“Be ready to take on the challenge next year and lead Duke to a National Championship.”
That was the text message Duke incoming freshman Jayson Tatum received from former Duke guard Quinn Cook following Duke’s Sweet 16 loss to Oregon in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
After Duke’s disappointing loss to Mercer in the round of 64 in 2014, Cook immediately sent a text to incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor stating he was ready for something special the ensuing season.
Fast-forward to 2016, when the Blue Devils were fresh off a drubbing handed to them by Oregon.
Despite being in the midst of a long, grueling season with the Canton Charge in the NBA D-League, Cook sent out another text—this time it was to Tatum and fellow classmate Harry Giles in a group chat.
“I knew Jah would be the main person to lead us to a national championship,” Cook said. “I feel we will go as far as Jayson and Harry take us next year. I know they can do it!”
If Cook’s text has the same effect it did on the 2014-15 team, Duke is on the way to its third national title in six years.
On Thursday afternoon, Jayson Tatum became only the second Duke signee (Jabari Parker 2014) to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year for Boys Basketball. The St. Louis, Missouri native averaged 29.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game and anchored Chaminade to a Missouri Class 5 State Championship.
Entering his senior season, Tatum had already built an illustrious resume filled with prestigious awards and multiple championships, including a gold medal with the 2015 USA Basketball Men’s U19 team. The one thing he was missing from his resume was a Missouri state championship.
Two weeks ago, Tatum checked that off the list with a 40-point performance in the title game to lead Chaminade to a 72-59 victory.
“Winning a state championship is at the top [of my achievements],” Tatum said. “It was really tough going 0-for-3 to start my career. People have to understand that you can have great players but you still have to focus each and every day [to achieve that goal].”
With his high school career nearing its end, Tatum is excited to begin preparation for the next level, but Duke wasn’t always the favorite. In fact, Tatum had never thought about suiting up for the Blue Devils when he entered high school.
“Growing up, Duke was never in the picture,” Tatum said. “It’s not because I didn’t like Duke, but Duke was the school that I never thought I’d have the talent or ability to go to.”
However, the 6’9″ forward consistently worked on his game to the point where he received a call from Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Tatum was “speechless” when Coach K’s voice echoed through his phone. Playing for one of the greatest in basketball history played a vital role in Tatum committing to Duke.
He signed his national letter of intent on November 15th last fall, and is one of five incoming freshmen who make up the second best recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN.
Tatum is a team player, which he emphasized when discussing his goals for next season in Durham:
“All the great players can’t do it without their team and I’m all about team success. The main focus next year is winning. I love to compete and win. Coach K does as well, along with rest guys coming in next season.”
Tatum is a terrific athlete who exhibits fluidity in every aspect of his game offensively. His skill and size, along with Duke’s projected personnel, gives Coach K a plethora of options for how to use him in his system.
One player who wasn’t initially part of the projected rotation for next season was senior Amile Jefferson. Barring a denial of the proposed medical redshirt, Jefferson will resume his role as team captain of the Blue Devils when the fall semester commences. Tatum has been able to build a strong relationship with Jefferson and is excited to possibly play alongside him.
“I can’t wait. He’s a great player and leader,” Tatum said. “I love his character and I think we’re going to complement each other. He’s going to take me under his wing and I’m going to learn a lot from him.”
With great talent comes great expectations and next season’s Duke team will have the mindset of “Championship or Bust.” Tatum learned what it took this past season to lead a team to a championship, and hopefully Quinn Cook’s motivating text message will serve as the catalyst that helps motivate another group of talented Duke freshmen to a title.