Jayson Tatum ready for a big summer

One of the most talented and highly sought after players in the class of 2016 is St. Louis area prospect Jayson Tatum. Recently the nation's top rated small forward prospect sat down with TDD to discuss his summer plans, his recruitment to date, and much more.

"I'm really looking forward to this summer," said St. Louis (MO) Chaminade Prep standout Jayson Tatum. "We're playing in the Nike EYBL, which allows all the best players to come together. With me playing up a year, it'll be a great test for me to see what I'm made of."

Tatum is playing with the St. Louis Eagles and opened the Nike tour with a four game performance of 21 points and four rebounds per game in Sacramento. The Eagles will be back in summer league action on May 10th in Dallas. In between, the team will play in a tournament or two as will be the case throughout a busy summer.

One of the criticisms of the AAU schedule by some coaches has been the number of games and how it can somewhat dull the desire to win or lose. Is that something that Tatum has experienced?

"I can see that, but when you're in a big tournament and there is something to play for, I don't think it comes into play. With the EYBL, we're playing a lot of games and sometimes it's a challenge to get up for all of them, but we have to remember that if we don't play well, we aren't going to make it to the final tournament - the Peach Jam where all the coaches are going to be."

Speaking of the college coaches, Tatum says he's gotten used to so many being courtside for him whether it's an open gym, an AAU tournament, or an in-school visit.

"I see them more and more, but when they first started coming to watch me I was kind of intimidated, if not in all out shock. I mean you see these guys on television coaching at the highest levels, and now here they are watching me. I've learned to fight through those feelings, and I know they are here because I've been good enough to have them evaluate me. Now I have to keep improving so that they will recruit me based on how I perform."

What the coaches see when they watch the prospect in action is a 6-foot-7 wing who has tremendous length and size for the small forward position and is a solid athlete. He's extremely skilled, is a good passer, and has a tremendous feel for the game. Scoring wise, he can makes shots out to 22-feet, but he's also effective in isolation situations when he can take defenders off the dribble for mid-range pull-ups or finishes at the rim.

As he continues to work on diversifying his game, Tatum says he relies on his father, a former professional overseas, and a number of current and former NBA players for suggestions and guidance both on the court and off.

"My dad has been the biggest influence on me and my game. He played overseas and has really taught me a lot about how to be successful with my skill set. He's shown me how to be successful no matter if I'm playing the three or the four. I've also had a chance to get to know guys like Larry Hughes, David Lee, and Brad Beal. All three of those guys have played in the NBA, and they think I can make it there as well, but I have to get my body right, and I have to always work hard to keep improving. The main thing they've told me is to keep an open mind and stop being willing to learn."

That trio of professionals has also advised Tatum on the recruiting process where every high-major program in the country has come calling at least a few times over the past few months.

"Right now I've heard from and seen schools like Duke, Kentucky, St. Louis, Missouri, Michigan State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Kansas, and Illinois a lot. I've been on a couple visits to SLU, Missouri, Michigan State, Kansas, and Illinois, and I definitely want to visit Duke, Ohio State, Indiana, and UNC as well."

With so many options, and with so many friends who have gone through the high major recruiting process, what's the best advice Tatum has received?

"I talked with Brad about that because he's the closest to my age, and he said I need to focus on the coaches and where I feel like I have the best relationship and opportunity to succeed. Every coach is going to tell you they have the best of everything, but it really comes down to who you connect with and where you see yourself being pushed to be your best."

As for Duke, Tatum says he's spoken with head coach Mike Krzyzewski over the last few weeks and the Blue Devil head man has emphasized the concept of the five star prospect being a player who can play multiple positions at the next level.

"He's one of the best coaches around, from what he's done in college to his work with USA Basketball. He has a great system that allows his players to excel. Away from basketball, a place like Duke has great academics, which is something I'd feel prepared for having attended a place like Chaminade, where the focus is preparing you for college coursework."

Speaking of USA Basketball, Tatum expects to be back with the organization this season. It's an opportunity that he says offers a much different level than the typical AAU competition.

"It's an eye-opener for sure. Guys on the AAU circuit never have to worry about things like making your high school team or your AAU team. You know you're going to make it and you are going to play a lot. But with Team USA stuff, you're taking the best of the best from AAU and high school and you're put into a pool that means you have a real chance of being cut from the team. That's something a lot of guys aren't used to, and it can knock you back because it's such a different atmosphere. It's a real wake-up call for sure. You learn really fast that you have to respect the game and respect yourself by not taking anything for granted."

Tatum is rated as the nation's No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2016 and a five star prospect overall. Scout ranks him as the top small forward in the class.

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