one I want to feel again. By being here this summer and working out every day, putting in extra work, getting stronger, I feel like I’m setting myself up for not just a successful season, but also a successful career.
The strides I’ve made this summer have really opened my eyes to what is possible. When I look ahead, I see nothing but good things. Whether it’s scoring in different ways, running the floor, getting rebounds or blocking shots, I know what it takes to contribute to Duke winning games. Being at Duke has allowed me to continue the growth I began last season as a freshman.
In the back of my mind, it’s all leading up to one thing: a national championship. If every one of us gives our all, then we’re going to have the opportunity to realize our dream and create memories that are going to last a lifetime.