Behind The Scenes With Derryck Thornton

Following the visit to Duke for the game against North Carolina, five star point guard Derryck Thornton has returned home to resume his high school career. And he’s got a lot to think about following the day in Durham. We sat down with the player and his father to discuss the visit, the potential of reclassifying, and the players he could play with. Here’s the first half of our conversation…

Looks like you guys have been making the traveling rounds, how have the visits been going for you guys?

Derryck Thornton, Sr., father of Derryck Thornton, Jr.: Yeah we’ve been going to a couple. We’ve been going to Kentucky, Duke, I plan on going to Louisville and we are looking at a couple of official visits, we’re going to start looking at taking officials soon. He’s going to take his test soon and then we’ll go from there.

Which schools are you guys considering for official visits?

You know it’s still up in the air. We have a list that we’re going to be cutting down pretty soon I think. I’m sure Duke, Kentucky and Louisville will all get officials. 

For some with official visits they will take one at a time and see where they stand in the decision making process before the next visit. Others will make the commitment from the start to take all the official visits that they are planning to and then decide. Where do you guys fall in that spectrum?

You know what honestly Steve, if Derryck goes, we’ve been to Michigan, we haven’t seen in person that we want to see is Miami and maybe NC State. He’s seen everything at least once, so, if he was to go on an official and then say Dad, I want to decide, we would support his decision 100%.

Do you guys see real value for your decision making process as a family in taking a good amount of official visits?

Here’s the thing, we’ve seen a lot of games, a lot of basketball games and I also think that taking official visits is really important. Let me tell you why. Most times when we’ve visited a school it’s been really quick. We’re in town and we try to do as much as we can in that day and then we’re out of town. So the turnaround is super fast. One of the things we’re looking for with Derryck is somewhere that really feels like home and that he’s going to enjoy himself where he goes. When he made the choice to come to Findlay Prep, he gave up a lot of what a normal high school experience is, so one of the things we’re really trying to find with a college is somewhere where not only will he grow academically and on the court, but also socially as well and have a well-rounded college experience. So when you go on the official visits and you are there for a 48 hour period, not that you are going to see everything in a 48 hour process at the school, but you will definitely see a well-rounded view of everything the school offers, you know what I mean. Now I understand for a kid who goes to a normal high school that it might be the case that he doesn’t need a lot of official visits, but it’s different in our case.

The unofficial visits you have taken so far, has any presented an opportunity to at least get a small idea of what on-campus life is like and if so, has anybody made a positive impression to you guys with what you are looking for campus experience wise?

Every school has tried to do all that they can in a short amount of time, no one has kinda cut it too short. They’ve tried real hard, they know what we are looking for, they all have tried as much as they can to show us what the experience is like on campus. He’s getting an opportunity to see the campus really quickly, or getting to see a couple of classes really quickly, but because we’re not there for a full day or two like we’d be for an official, we really haven’t been able to see a lot more on campus.

And honestly, I really think all the schools have really made a positive impression on campus, just in very different ways. You look at Michigan. First it’s beautiful there. The campus is beautiful, Derryck wants to major in business and their Business School is absolutely phenomenal. The coaching staff really feels like they are brothers, there’s a lot of love coming from there. Plus they have the football team there, so you get a feel for what that would be like there. Then you go to Kentucky, the dorms where the basketball players live, it’s streamlined and it’s very focused and it’s kinda like what Findlay Prep is only on a much bigger scale. Their fanbase is also tremendous. Then you go to Duke and Coach K is just tremendous, he’s just a classy man who motivates you through positive reinforcement constantly. That was a really different thing for me to see in just how completely in a different way those kids are handled and spoken to differently. All 3 places and we’ve been to other places, but I’m using those 3 as an example. They’ve all been great, just all very different.

Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by how “differently” Coach K speaks to the players ? Any examples you can share from what you saw?

Ok, I can definitely give you an example. The way he communicates to his guys is in a very respectful, stern but loving way. You know he means it and you know he really knows what he’s talking about, so you have a lot of respect for him with that. He means what he says, but the way he speaks to you, honestly, I wasn’t even there a ton to see this, but it’s all about lifting you up and getting you to believe in yourself because you can tell from what he says that he believes in you. 

With that being your first time on campus for a visit, how was Coach K with you guys personally in your interactions with him?

Yeah it was our first time on campus, but Coach K talks with Derryck a lot. I talk with Coach Scheyer mostly and I think that’s how it should be. I think the player should talk to the head coach more, and I deal with them more day to day as a parent should.  The thing with K that Dahntay Jones told me, we were working out with Dahntay over a year ago and we were talking about Duke a little bit because this is before Duke and Coach K came to see my son play and he said to me, “Coach K is nothing like you think he is,” and I hadn’t even said to him who I thought Coach K might be. Truth of the fact, he wasn’t. He’s very fun, he’s like funny fun which you really don’t think he would be at first. You think he’s there to coach, he’s been coaching umpteenth 1000 years, he’s won a ton of games, he’s super humble, he’s funny as all hell, he knows the game and he is just VERY direct. He’s not there to blow smoke or try to impress you, he’s just real, and that’s all we can ask for.

How is he direct with you and Derryck, Jr?

He said to Derryck if you came here, here’s what I would need from you, here’s how we would play you, here’s how long I think you may be here, he tells you that he thinks you can be great and here’s what I think you could do here and I think it fits good. It’s just bang, bang, bang and he’s not telling you what he thinks you want to hear, he’s telling you what he sees because he’s been doing it for so long, whether you agree or disagree with it, you gotta respect it and you also have to really appreciate and respect how open and honest he’s being with you.

Have you guys reacted to his approach?

You know for me, I like that, I love that and I try to very much be like that with my son. I will tell him that when you stink on the court, you stink or when you are great, I tell you that you were great. So me personally, it speaks to who I am and how my son has been communicated to for a very long time. So that for us has been awesome. 

From your observation of Derryck—how have you seen him react to that approach from Coach K?

I think that’s what’s he used to.

Going back to something you mentioned earlier—does Derryck share a lot about how him and Coach K are interacting and relating to one another since he’s talking a lot with him?

Me and Derryck talk about it, but that’s their relationship you know ? So I don’t really want to be super involved in that because that’s their personal relationship and I want to make sure he is able to have that with all the coaches recruiting him. He’s gotta have that and establish that and we talk about things and I’m sure if something is bothering me, he would share that with me as well. 

Big picture question—it’s out there that you are evaluating reclassifying to 2015 as a family. What I want to ask is what are you guys really evaluating as a family as you think about is it a better situation for Derryck to reclassify to 2015 or stay in the 2016 class?

Me and Derryck go over this a lot. When it first came up, we were surprised and then we looked at it and we saw that he would only be one class away from graduation next year because he only takes pretty much core classes at Findlay Prep. Once we saw that it could be done, then we sat down and talked about what would be the pros and the cons. Of course a pro would be being able to be coached by a Hall of Famer like Rick Pitino or now, Coach K a year early, that’s a pro for sure and there’s a list of pros for sure.

Then there’s the cons, one of the reasons why we made the decision to sacrifice and move to Las Vegas and go to Findlay and for him to give up some of the things in high school that you give up to go to a place like Findlay Prep were to achieve certain goals. One of those goals was to become a McDonald’s All American and to play in the Jordan Brand Classic Game and things of those nature. If he were to forgo his senior year, he would give those things up. Also, just physically, this is my personal opinion, his physical tools and gifts are just starting to kick in better. So going up against a 22 year old man may not be in his best interest right now. So we want to take a good look at how he looks this summer, see his physical maturity. I feel like academically and maturity wise he can handle it because he’s a serious kid. It’s in God’s time that his physical maturity will happen and I feel like it’s just starting to happen with his explosiveness, his ability to put on muscle. We’re going back and forth, we’re in no hurry to make a decision and neither school is pressing us to make a decision, both have made it clear with Louisville and Duke that we would love to have him, but if he wants to wait, we’d still love to have him. So for us that makes it really easy and where we are right now is get through the season.

Do you think there is a point in time in the future where you guys do need to decide by whether he’s staying in 16 or going to 15 ? Or is it completely fluid for you guys with that decision?

Honestly what we’d love to do is wait until April, re-visit it with Derryck and maybe his high school coach and kinda go from there. I don’t want him thinking about that while we’re still in the season. In wanting to wait until April—how much importance is there for you guys in your evaluation to see what happens with the programs recruiting Derryck and what guys stay or leave for the NBA Draft ?  Oh yeah for sure, big time. Look for example if Tyus were to stay at Duke. If that happens, then there’s really no rush for us to get there because they would be fine, we would be fine and it’s not that he couldn’t play with Tyus, I mean you can see Duke is super successful playing two point guards. So yeah it’s a wait and see what the kids do, who comes out for the draft will definitely have a bearing on what we do. We want to see who is there of course and you want to see what’s the best scenario for Derryck and for the school. It’s not one thing, it’s a plethora of things.

I’m sure you are seeing the discussion about can Derryck and Dennis Smith potentially play together in college, is that something that’s even best for the both of them, etc, etc. Is that something that even a part of your evaluation process for Derryck’s decision?

I mean to be honest it’s like this. If we pick a school, I mean Derryck’s been working at this for like what, 10 years, let’s say 10 years, you aren’t going to pick a school based on what a point guard does or doesn’t do with college. If you really want to go there and play for that coach, and you will need to pose this to Derryck too, but I don’t foresee Dennis being an issue in a good or bad way to be honest with you. I feel like in the NBA teams are doing a lot of two point guard things, a lot of teams in college are doing that with some teams being able to pull it off really well. So for me it doesn’t really bother me either way. Look at what happened with John Wall, that worked really well with him and look at Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones right now, I mean that really works. If you can play and if guys can play together, that’s all that really matters.

I know there can be a difference for some guys between recognizing that two guards can play together versus we think it’s the ideal situation for the two guys to come in together in the backcourt. Is that how you guys look at that or is it a completely neutral situation and whatever works out, works out?

I feel like it’s whatever works out, works out. The truth of the matter is, Derryck and Tyus Battle are good friends, so they talk about things. I know Tyus is also being recruited by Duke and Kentucky and Louisville, some of the schools recruiting Derryck as well, Miami, Berkeley, Michigan, so a lot of the same schools are recruiting those guys. They are different scenarios but you definitely as a point guard want to go where there’s other talent because your #1 job is to facilitate, so you want to make sure when you throw that nice pass that it’s caught and it’s finished. I don’t think he’s going to really waver too much if somebody else were to come in, I know he doesn’t feel like he’d be playing against anyone or that he’s trying to beat out anyone, that’s it.

In seeing that Dennis and Derryck were on campus together for the Duke game recently—did you guys spend any time talking together or with the coaches together?

Yeah, Dennis and Derryck talk, it’s not like they are enemies which I know you aren’t saying, I’m just saying that they Tweet each other, they Instagram, they’ve been around each other and there’s definitely a mutual respect. Being that there is a mutual respect between them because they have played against each other several times, so when they see each other they definitely communicate and get the down low. Have the coaches brought them together and said hey we’d definitely like to have you guys come in together, I don’t think so. They are just friends, they are just kids, so i don’t think they are into it all that much. 

In general with the Duke visit—what were your impressions of what you saw and experienced?

I expected it to be one thing and it was more than what I expected. Let’s start with the kids that go there and the fans. Cameron, it was great, it was crazy and completely ridiculous. It was 30 degrees outside and fans were outside dressed in shorts and with blue on and it was ridiculous and they are sleeping in tents. It was just great and the fans were just crazy. The coaching staff, like I said, I talk to Jon Scheyer quite a bit and he’s a great guy, just a wonderful, great guy and getting to hang out with Coach Capel and a guy I got to hang out with a lot was Coach Nate James, I got to spend some quality time with him and Derryck did as well, and that was an awesome experience. Then, hanging out with Coach K and his demeanor and seeing how he coaches. When they were down 7 and a 1:42 left or whatever it was, he was just like we’re going to win the game. He just speaks confidence into his guys and with most who would think that it’s a tough time, he was just him, the whole time and it was good to see that. The campus was beautiful even with it freezing that day, but man it was hot in that gym. All in all it was excellent.

What was different for you with what you expected to see versus what you actually saw and experienced?

I definitely went in expecting to see that Duke’s a great school with great character and all those things. But I think once you get there, everything is just better than what you thought it would be, for me at least. It was a 10 out of a 10, I don’t even know how to qualify everything about it. The way the players reacted, how they carry themselves, the campus itself, the education which I already knew is top notch. The support system there, the fan base there, the alumni there is just part of, going to Duke is like being a part of a fraternity. It’s something that is with you way longer than the 4 years, it’s more than you can possibly ever want in a school.

Did you guys go in with questions you were hoping to have answered during the visit, or was it more just go in and let’s see what the coaching staff and players have to say?

We talk a lot, so I think most questions have been asked and answered already. The same things you ask anyone like how do you see you guys using him, what do see are his strengths and his deficiencies so we can work on those, strength and conditioning program, how’s their schedule setup with when the kids are in the gym, when are they in class, when do they study, time to be a kid, all of those things you know ?

Since you have been talking so much with them already—what kind of things did the coaching staff choose to emphasize to you guys as a family on the visit?

Pretty much they stuck to everything they had done before the visit, they are very consistent. Like with Coach K he said what he has already told us that they liked about Derryck. Education I did want to see how they handled study hall, the scheduling, how the kids are prioritized in terms of how they get their workload and education done which of course at Duke you know it’s going to be done and the kids are going to make time for that and they are going to work their tails off with their education. There were tutors, there was the proper support system and of course, it’s all at a high level, they were just really consistent in everything they said.

How did the coaching staff frame the reclassification situation when it was discussed?

They just said that we know that this question has been posed to you guys before, we want to let you know that if it’s a thought, we would love to have you and it was real sincere.

When you hear schools like Louisville and then Duke ask you to consider reclassifying, how do you guys react to that ? Is that a big factor in the evaluation to reclassify?

At first it was a surprise and we were like, really ? At first we weren’t sure where he was at, we didn’t know how close he was academically. But it’s an honor for somebody to say that you are ready right now. We just take it in stride and see if it makes sense. You gotta understand that we weren’t even thinking about reclassifying in the beginning. It wasn’t a goal of ours at all before we were asked about doing it. We gotta take a look at it, we gotta examine why and how and first we had to see if it was even possible and once you find out that it is, then it’s about why and how and it’s really on him to decide, are you really ready for college ? Are you ready to start your journey ?

In closing, as you think about Derryck’s future in college—do you guys consider him to be a potential one and go pro type of player, or is he more likely to play all 4 years or something in between?

You know we have always said that when you are ready, you are ready but you really have to know, are you ready? If it takes you 4 years it takes you 4 years. If it takes you 1 year, then it takes you 1 year. There’s no goal. We don’t need anything, we don’t want anything except for him to be successful.

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