Talking with Duke’s Zion Williamson
Before leaving Duke to take over as Pittsburgh’s head coach last April, Jeff Capel spent seven years helping amass top recruiting classes for the Blue Devils.
Duke assistant Nate James was the lead recruiter with Capel and Jon Scheyer also involved in the full-court press that successfully convinced Zion Williamson to pick Duke over Kansas, Clemson, Kentucky and North Carolina earlier this year.
On Oct. 16, during the college basketball corruption trial in New York, part of a wiretapped conversation between Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and Adidas executive Merl Code, who is one of three defendants, was discussed in court without the jury present.
The two made references to a Williamson family member allegedly making financial requests in exchange for get the 6-7, 285-pound forward from Spartanburg, S.C. to sign with the Jayhawks.
Williamson, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and athletic director Kevin White in a statement, have expressed no concerns that Williamson’s eligibility was compromised.
Capel agreed when asked about Williamson on Wednesday during the ACC’s Operation Basketball event at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
“First and foremost, he’s an amazing kid,” Capel said. “He’s a great kid. I don’t know what other people do or what they did. When I was at Duke and now at Pitt, when we recruit a kid we never get concerned with what anyone is doing. I know it’s maybe contrary to what people think. But I have never ever said a word about another school. I don’t care about it. A lot of times I don’t know everyone that’s recruiting him. So I know what we did in recruiting Zion. And I know the man that I worked for. So there was no concern from my standpoint.”
A head coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma before returning to his alma mater to join Krzyzewski’s staff in 2011, Capel was a driving force in recruiting players who stayed one season at Duke and became NBA lottery picks like Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley III.
Williamson and fellow Duke freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish appear destined for similar career tracks.
That, Capel said, makes him intimately knowledgeable about the NCAA’s initial eligibility procedures, which have involved deeper background checks into top-rated players and their families over the last five years.
Krzyzewski said three of Duke’s freshmen -- Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish -- went through the process this summer.
“Somewhere between 10 and 20 kids each year are vetted at the highest level,” Krzyzewski said. “Not just our guys. But top guys. Three of my freshmen went through that process extensively during the summer and did everything they could to cooperate with the NCAA, including personal records which I thought, to be quite frank, was pretty invasive. You had to prove your innocence and guilt is assumed. Our guys went through that process. So we feel confident.”
Krzyzewski said Duke is allowed to fly the players’ parents to campus to meet with compliance officers during the process.
“We have done our due diligence,” Krzyzewski said. “There are people who say `Well, no one is going to ask anything of Duke because of Coach K.’ We do it every summer. They ask of us like anything.”
When asked if he would continue playing a player who has been mentioned in the trial, Capel said he trusts the enhanced background process.
“It depends upon what I knew about the situation,” Capel said. “Sometimes you have to trust your compliance, your university, the NCAA eligibility center. I know that stuff is extensive. I learned that the last seven years at Duke. It started with Jabari Parker, just the extensiveness and they pick randomly each year. Or they say it’s randomly. They pick guys. That’s pretty extensive. I was a part of it with our guys talking to their parents. Look, this is what’s going to happen. You have to answer these questions. Things like that. If all those boxes are checked, I don’t see how you can not play them.”
That same NCAA process initially cleared Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa last year.
However, since evidence of payments to his family having come to light in the college basketball trial, Kansas announced Wednesday it was withholding De Sousa from play pending an eligibility review.
Krzyzewski said Wednesday Duke is “not risking anything” by continuing to have Williamson play rather than holding him out of competition as a precaution.