Jalen Duren’s basketball life has always been in fast-forward.
Not that it’s been a problem. Duren stood 6 feet 8 as a 13-year-old and has dominated basketball courts since the time he was old enough to shoot.
A star at Roman Catholic High in his hometown of Philadelphia — he was named to the MaxPreps freshman All-American team — he moved to Montverde Academy in Florida as a junior.
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At 17, Duren ranked as the nation’s No. 6 player, and No. 2 center, according to 247 Sports. He was named the 2020-21 MaxPreps Florida High School Basketball Player of the Year as he reclassified to the class of 2021 before enrolling at Memphis.
“I wouldn’t call it rushing, or hurrying; every move I made, I always made because it was best for me,” Duren said Friday, shortly after he was introduced with Jaden Ivey as the newest members of the Detroit Pistons. “Reclassifying from high school, I felt like it was time to be in college, and leaving college, I felt like it was time to be in the NBA.
“I’m definitely ready to be here, embrace the organization, embrace the city, and I’m ready to get started.”
There’s no doubt he was ready in college, becoming the AAC Freshman of the Year with per-game averages of 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 59.7% from the floor.
Now, the Pistons are looking to take their time with Duren.
Embrace the learning curve
While Detroit has high hopes for the second of two 2022 first-rounders, coach Dwayne Casey said the worst thing he could do is rush Duren or put too much on his plate.
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“(Jaden and Jalen) are going to get tired of me saying it, ‘Old coach Casey always talks about fundamentals, two hands on the ball, pivot off two (feet),’ but that’s what’s going to make them better,” Casey said Friday. “When you have young players, the athleticism is there, the jumping, the quickness is there, but then how do you teach them the fundamentals?
“By being in school one year, it’s not their fault or the coaches fault, it’s just, you need the time to teach them.”
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That’s why Casey has a plan for Duren — for the big man to be the “roller” when operating the pick-and-roll with Cade Cunningham, as opposed to a pick-and-pop guy.
On offense with a fellow big, such as Marvin Bagley Jr. (a restricted free agent this summer) or Isaiah Stewart, they’ll be on the perimeter, while Duren will control the paint. It’s all part of the growth process that Casey is mapping out for the youngest player in this year’s draft.
“I told him there’s three ways he stays on the floor this year or gets on the floor,” Casey said. “One is to run his butt off in transition offensively and defensively, defend his behind off and then rebound. Those three things will get him on the floor. We will worry about the shooting and all that next, there’s a process to it. I said that about Isaiah Stewart, said it about all the young big guys I’ve had.”
That goes back to his days at Kentucky when he was recruiting athletes. Casey has grown as a coach, but learned to not put too much on a player’s plate too fast early on.
Duren’s size has drawn comparisons to Miami’s Bam Adebayo, but Casey threw out a different name on Thursday.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he reminds me of a guy I recruited starting when he was 14, and that’s Shawn Kemp,” Casey said, mentioning the former Seattle Supersonics star who was recruited by Casey to Kentucky. “They were raw the same way, still had to learn the game but they had everything that you can’t teach.
[ Pistons jacked their athleticism with the additions of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren ]
“Athleticism, power in their jumping, a lob threat.”
‘Where I wanted to be’
Ivey’s ties to Detroit have come up frequently this week.
But Duren has ties to the city as well, starting with the face of the franchise, a fellow Montverde alumnus.
“My sophomore year, Cade was a senior and he reached out and was very interested in me, that’s when I first met him and he expressed that he wanted me to come that year,” Duren said. “I did take a visit, didn’t end up going until the next year but the relationship was already starting to grow.
“And I mean, look now, I guess it really worked out for the best in the end.”
There’s also a Philadelphia-to-Detroit connection that has existed for decades.
From coaches Chuck Daly and Ray Scott, to execs such as former general manager Jack McCluskey and current vice chairman Arn Tellem, to players such as Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, who was an assistant coach for Memphis last season.
“It’s a great relationship with (Rasheed),” Duren said. “He expressed to me that he’s very excited that I’m here and coach Larry Brown is excited that I’m here.”
So is Troy Weaver.
The Pistons’ general manager said the team put together a list of seven players they coveted this year.
Ivey and Duren were “both at the top of that list.”
For Duren, the feeling was mutual. Projected to be drafted late in the lottery picks, Duren met with several teams.
It didn’t take long for Duren to think that one stood out above the rest.
“I worked out for the Pistons, they were my first pre-draft workout,” he said. “For me, I fell in love with the organization, and from there, I actually told my agent this is where I wanted to be.
“I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.
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