Behind the scenes with Tyus Battle

Recruiting is starting to progress for five star 2016 guard Tyus Battle, who will visit Duke in October for Countdown to Craziness. We sat down with Battle’s father to discuss the summer, his recruitment, timeline, and much more.

To start, I would like to hear your thoughts on the benefits of playing in the Team USA program.

Gary Battle, father of Tyus Battle: That’s a good question, when he first went there back when he was a freshman, he really didn’t know what to expect. The first time he went he was actually hurt, he had turf toe so he was out for about a month. The way USA Basketball does it, once you are a part of it they want you to stay a part of it so even though he was hurt that first time, they still wanted him to be there and be a part of the experience. It’s more than just playing, it’s also about just getting to know the guys and I think that really helped him.

The negative was he didn’t play right away, so he wasn’t in a comfort zone at first with the setup and being around the guys for the first time. Because he wasn’t himself, he didn’t play all that well and he ended up being cut the first time but he went the next time the following year, they had a little trial and workout and he played really well, he was more comfortable and there had been a lot of growth since the previous time he was there and he felt comfortable that he would do well. Then he had a great summer this time around and I think that helped lead to him playing well and making the team and be more competitive than the first time. I think he was probably one of the two or three better guards there and he really matured a lot, there’s a big difference in him in that he’s kinda talking a lot more, he was pretty much a shy kid before but now he’s above that and he can now lead a conversation. He can lead a team, I think he’s learned how to do a better job on how to lead a group of guys and even at home, he’s just more open, he’s talking more with me about the things he wants to accomplish in his life with not just basketball but also academically, what he wants to accomplish this year. He would never do that before, so a lot of that I think came from him participating in USA Basketball.

How did you feel seeing him make the USA Team this year after you described the adversity he fought through early on in his USA experience?

Yeah, it was amazing because actually I could really look at how much he’s grown, not just physically but also emotionally, socially. We had a great moment at the USA Trials when he made the first cut from 36 or something like that down to 17, he came out of that room and he just had the biggest smile on his face and he walked over to me and I just felt so good for him. It was the polar opposite of what we felt the first time when he didn’t make the team. It was a great moment for me as a parent and also as a coach, because I do a lot of training with him. All the work, all the things I told him was “I told you, I told you, just keep working hard, do what you are supposed to do, finish every drill, do what you need to do.” Right now we’re working on his catch and shoot which is a weak point for him, we’re trying to get that done. He shot 47% from 3 at the Peach Jam on the catch, so that’s something we’re looking into getting better. He puts up a 1000 shots a day, so the improvement he has made has been because of the work.

You also hear with USA Basketball about the relationships that are formed, both player to player and also parent to parent—has that been your experience as well?

Oh yeah for us, absolutely. I’ve gained so many positive relationships through USA Basketball. I know Tyus has as well, he’s gotten really close with Derryck Thornton, Jr., V.J. King, Harry Giles, and Caleb Swanigan is a kid he got really close with this year. He said, he talked to me a lot about Malik Newman who is somebody I really didn’t know but he talked a lot about him, he said he’s a great kid. Josh Jackson who I know, he’s a great kid as well. With the parents, same thing, VJ King’s parents, Derryck Thornton’s father Tank, Justin Tatum, Mrs. Giles, Harry Giles Sr., It’s really a unique situation with the parents and the kids, we really are all on the same team and by the time we see each other on the circuit, we all hope the kids compete hard and win, especially with USA Basketball. Nobody cares how many points each guy scores, we all just want to win.

What was it like for you seeing Tyus come home with the gold medal around his neck?

Aw man it was awesome, I picked him up at the airport and I was really excited just as a parent to see him, but also to see him and how proud he would be, there’s nothing better than seeing your kid that you’ve worked with for so many years, to see him succeed through hard work and to be able to win a gold medal and to also have all these scholarship opportunities, it’s really a dream come true. He’s exceeded all my expectations.

With working with Tyus on his game, how have you seen him grow as a player through this spring/summer?

I think as a player, he’s always been a pretty good ball-handler even for a big guy, he really had to improve his catch and shoot and to be more aggressive through the games. He’s really improved that and being involved in more plays, learning how to be shot ready and understanding his tendencies especially with his shot and how he can improve his shot. He’s really improved a lot, he understands what his tendencies are and where he needs to improve with shooting the basketball. We’ve really worked hard at him learning how to play without the ball because he’s always been good with the ball, but he needs to learn and get better without the ball. I thought he did a really good job at the Peach Jam with playing off the ball and he can play with the ball too. I think that’s one of the biggest things that Tyus brings to a team, he’s just so versatile, he’s one of those guys you can envision doing a lot of different things.

This year he came off the bench which I think was a good thing for him because he can come in and play the point, he can play the two and the three which I think all are good because he can play all three of those positions. Next year, I think the sky is the limit for the him.

Speaking of Tyus playing the point, are a lot of the schools recruiting him indicating that as a part of his potential role at their school that he would play some point guard?

Yeah, I would say about 90% of the schools are saying that they would play him there or play him at some point in time, but he would have the ball in his hands. That’s exciting for him, he likes to have the ball in his hands so he can make decisions but he’s also a very unselfish player. He’s more of what I like to call a lead guard who tries to make the right play and that’s really how he’s learned to play his whole life. I always told him, just be a basketball player, wherever you go, just make plays for your team.

How hectic has it been for you guys in lining up the visit dates for the fall with so many schools recruiting Tyus?

You know, we are going to try and take some visits to some schools that we haven’t been to so we’re going to try and just do that with the exception of maybe Kentucky with their Big Blue Madness, we’re looking at trying to do that. It’s been a hectic year for sure, especially with his spring and summer and USA Basketball and now he’s got the Elite 24, so he really hasn’t had much of a break. I think it really helps Tyus build confidence being on campus for these visits and visualizing himself there and in some cases actually being able to play with the college guys. I try to give him the opportunity to do that, we’re planning on trying to go to I think Kentucky, possibly Duke on the 25th of October and maybe Virginia, we’ve been to so many places including Louisville and others. I think we’re going to try and go to Florida as well possibly, we just need to do our due diligence.

Are those the only schools remaining you feel you need more information on for your due diligence?

Yeah I would say so based on my research. I think these schools we need to look at and have a discussion. We want to try and make this list a little shorter by the time the season starts, that’s the idea. Out of the schools we’ve already visited, the remaining schools to visit I just mentioned. We’re going to try and get it down to 10 and with us taking these visits coming up, I don’t really see the need to duplicate our efforts with schools we’ve already visited, but the schools we haven’t visited yet like Florida, Duke, Virginia, I think that’s about it before we finalize the list of 10.

Do you go into the Florida, Duke and Virginia visits with the mindset of evaluating if they are going to make Tyus’s Top 10, or do you go into them knowing they are already likely on that list?

That’s a good question, I would say we’re still in the process of figuring out where we’re going to go with the list of the 10 schools.

You mentioned your research process into schools—what’s going into your research process?

Well the first thing I always ask is what does Tyus want, whether it be culture, where you want to be, where do you want to live because you will be living there for a long time. Is there anything that’s off-limits I ask him in terms of parts of the country that you don’t want to live in, I think I left Arizona off that list, Arizona should be in that list as well. Can you live on the West Coast, can you live on the East Coast, do you want to live in the cold or have change of seasons? He’s pretty open, he’s not concerned with it because we live in North New Jersey, he’s been in the cold, he likes the change in seasons. He just wants to go somewhere the culture is right, where socially he fits in and obviously from a basketball perspective he wants to be able to go and fit in and be able to play and have a coach that communicates and that will be fair to him.

I actually have files on all of the schools that I think he’d be interested in. They are manila folders and I collect data and I put them in the folders. I take everything from the weather to the US News and World Report where they rank schools academically  to what their student body is because some kids want to go to a small school while some want to go to a bigger school. That’s kinda how my family looks at it and then we get the files ready for him and then we talk about it and then we go through the facts because the devil is in the details.

I also DVR a lot of the games so he can watch the teams play. The Big 10 Network has been a big help with that, there’s a lot of games they play this time of year and we look at their games and their style of play. Duke’s easy to watch since they are on so much, Michigan as well, Kentucky’s really easy, so we have plenty of things we do, we read a lot of articles about things. We just read the ESPN Top 50 coaches, we don’t take everything at 100% face value but there’s a lot of information out there.

We also actually talk with parents around the country with kids being recruited by schools, similar kids to Tyus. Most of the USA Basketball parents, obviously myself and Tank will talk, Mr. King, we’re not talking like we’re trying to drive our kids to the same schools, we’re just exchanging information, dialogue between coaches and all that.

Since you collecting articles on schools—how much do you pay attention to the fan and media perception of schools?

Let’s put it this way, if there’s a whole lot of negative about schools I do try to pay attention to that. That means I don’t want scandals or anything like that, we look at wins and losses, guys to the league, graduation rates, TV time, all that stuff. Those sort of things, strength of schedules, number of times they have been in the NCAA Tournament. Those are the things that we are gathering all the data on.

With the upcoming fall visits—what kind of unanswered questions do you go into those visits with considering how much of your own research you’ve done already?

I think everything with me and with my family, it’s all about where is Tyus going to feel comfortable. You won’t actually know what you where you want to go until you actually feel the places and I think a lot of times your instincts and how you feel take over when you are there. From day care to grammar school to high school, I’ve picked that stuff for Tyus based on how we’ve felt when we went there and the information that we gather. So far I haven’t been wrong and even with Tyus’s move to Team Scan this year from Team Final. I second guessed myself at one point but I turned out right again from a growth standpoint he went through a little bit of a struggle and to be able to fight through that, I think that’s how he become the monster he became this summer. Then with him making USA Basketball, I think it was all connected with how he grew because he went through struggles and he grew and he overcome obstacles. A lot of parents and coaches don’t want your kids to struggle but I think you have to so now when that tough situation comes on a college campus, now he’s able to handle that situation better because he learned how to handle it and change and grow during the spring. It’s a real growth opportunity.

From a fit perspective in college—does Tyus need to come in and play with a group of really talented players or is it a better fit for him to go somewhere and be the primary guy?

I think any place he goes he’s likely to play with a high level of players, Top 100 all the way up to Top 10 kids. I think he fits in in that situation and also in his high school situation, he doesn’t play with all top 10 guys so he puts up bigger numbers there but the adjustment for him this summer was playing with two bigs who are in the lane and feeding them and maybe not being the first option. The adjustment was there and he was also a younger guy on the squad. He did a good job at adjusting when it counted.

To follow up on your response-is it more ideal for Tyus to play in a college offensive system where there’s a lot of movement, lot of spacing, shooters on the floor or is it better to play with some established bigs?

Yeah I think with him, I think he plays at this moment he best plays in space so I think it’s important for him to be around some shooters and even though he’s a shooter himself, I think it’s important for him to be around some guys who can really space the floor. He’s got a good first step so playing with guys who can space the floor, that allows him to get to the rim and do what he does. Maybe a balance of shooters and high level players, but he’s best playing in space. That may have some bearing on conferences, like we’ll have that discussion on what conferences are potentially best for that and for him with style of play. I’m going to tell him, you play better in space, it’s a little more difficult when things are bottled up. At the end of the day it’s his decision, I’m just the veto and data guy.

Being the veto guy—what are the veto points potentially for you if Tyus were to come and say Dad, I’m looking at this group of schools for where I want to go—what would be the veto points for you if they arose?

Good question, we haven’t gotten that far yet, but I don’t want a slow down offense, I don’t want him to be the only high level guy. I think it’s very important that he be able to both practice and play with and against high level guys, the best you can possibly play against. I think he needs that challenge and he also needs to be able to play with a high level communicator at coach who is able to coach with tough love, I think that’s important for him, he’s definitely a kid that can be coached, that’s for sure.

You mentioned Duke before and it sounds like they have been recruiting him for awhile from reports—how far back does the relationship go with the Duke staff and recruiting Tyus?

Since he was a freshman. We had relationships with, and I actually used to train Luol Deng, I used to work him out. Duke I don’t think was too aware of it back then, but I had that connection to Duke with Luol and also with Jay Williams, he trained in the same gym that Tyus trained him when Tyus was real young, like four or five years old when he was going into his freshman year at Duke. With Luol, I trained him during when he was in high school, when he was at Blair Academy. Tyus was initially recruited by Chris Collins through the relationship we had with Luol Deng and then Chris leaves and it was Wojo who continued it by communicating with us on a pretty regular basis and then of course with Coach K and Coach Scheyer and Nate James, all the guys are talking and involved with Tyus.

The relationship with Duke is pretty good, I would say it’s very open and honest, I talked to Coach K back on the phone during the Peach Jam and he told us that he wanted to have an open dialogue and stay in communication and he really likes Tyus as a player. He thinks Tyus is a Duke player, he fits in there well, and Coach Scheyer and I talk pretty regularly and he’s been very open with me and he’s answered my questions and I’ve done the same for him. Across the board, that’s the approach we like to take. It’s been really good with them, they have been really open with us and I really appreciate that.

When Coach K offered—how did you guys react to that?

Ecstatic man, we were ecstatic because for him it was a really big deal because it’s Coach K and it’s Duke and it’s something, those guys are guys he really admired. Then we had Kyrie Irving come from New Jersey to go there, there’s a lot to it and actually it was probably one of the more signature moments that I can really remember with Tyus, it was a special moment especially since culminating with the Peach Jam, he was playing really well and those conversations were just the polar opposite from the spring where Tyus and I were trying to figure out what was going on. I called Tyus on the phone because I was in the team hotel for the Peach Jam and I told him to come up to my room. I told him that I’m proud of you and Coach K wants me to give him a call with you and Tyus was like “Really?”, and I said “Yeah, he said he’s watched you play and he really wants to talk with you.”

I called Coach K up and I asked him how he was doing  and initially he thought he was talking to Tyus because our voices are a little similar but I told him it was his father and I told him that he and I had actually met years ago. He spoke at a sales conference of mine way back when, had to be like 2000, 2002 or something like that out in Vegas. I spoke to him there and I told him that one of these days you are going to be recruiting my kid and so I told him that on the phone and we had a good laugh about that. Then I put Tyus on the phone with Coach K and he offered him a scholarship and said we can really see you at Duke. It was funny because when I travel for my sales business, sometimes I would call Tyus and would joke around and say I was Coach K and that I was going to offer him a scholarship, so it was really a big deal for us when Coach K actually gave the offer.

In the grand scheme of things for Tyus’s recruitment—how would you say the Duke offer has impacted it?

You still have to do the same things, it’s like with anything else like with business you have to do your due diligence and make sure it’s the right fit. That’s the fantasy part and then there’s the real part, you still have to fit in, you still have to get on the campus and see what kind of opportunity you have to play because you obviously have to earn that wherever you go and you have to make sure it’s the right mix for him. That’s where I come in, I know with the fantasy, he can go to these Midnight Madness, Big Blue Madness and Duke and all that stuff like that, you can get emotional and it’s a crazy environment, you have to keep it to reality because let’s face it, all these schools have done a great job. Ohio State, the Indiana’s, Syracuse, they all have done a great job. Duke’s a great place but we have to make sure it’s a great place for Tyus.

It sounds like you guys have a plan for his process—is there an ideal commitment timeframe you guys have in mind for Tyus?

Well, it definitely will not be before, I’m not really sure—I will leave that up to him. There’s so much more work to be done and we want to go through the process and have the five official visits. We may not take all five, we’ll have to see with that and then we want to try and get those unofficials done in the fall that I mentioned before. Probably we’ll focus on the schools he hasn’t been to as much and then we’ll try to do the right thing and be fair to the schools that may not be the best fit for him because we have to be fair to the schools, they are all great schools and we don’t want to waste anybody’s time and we’ll see how things go in the future. He’s gonna do the Elite 24 this week and then take a few weeks off and then get back to lifting and improving his game and getting stronger and keep staying humble.

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