Three Duke basketball players made powerful admissions Thursday.
Nick Pagliuca joked about not going to the NBA. Matt Jones said the mean-mugging from his high school days were a facade. And Amile Jefferson admitted, in the beginning, he never wanted to work out with Mason Plumlee.
“In locker room he’d be mad at me, really mad at me,” Jefferson said, noting he then realized the value of hard work on the Duke basketball team.
“You leave here a Duke player, but you also leave here a man,” he said.
That’s exactly what the trio illustrated in the final moments of their careers during Thursday’s basketball banquet at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Amile Jefferson, graduate student forward
Hailing from Philadelphia, Pa., Jefferson spent five years with the program. He was granted an additional year of eligibility after a season-ending foot injury his senior season.
Jefferson, part of the 2015 title team, won several awards Thursday.
He took home the Captains’ Award, along with Matt Jones and shared the top scholar-athlete award with Grayson Allen. Jefferson was also recognized for the best field goal percentage (61.3) and rebounding average (8.4).
“I saw him in high school, I said, ‘This kid could play, I wish he could shoot,’” coach Mike Krzyzewski joked.
Jefferson was the last of the seniors to address the banquet crowd, delivering a well-outlined speech in true Amile Jefferson fashion.
He ended with, “No matter where I go, what I do, when I’m an old grandpa, I will always have Duke here in my heart,” he said.
Matt Jones, senior guard
It was hard for Jones to get the words out once he took the podium.
The Desoto, Texas, native will also leave Duke a national champion.
He opened his speech by wishing his mother, Arolynn, a happy birthday before delving into an anecdote about his definition of toughness, which most often meant putting on a mean face during games.
“My teammates will tell you, I’m a huge softie,” he said. “In the best games I’ve played in, I was smiling and having fun.
“I used to think I could achieve greatness by myself. In the end, to stand in front of you guys I understand that I never was alone, nor do I ever wanna be alone again.”
Jones won the team’s best defensive player award.
Nick Pagliuca, senior guard
For the walk-on from Weston, Mass, graduating will close another chapter of Duke basketball. His older brother Joe played with the Blue Devils from 2004 to 2007. His sister Stephanie graduated from Duke in 2013.
Nick Pagliuca joked with his brother about being the better walk-on and how although he’s not going to play in the NBA, he learned more than basketball.
“As everyone should know, I’m not going to the NBA next year, but I’ve learned more from coach than Xs and Os.”
Pagliuca played in 24 career games.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan