Alumni Interview: One On One With Corey Maggette

Corey Maggette was the first player in program history to be “one and done”. We sat down with the former Blue Devil to discuss his career in Durham, how his relationship evolved with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and much more.

Let’s start the interview with what you are doing now professionally, how did you get into the TV field after your NBA career finished?

Corey Maggette:  First of all, just with having the great opportunity to go to Duke, it was a dream come true.  When you think about Coach K, he’s from Chicago and being able to have him come to my house and to want me for his program was a real blessing.  Then I left early and through that process, I had an unbelievable 15 year of playing in the NBA, it’s such a wonderful game and so you know, basketball doesn’t last forever for players and I had to take steps even before I retired on exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if it was going to be coaching or in management, I didn’t know if it was going to be TV at that time. So really I went out there and did all the NBA Players Association programs and all the NBA programs to have a step ahead when the retirement process was going to happen. So through those processes and programs, I was able at that time to build a relationship with David Stern, Mr. Taylor that handles all the development for the NBA and players and then from there you've got Adam Silver who is a Duke graduate, and him coming in and I have a good relationship with him. I can call Adam Silver right now and we always talk and even if he doesn’t answer, he’ll call me back in the next five minutes and I think a lot that has to do with that is respect for Duke and overall he’s just a nice guy in general.  Right when I retired, I had the opportunity to do the CIF Championship for high school basketball and the long-time play announcer for the Los Angeles Clippers told me that I should try get into the TV industry and radio and see what you might like to do. He told me he thought I could do a decent job and from there, I got an opportunity because of Ralph and I haven’t looked back since then. Now I’m in my third year of working for Fox and I’m really enjoying it.

Several former players that we’ve talked with for this series who are also doing TV have talked about the learning curve they experienced in getting into doing TV.  Was that true of your experience?

You know what, for all of us, we definitely understand the game of basketball and you almost are like looking at it from a coaches’ point of view and not just from the players lens.  So for us we had to almost re-train our minds and now that learning curve is really about being able to both understand the game of basketball and then being able to articulate it to the camera so that your fans and your viewers are able to understand it. That was the process and then for me, the hardest thing really was things like when am I supposed to look at the red dot because sometimes there would be a red dot on the camera right in front of you and then they might switch it to another, so that red dot really became you were talking to a person. So that for me was the hardest thing I had to get used to in the broadcast industry, but also when you have a really good host on the show and other good analysts on the show, it’s really at the end of the day for the betterment of Fox Sports, it’s still a team concept. They want you to get better, they give you advice, they want to tell you what you are not getting right and what you can improve upon. As a former player doing TV, you still want to be coached on different situations and in that process, using those tools as a player and taking that hard work ethic you had in basketball—you put that into practice in TV.

You mentioned your relationship with Adam Silver, do you mind if I ask what for you have been the most memorable or helpful things he’s shared with you in your relationship with him?

The biggest thing is really I knew Adam Silver before he was the Commissioner of the NBA. So being able to see him and build that relationship with him through the Duke Alumni tie, I remember putting in a call to him and congratulating him on becoming the new NBA Commissioner and just talking to him and most time, he’s like your boss, but he’ll still talk to us with respect and it’s not just with me, it’s with all players in the League. So being able to contact him by cell phone or by email and then being able to actually see him return those messages in a timely fashion…that speaks volumes to what he’s been trying to establish in his first year. Plus just with the mentorship of David Stern of Adam Silver and just seeing how the NBA has grown since he came on, he was a pioneer with that and now Adam Silver is the guy who has taken over the reins and he wants to continue to build this League to an even higher level.

Let’s take a look back at your 15 year NBA career, what for you would you consider to be the major points of it where you feel you learned the most about yourself, both personally and professionally?

You know what, my first year I learned a lot.  Leaving Duke early was also a learning experience for sure. Most people didn’t like me at that time when I was leaving the Duke program.  Myself, Will Avery and Elton Brand were the first players to leave the Duke program early in the history of Duke and so it was a different attitude where for me, I had to have a tougher skin and to be able to take the heat. But also it was an opportunity where I felt it was a growing stage for me because it was my decision to leave. It wasn’t my parents decision, it wasn’t Coach K’s decision and even though I had a chance to talk with Coach K before I made the decision, it was my decision in that growth process. That was the first part of me really understanding that you have to be mature in this game, there’s no babies allowed and it’s a grown man game, grown men situations and for me, that was the first start of that.

Then, over the first 6 years of my career, it was another growing experience for me as I watching guys and you still had to keep growing as a player and I had to work myself into being a player in this League and to earn the opportunity to get minutes. So I seized that opportunity and every year I was able to see myself get better which was something that my father and my grandfather always talked with me about, they told me that I should always try to be a hard worker because there’s always going to be guys that are more talented than you, there will be people who are smarter, but sometimes you can’t teach toughness and hard work, so I used that as basically for the fuel to keep pursuing this game of basketball. Not too many people get to be in that kind of situation or to even play for long in the NBA, especially with how few guys came out of my neighborhood. I mean, it was guys like Doc Rivers, Michael Finley to myself, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, Isaiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, those are people who made it out. Chicago Basketball is unbelievable and to be one of the 10-plus guys who have made it out and to have a career with longevity like Juwan Howard, Michael Finley who I grew up with and watching him with his career, it was great.

Then with Juwan Howard being able to train with him every day at Hoops Gym with Tim Grover and he would always talk to me about having longevity in this game and for him, he played 19 years in the League. So I always took that model being those guys and then you look at a Hall of Famer like Isaiah Thomas, I always watched him as a kid and even though he played for the Detroit Pistons, he was a Chicago guy and I was always drawn to him. Then from his basketball career and going into management, that was huge, that was a person who really had a plan and not just a plan for basketball, but a plan for afterwords too. It was the same with Juwan Howard and Michael Finley. You look at Juwan Howard, he works for the Dallas Mavericks and he’s basically Mark Cuban’s right hand man. He worked for the Miami Heat and he built a relationship with Pat Riley and was on the coaching staff. Then you look at Isaiah Thomas, he was President of Basketball Operations with the New York Knicks. And I can’t forget about Quentin Richardson who now is in player development with the Detroit Pistons, Bobby Simmons who works in the NBA Players Association, all these guys have positioned themselves for life after basketball and I really took that to heart. I admire all those guys and what they have done for this game and for the Chicago community.

Then Doc Rivers, coach, player, he was the Coach of the Year my first year in the League and he’s won a Championship and now he’s with the LA Clippers and is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Those types of things as a player and as a person, you look to and really appreciate knowing the city they came out of and the people who came from that area as well.

It’s interesting that you have taken a different route from those guys you just mentioned by going the TV route while they went the League route in management or coaching. Do you envision someday trying to go a similar route as those guys, or is the TV where you see yourself pursuing a career?

You know what, I thought about going into the management with the Detroit Pistons after my last time with them, but things just went a different route and the TV thing was an opportunity where I didn’t to do as much traveling.  Being in this League for so long, our whole life was built around traveling from this place to the next place, so I wanted to be a little more grounded. So maybe after the next few years that situation might change, even now with the Clippers, I only do home games and I only do Big West college basketball that’s in Southern California, so I’m not doing as much traveling.  So doing that has kept me close and it gave me the opportunity to see my kids grow up and to be a dad because a lot of times as a parent, you really aren’t a dad because you are traveling all the time, you are kinda like an absentee dad when you are playing. So I kinda thought it was better to be around more for my son and to be there for him.

You mentioned earlier having the Chicago connection with Coach K, what do you remember about your process in deciding to go to Duke?

Honestly, the schools that I thought about were Illinois since I was from that area and the head coach then was Lon Kruger.  Then Georgetown with John Thompson and I had the opportunity to meet him which was a fantastic opportunity. Then coming to Southern California and visiting Stanford. Stanford was an unbelievable school and then I would say before that my all-time favorite school was UNC because of Michael Jordan and I was able to play against him every day in Chicago and watch him play at UNC.  Then it was Duke who had Grant Hill who was probably one of my all-time favorite players in the League and honestly man, Duke has a unbelievable basketball program and an unbelievable academic program as well. Stanford was an up and coming basketball program with unbelievable academics. Georgetown, both academics and basketball. Illinois was known for their basketball program more at that time. UNC had a huge basketball program then and had pretty decent academic programs, but if you had to choose the best school in terms of academics and basketball, it was Duke.

When someone says that you went to Duke or you went to Stanford, that speaks volumes and that’s why at the end of the day I chose Duke because Elton Brand and Will Avery and Trajan Langdon, when I was coming in there, I had the best visit of all time going to Duke. I had a chance to know Elton Brand before all of that because I played with him and against him at the Nike All-American Camp in high school. It was kinda like, you kinda feel a little more comfortable with people that you know and then also knowing that Coach K is a Chicago guy and knowing what type of guy he is because of the Chicago Way. Sometimes what you see of Coach K on TV, he’s totally different away from that. He will rip your head off in practice, tear you to shreds, but people would never know that but I understand that because that’s the Chicago attitude, so that’s why I chose to be a part of the Duke program.

When you chose to go to Duke, they were projected to be loaded on the wing and guard spots, weren’t they?

You know what, I wasn’t even worried about who they had at those positions to be honest.  Basketball was my second sport, it wasn’t even my first sport, and I never thought in a million years I would even be in a position to make it to the League because basketball wasn’t my first sport. I went there to Duke because I knew that I could still get a great education and not only that, it’s a great basketball program. I honestly didn’t know one player at that position there besides Trajan Langdon at the wing position. At that time it was Nate James, Chris Carrawell, Shane Battier, but I wasn’t worried about those guys at all because at the end of the day, my job was to go in there and be the best player that I could be and to outwork everybody. Deep down I knew, and that’s kinda how it went.

Once you get on campus, what do you remember about adjusting to life as a Duke student-athlete?

Yeah, first of all, leaving home from Chicago and going to Duke—it was a complete shell-shock and academically. I went to a pretty high academic high school and I go to Duke and was challenged even more. For me it wasn’t even more about basketball, it was about making sure that academically I was straight. So I get there and you see all these guys and you see their abilities, so you kinda get nervous but then again, I knew that they didn’t want me to come there because I wasn’t good enough, so I knew I just needed to go out there and prove what I could do. So that was my attitude and having some good guys on that team like Trajan Langdon who worked with the San Antonio Spurs, he’s such a great character guy, great man of integrity and talking to him was great. Then talking with guys like Will Avery and Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier was such a good guy man, just watching how he approached the game and defensively how good he was and how he also incorporated such a good offensive game, Shane Battier in the NBA really didn’t get a lot of credit for his offensive game, but before he was with the Heat and won those Championships and when he was with Houston and with the Memphis Grizzlies, he was a pretty big time scorer. I loved with him that as the game goes on, you have to evolve your game as a player and for him to win a high school championship, a college championship and to win a pro NBA Championship multiple times, my hat is just off to Shane Battier.

You obviously had a chance to compete for a college Championship in your time at Duke, what do you remember about the run you guys had?

Man you know what, it was a surreal lifestyle. We were rock stars, total rock stars with a basketball. Every game was televised, we had police escorts everywhere we went and everybody wanted to beat us because Duke was so good.  When you hear people saying Duke this and Duke that, people are mad at Duke because Duke is always a good program and Coach K not only got the best players, what he did better than any other coach that I’ve seen is he learned how to evolve as a coach and learn how to get your players on your team to run through a wall for you. When you are a good coach and your players respect you like a Coach Popovich in San Antonio, they will run through a wall for him but also, Coach K will run through a wall for his players and that’s the difference in the Duke basketball family and program.

So the freshman year ends and you and Will Avery and Elton Brand decide to leave early. What for you do remember about your process in making that decision to go pro early?

You know what, it was a crazy situation. I never forget, I was in the weight room and I was working out with the football team and there was this buzz about guys were supposedly leaving Duke which that was never heard of back then. Then all of a sudden my name was thrown in there that I might be leaving early, which I had never even had any inkling of leaving early. Then all of a sudden the two people I really relied upon and respected their opinion started getting a lot of information that it might be a great opportunity for me to leave and said “you could be a lottery pick and you might want to consider it”. That’s how the whole process kinda went down.

None of us, Elton or Will, none of us knew we were going to leave because at the end of the day nobody left Duke early at that point, so why would we want to be the first ones to leave Duke, you know? I’ll you tell man, out of the blue, it turned into one of the biggest buzzes on campus and then we ended up leaving.

I'll never forget Coach K at that time, he had hip surgery right after the season and we had to go to his house and talk to him. And I’ll say this man, Coach K, he’s such a standup guy, even though he didn’t want me to go at that time, he told me that he knew this would be a time where guys would start to leave.  Then he sat me down and pulled out all these papers and told me what the draft lottery was looking like.  He said here’s your potential position and here’s what you could still do for the Duke program.  He just kinda gave me both scenarios and I think too, you look at Coach K, he’s basically like a father figure for a lot of the guys and then he still, even though he didn’t want anybody to leave early, he still took his time to give us the advice that we would need.

From there, as grown men and individuals, you had to make your own decision and so that was the decision where I thought about it on my own and I thought to myself that this is a great opportunity. All of these kids are going to school right now are going to school to try and get a great job and to provide for their family, and I thought to myself that I would have a head start to do that. So I looked at it in that facet and I don’t regret leaving Duke early.  What I do regret about the situation is we got a bad vibe because we left early and you know sometimes in this world, people have to leave early to pave the way for other guys to leave early and me, Elton and Will were the guys who paved the way for other guys to leave early and the program was more receptive for letting guys go and giving them their due diligence.

I remember at that time with some people that we were like the black plague even though Elton was Player of the Year and it wasn’t that bad. But for us, there were people who were like, “why leave Duke early?” Maybe it’s because we were the first to leave early and we weren’t Kyrie Irving or Mike Dunleavy or Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer, all of these guys that left early—somebody had to be in that beginning stage.

How did you personally deal with that kind of feedback that you just mentioned?

Honestly man, I just kinda distanced myself from the Duke program. They were going their way and I was going mine is the way I looked at it. Honestly I just didn’t think about it. It kinda hurt my feelings a little bit because this is the program I really respected and now the Duke program basically I felt like they didn’t like me because of that process. Coach K knows and I had a chance to kinda clear the air and talk with Coach K and now man, it’s so cool to see all the guys who work for the team now have all reached out and want me to get more involved in the team.  

I had a call from Jon Scheyer who literally reached out to me two days before this interview and Mr. Capel reaching out to me. Johnny Dawkins, even though he was at Stanford, he was reaching out to me too. All the people, Coach K reached out and at the end of the day, they want their Duke family to stick together.  I know sometimes, like for us it was a new thing for the program at that time and people kinda had bad blood and bad ties about it, but it was time to move on and you can’t hold onto stuff in the past and for me man, I really love watching Duke and now my son wants to go to Duke.  

I also appreciate like with Coach K, his personal assistant who has been his assistant for 30 years and being able to stay in contact with her, she’s like a mom to everybody.  I still love those people there because it’s still the same people there from when I was there but they have moved up there. I really appreciate how they reached out to me and not just me, but Elton Brand and Will Avery too.

From those conversations you mentioned, what do you think was said in those interactions that helped deal with those rough feelings you mentioned and to rebuild the relationship?

I think it’s in due time, people change but I would say things get softer, people get softer and I’ll tell you, getting a chance to talk with Coach K and when I had a chance when I was with the Charlotte Bobcats at the time and being able to go to a Duke game and the coolest thing happened when I did that.  I was playing with Gerald Henderson at that time and he was like, “hey man, let’s go to Duke and watch a game there” and I told him that I wasn’t going to go watch a game there and he convinced me to go and I had a chance to talk to Coach K.  Coach K put us right behind the bench and then he was talking to us the entire time during the game and then the actual Duke family, they had a little mini video of me and Gerald playing at Duke which they didn’t have to do but it was really cool.  So for me that was me moving on and just forgetting about how I felt because everyone has their feelings sometimes and I just looked at the positives and at the end of the day, I love that program and I just want Duke to be good. So for me it was just about getting re-acquainted with everybody which was great.

In closing Corey, there’s a lot of Duke fans who will read this article, is there any kind of message or clearing of the air you’d like to convey?

I have met so many people being in the NBA that are a part of the Duke family.  People who stayed in the same dorm rooms that you did and being able to be around the Duke program with the coaches and the staff and everybody from the equipment manager level to the highest position, they gave me a chance to change my life to the highest levels as a human being for me and my family, that’s priceless and that’s how I look at being a part of the Duke family.

Being a part of the Duke family is priceless and I want to always remember that and maybe one day if my son goes to Duke, to be able to hopefully watch him play would be great and to watch Coach K continue to have the success he’s had. I’m proud of him and I’m proud of Duke. Being able to see JJ Redick all the time since he’s with the Clippers, it’s good to see your Duke family and I wish them the best always.

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