Jalen Duren’s basketball life has always been one of fast-forward.
Not that it would have been a problem. Standing 6ft 8 as a 13-year-old, Duren has dominated the basketball courts since 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 transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida as a junior.
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At 17, Duren was No. 6 in the nation and No. 2 at center, according to 247 Sports. He was named the 2020-21 MaxPreps Florida High School Basketball Player of the Year when he was placed in the Class of 2021 before enlisting in Memphis.
“I wouldn’t call it rushing or rushing; every move I made, I always made it because it was what was best for me,” Duren said Friday, shortly after being introduced with Jaden Ivey as the newest member of the Detroit Pistons became. “When I came back from high school I felt like it was time to go to college and when I left college I felt like it was time to go to the NBA walk.
“I’m definitely ready to be here, to hug the organization, to hug the city, and I’m ready to go.”
There’s no doubt he was college ready and became the AAC Freshman of the Year averaging 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.7% from the floor.
Now the Pistons want to take their time with Duren.
Embrace the learning curve
While Detroit has high hopes for the second of two first-rounders in 2022, 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]get tired of me saying, ‘Old coach Casey always talks about basics, two hands on the ball, two (feet) turning,’ but that’s going to make them better,” Casey said Friday. “When you have young players, the athleticism is there, the jumping, the speed is there, but then how do you teach them the basics?
“By being in school for a year, it’s not their fault or the coaches’ fault, it’s just that you need the time to tutor them.”
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Because of this, Casey has a plan for Duren — that the big man be the “roller” when serving the pick-and-roll with Cade Cunningham, as opposed to a pick-and-pop guy.
On offense with a tall mate like Marvin Bagley Jr. (a limited free agent this summer) or Isaiah Stewart, they’ll be on the fringes while Duren will control the color. It’s all part of the growth process Casey plans for the youngest player in this year’s draft.
“I told him there’s three ways he’s going to stay grounded or get grounded this year,” Casey said. “One of them is to rip your butt off offensively and defensively in transition, defend your butt and then rebound. These three things will get him grounded. We’re going to take care of the shooting and all that next, there’s a process to that. I said that about Isaiah Stewart, said it about all the young big boys that I had.”
This goes back to his days in Kentucky recruiting athletes. Casey has grown as a coach but has learned not to put too much on a player’s plate too quickly.
Duren’s height has drawn comparisons to Miami’s Bam Adebayo, but Casey released 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 when he was 14, and that’s Shawn Kemp,” Casey said, mentioning the former Seattle Supersonics star who was Casey’s Kentucky was recruited. “They were just as raw, still had to learn the game, but they had everything that can’t be taught.
[ Pistons jacked their athleticism with the additions of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren ]
“Sportsmanship, power in jumping, a threat of praise.”
“Where I Wanted To Be”
Ivey’s Detroit connections have surfaced frequently this week.
But Duren also has ties to the city, starting with the face of the franchise, another 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 this year,” Duren said. “I paid a visit, didn’t go until the next year, but the relationship was already starting to grow.
“And I mean look, I think it really worked out for the best in the end.”
There is also a connection from Philadelphia to Detroit that has existed for decades.
From coaches Chuck Daly and Ray Scott, to executives like former general manager Jack McCluskey and current vice chairman Arn Tellem, to players like Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, who was an assistant coach for Memphis last season.
“It’s a great relationship with (Rasheed),” Duren said. “He’s told me he’s very excited I’m here and coach Larry Brown is excited I’m here.”
That’s Troy Weaver.
The Pistons general manager said the team had compiled 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. Expected to be drafted late in the lottery selection, Duren met with several teams.
It didn’t take long for Duren to think that one stood out from the rest.
“I trained for the Pistons, that was my first practice before the draft,” he said. “I fell in love with the organization and from there I actually told my agent I wanted to be here.
“I knew I wanted to be here.”
Contact Tony Garcia at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.