Dereck Lively II will head to Duke next year as the latest star recruit to play his college ball in Durham, NC, leading the nation’s top class in Jon Scheyer’s first year as the Blue Devils’ head coach.
Lively and the class of 2022 will head to Duke coming off, at minimum, a Final Four berth and potentially a championship in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season at the helm. This could lead to a whole lot of pressure being placed on that class to uphold a standard of excellence, but you wouldn’t know it speaking to Lively. The 7’1 center has an air of calm about him that is beyond his years, a steadying influence that figures to be a welcome presence in the Blue Devils’ locker room.
The nation’s top-ranked recruit is in Chicago this week for the McDonald’s All-American Game on Tuesday night, and was recently named the Morgan Wootten Boy’s Player of the Year — Kiki Rice, who is headed to UCLA next year, earned those honors on the girl’s side. Lively spoke with Dime from Chicago on Monday about the experience at the All-American Game, getting some early reps with fellow Duke commit Dariq Whitehead, the influences on his game, and what he plans to work on this summer to be ready to lead the Blue Devils on another deep run in March.
What’s the week been like so far in Chicago getting to be around some of the best players in the country?
It’s really exciting to being able to be recognized as one of these top players and something that I really never expected myself to be gifted. And being able to be with all these top talent and all the top players, it’s just feels great to be a part of and to be accepted.
Does it provide a little extra motivation seeing all of these players and the skill that’s out there, and knowing that these are friends but also competitors that you’re going to see for years down the line in college and then hopefully on into the pros?
Well, I could say that even before McDonald’s, I’ve been playing against most of these players for a long period of time. So being able to be in a position to watch each other rise and grow as players, it’s really enjoyable. And I know that as each player continues to go on their journey, there’s going to be a great time to have companions and friends that are going through the same thing I am.
One of those is you get to play this week with your future Duke teammate Dariq Whitehead. What’s it like to get some early reps with him and continue to get to know him better on and off the court ahead of when you guys are gonna get to Durham next year?
Well, me and Dariq’s relationship has always been good, even before I committed to Duke, and ever since is just continuously growing. So every time we’re able to play around each other or even be at the same event, we just try to have a good time and just try to stay in contact. So to know that we just started building relationship and the chemistry we have now, I can only imagine we’re going to do at Duke.
I’m sure you’ve kept an eye on on Duke’s Final Four run. Does that just add to your excitement to get to Durham next year and try to follow that up?
It definitely does. Being able to have such a great team that is already at Duke just kind of paved the way for us to follow in their footsteps. It’s something that’s really enjoyable, and I’m excited for.
And to be named the Morgan Wootten Player of the Year and join some of the elite names that have earned that honor what does that mean to you and being able to carry that legacy forward?
Well, being able to be gifted such an amazing award was something that I really never expected. I’m really grateful for being given this amazing award, knowing that all the past players that have come before me who have gotten this have gone on to do amazing things in the future. It only makes me think about what I can do.
Who are the players that you’ve looked to and tried to pull things from to add to your game as you’ve gone along in your young career so far?
Well, being 7-foot, I would start to look at the bigs, such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Mo Bamba, but as I was trying to bring my game outside of the three point line, you start to look at players such as Kevin Durant to watch his footwork, to watch his timing, to watch Jayson Tatum and Brandon Ingram and other players who are very tall and use their length perfectly on the floor.
On defense — I talked about this with on the Onyeka Okongwu when he was coming into the draft — he said as a defender, he felt that being a big man his whole career and not being somebody that had a late growth spurt who suddenly found themselves becoming a center was advantageous because he’d always been down there and it was more natural to him to be a rim protector. Is that something that you feel is an advantage in your game, having the natural instincts that you feel you have on the defensive end?
Well, being able to be a big man my entire life has really taught me how to play defense. Ranging from working on my timing, waiting for the ball to leave their hand before I go block a shot, and even footwork. Being able to take those skills that I’ve been using my entire basketball career and use them outside the paint is something that I’ve definitely thought about and been using this entire time.
Definitely. As you look ahead to this offseason and get ready to go off to Duke and play at the college level, what are the things that you’re focusing on in your work this summer — you just mentioned trying to expand your range — but what are the things that you’ll be focused on to be ready for the college level?
Really focusing on the little things. Footwork, timing, making sure that I have my foul shot in the right tempo in the right time, making sure that I have my ball handling as well. Really just trying to refine my game so that all aspects of it is prepared for the level that Duke is playing on.