"It's like a badge of honor for Josh and I," said Thornton. "It's like we're representing the Duke name whenever and wherever we play. It's pressure, but it also makes you sharper as players because teams always get up to make a name when they play us."
Increased opponent motivation and staying sharp combined to allow both future Blue Devils successful seasons in the high school ranks. Now, back on the AAU scene with the DC Assault, the collegiate teammates to be are happy to give onlookers a preview of the Duke program circa fall of 2010 and beyond. At the annual Tournament of Champions, the two could often be seen barking out commands on the court to one another and their other teammates.
"I don't see how that's notable," said Thornton. "I mean I don't see how you can't communicate when you're on the court. It makes the game so much easier when you are talking and working with your teammates - especially on defense."
"I agree," said Hairston. "I know, for me, it's been nice having Tyler out there on the court. We've got a great connection and when you talk as a player and as a team, it's so much easier to find each other and play good team basketball."
Certainly the AAU basketball circuit is hardly known for "team basketball" as the teams rarely have time to practice and do nothing more than workout the night before and event. So the onus is on each player to improve his game on his own time. Something that Hairston seems to have taken to hear over the last year - seeming to improve his explosiveness and quickness since being at the TOC last year.
"I think it's just a case of me growing into, and being comfortable with my body right now. I am working out with a personal trainer four times a week right now. We work on weights, lateral movement drills, and ball handling. My goal is to be a well-rounded player so that when I get to Duke I can contribute. Part of it, though, is just allowing my body to grow, but I do feel a bit more athletic that I did this time last year."
That well-rounded player theme is something the Duke coaching staff appears to value with frontcourt players judging by the roster. By the time Hairston arrives the Blue Devils will sport a frontcourt featuring versatile bigs Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee, and Miles Plumlee. So how does Hairston fit in?
"When I talk with Coach K, Coach Wojo, and Coach Nate about it, the first thing they say is a 3-4 like Kyle Singler. They feel I've very versatile - I can go inside and outside depending on what kind of guy is on me. But, again, I'm willing to do whatever Coach K needs me to do. I consider it an honor and a blessing to be able to play for him at Duke, and I'm going to take it all in and listen to everything he says and do everything he asks. If that means playing the one, I'll play the one. If it means playing the five, I'll play the five."
Such a role may remind Duke fans of former Blue Devil Shane Battier. It's a comparison that Hairston has heard, and is hoping to live up to.
"He is one of the top players in the league right now, especially from a defensive standpoint, and that's what I am working on. I know that if I don't play defense I won't be playing much at Duke. So I'm trying really hard to work on that. I take a lot of pride in playing defense the right way."
Perhaps one of the most important roles that both Hairston and Thornton are playing over the last few months, and will continue to play until arriving on campus, is that of recruiter. Thornton, in particular, has been especially active.
"We are all doing our part to help get guys to Duke. I know all the commits talk a lot to Harrison Barnes. He's the guy that everyone knows about. He's a big time target for everyone. I've just told him how awesome it'd be to have everyone at Duke together. Having him and Andre [Dawkins] running the wing, with me getting them the ball. He knows we want him with us at Duke."
Interview conducted by Steve Clark.