Shabazz Muhammad: Well it was just me, my mom and my dad who were meeting with the coaches. We actually met with the coaching staff from Kentucky tonight as well. With all the schools, it was sit down and get right to business, we had a lot of questions and the coaches all had things they wanted to talk with us about.
Since the Kentucky visit happened most recently, what were the UK coaches saying that really stood out?
Well it was Coach Cal, Coach O and Coach Payne. They talked a lot about what they can do for me as a player, they talked about the current pros that they have and how the future is looking very bright. They also talked about how at Kentucky what players like John Wall went through in getting to Kentucky and how they got him bigger and better as a player, that was really great to listen to.
How much communicating are you doing with current or ex-players from Kentucky?
I've had the opportunity to talk with John Wall before, and he was just saying that at Kentucky, when you show up there, you're going to face a lot of competition and how that helps you to get better as a player.
How about with UCLA and Duke? What were the points of emphasis in those visits?
With UCLA, what they did was show me a lot about what's happening on campus and how they are rebuilding the basketball program facilities and getting new workout facilities and stuff.
With Duke, I was just thoroughly impressed with Coach K and everything that he and his staff had to share. He talked about Kyrie Irving and what he was able to accomplish in his year at Duke, and how he went #1 and how they helped him develop as a player.
It sounds like the visits were all business. Is that a fair assessment?
Definitely. All the schools were just coming in after my workout that I do each day. They all had their presentations they wanted to share with my mom, my dad and me. We were asking questions as they came up. Things like what's the athlete housing like and other things.
Is athlete housing a big deal for you?
Yes, it's extremely important to me to find out what the student athlete-housing situation is at each of the schools and they provided information on that. My feeling is that when you go to college, you're going to be practicing a lot, going to class, and working out. So it's important to have a nice play to stay in that you can go back to at the end of the day, and it's also important they have really good training facilities as well.
Was that why UCLA was really playing up the idea of re-building their facilities?
It was something that I had asked to have addressed in talking with them before. It was really important to me to hear from them what was happening with their facilities construction and I can't wait to see it in person now they have shown me that the building is progressing on the different facilities they are building. They covered everything from the new weight room to the new basketball facility and everything; it was great to listen to.
How do you compare facilities at UCLA with schools such as Duke and Kentucky who already have established upgraded facilities?
7. How is it comparing UCLA's facilities situation to Duke's and Kentucky's, where both have established workout facilities that are already in place ?
That's a really big deal to me and it's something I'm looking at. UCLA Is saying that they are trying to get things done and have the new facilities ready by the time I would get there as a freshman. But with UCLA, it could be hit or miss because not everything may be fully ready whereas with Duke and Kentucky, they have places that are already there and are really nice. Like I've heard with Duke that their workout facility for the players, it's just top of the line and it rivals what some NBA teams have. I definitely need to look at that fact when it comes to UCLA. It is really important that I go to a place that has facilities that will help me workout and get better as a player.
What was the interaction like with the Head Coaches?
The thing with all of them is that they are very interesting men who are all committed to their schools. With Coach K, what's not to like, you know? He brings top guys in every year, talking with him, you just learn a lot as a person and a player and he talked about how the guards at Duke get the opportunity to play, but he also holds you accountable in practice and I think that is really great. That's what helps you get better as a player and I know that some of the things he was sharing about how he can help me improve as a player are things that I need to work on to get ready for the next level.
With Coach Howland, he's a real casual guy, just really laid back and he talked a lot more about the new facilities and what they are doing as a program to help develop their players.
So take me through then how you are separating things out and figuring out what really stands out to you?
It's really hard to evaluate. That's why I have to do my research on these programs because they all have good things that they do. I would say the most important thing is the style of play and the relationship with the staff is going to be the most important things to me. All of the schools are neck and neck with each other for different reasons. I'm going to have to take visits because I feel like I'm going to need to be in the gym and get the sense that I feel like I could play there and see the fans and see how the coaches interact with their players.
How do you get to do that evaluation at Kentucky when it's reported you are going in for their Midnight Madness?
Well, Midnight Madness is a fun thing that I'm looking forward to experiencing, but I've been to Kentucky before last year and that's a big reason why I scheduled my official visit to Kentucky to be the Midnight Madness.
What's the purpose then of lining up a visit to Duke since you've been on campus before?
With Duke, that's the thing, there's a reason why I think of them so highly and that's for many different reasons. Having had the chance to visit them and talk with Coach K and Coach Wojo, it's obvious that they let their guards play and the fact that his entire assistant coaching staff is all guys who played for him before and chose to come back after being players for him…that just says a lot about them as a program. Plus with Kyrie coming back and having talked with him about his relationship with Coach K, I can just see how the coaches and players really care for each other.
How big a deal was it for you to see Kyrie go #1 in the NBA Draft this year?
That's just great to be honest. The fact that Kyrie was hurt for most of the year and yet Coach K was able to still get him seen as a player and to see him go #1, man, that's huge. That's something that Coach K talked with me and my family about is how playing at Duke, the amount of exposure you get. He talked about the China and Dubai trip and how they got the opportunity to play those games on ESPN. That was all really great for me to hear. Plus, knowing that Kyrie has come back to Duke and is continuing to work on his degree while the lockout is on and is working out with the coaching staff, that just says to me how much of a close relationship he has with Coach K and the players and that speaks volumes about them as a program. I had heard before from other people some negative things about Duke, but I really don't agree with those things after getting a chance to talk with Coach K and Kyrie about the relationship they have and how Coach K looks after his players.
How much communicating did the assistant coaches do in the visits with the three schools?
Well, the Head Coaches said a lot, but Coach Wojo especially, he had some really great things to share. He talked about the opportunity he and the other Duke assistant coaches had to work with Team USA and how he got to work with Kobe, LeBron, Dwayne Wade and all those guys. To me, that's something that is absolutely huge, for him as an assistant coach to have that kind of experience of working with NBA players who are the stars of the NBA, I mean, what more could you ask for in terms of assistant coaches? He explained to me what they did in Midnight workouts with Kobe and LeBron and I was paying attention to what Coach Wojo and Coach K were saying to me with that stuff because that's big that they coached Team USA.
[For instance], Coach K was talking to me about transitioning to the two-guard spot because him and I agree that that is my position that I'm moving towards playing in the NBA. It also sent me through the roof because as a player, you look at LeBron and Kobe, that's like your dream to be as good as those guys are and to know that college coaches like Coach K and Coach Wojo have had the opportunity to coach those guys regularly, and help them get better as pros…that is just really important to me.
The perception has been out there that you're a West Coast guy, which could put Duke in a position to make up ground based on geography. Is that a fair assessment?
Not really, no. I don't feel like they had any ground that they needed to make up with me because I've been talking with them for a long time now, and this in home visit, man…it was like cherry on top of the sundae. Having Coach K and Coach Wojo there, it was really great, I just trust them so much, especially with what I've heard what they shared with me face to face.
I know it's early, but now that you've had time to digest some of it, how do you and your family feel about the level of back and forth between you and the coaches?
There was definitely a back and forth with me and my family and the staffs. If we had a question, we just asked it right there. I felt like I needed to get to know the staffs even better and I needed to look them eye-to-eye and see and hear how they responded to me and my family and our questions.
How did the staffs respond to that interaction?
It was really great. The back and forth with Coach K was awesome. He had me and my family's hearts touched, and he was just so honest with us. It was great, and he just gave me a real picture of who they are as a program and what they can do for me as a player and he was even showing me pointers right there in my living room on things we can work on to help me become a more complete player.
I said to myself, if he can do that here in my living room and it helps me get better, imagine what he could do if I go to Duke and have the opportunity to work out with the coaches and practice with the team and have Coach K be hands on with me, it'll be great.
We talked earlier about your chatting with guys like John Wall and Kyrie Irving. How much do those opportunities benefit you in this process?
It's been really a good thing to take a look at, and I try really hard to talk with them and ask them honest questions about their experiences at Kentucky and Duke so I can get a better idea about what they went through in their time in those programs and how it helped them get better.
What has been the most beneficial piece of advice?
With John, he told me that I have to be ready to work when I get to Kentucky if I go there because they bring in a lot of talent every year and playing for Coach Cal…he'll make you better, but only if you are strong minded.
With Kyrie, the first thing he told me is how much him and the players love Coach K. He said that he has a beautiful relationship with him and he helped him in so many ways to get ready to go to the pros. For Kyrie to say something like him and Coach K care about each other, that's just really beautiful.
In closing, how would you characterize your in-home visit with Duke and other schools in general?
I would say the Duke visit was absolutely a homerun in many different ways. The thing I've figured out now that I've had the three in homes is that there is absolutely no way I can make an early decision because everything that the staffs shared with me. There's a lot to deal with and I need to do my research and get to campus and see them play and I'll be better able to make the best decision possible.