DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Jayson Tatum isn’t worried yet about expectations being too high for him as a freshman at Duke.
He’s preparing to start his college career as one of the primary options for a Blue Devils team that appears likely to begin the season at No. 1 in the polls. Duke has once again brought in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, led by the 6-foot-8 forward from St. Louis who could slide into the spot vacated by one-and-done player Brandon Ingram.
“We’re really not looking that far ahead,” Tatum said in an interview with The Associated Press. “With this freshmen class, six guys have never played a college basketball game, so those expectations, we’re just looking at the process.”
This is a blueprint the Blue Devils have followed to a title recently, with freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones leading them to their fifth national championship in 2015. Now they’re hoping Tatum and fellow first-year players Harry Giles, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson can do it again.
The road to Arizona in April for the Final Four starts now, with that freshmen class getting acclimated to college and meshing with a solid group of returners led by third-team AP All-American Grayson Allen and fifth-year forward Amile Jefferson.
“Those guys have welcomed us with open arms, and they’re like our new big brothers,” Tatum said. “They have so much experience just being at Duke – not just basketball, but the off-the-court things, how to get to classes and where to get food and just small things like that. They’ve been very welcoming with (me) and the rest of the freshman class. Our bond has gotten so much stronger and it will keep getting stronger through the rest of the summer.”
Tatum has some strong basketball bloodlines, but his family situation is atypical: His father coached against him throughout his high school career.
Tatum averaged 29.5 points and nine rebounds – scoring at least 40 points six times – while leading Chaminade High to a Missouri state championship as a senior. The path to that title led through Christian Brothers College high school – and coach Justin Tatum.
Justin Tatum says Pops got the best of his son only once – when he was a freshman.
“It’s like me and him are Siamese twins,” Justin Tatum said. “I have to coach against him, to prepare and just to see the attention that it brings, seeing him on the opposite team for the first time, it’s tough. But to see him not back down because he was never taught to back down … that gave me a special feeling, too, that my son is going to challenge anyone who’s across from him.”
He says the sport was “embedded in him from the jump” because the elder Tatum was playing college ball at Saint Louis in 1998 when Jayson was born, and it was his mother who helped introduce the game to him. By the time Jayson was a fifth-grader, Justin could tell what he described as “how special we noticed that he could be” on the court.
Justin Tatum says his son’s recruiting experience was different from his because “mine was probably a little more rugged … I could potentially fit in a lot of people’s program.”
Jayson, meanwhile, was a consensus top-five recruit in the nation, and, accordingly, was targeted almost exclusively by the sport’s blue bloods – Kansas, Duke and Kentucky. He committed to Duke last July, signed with the Blue Devils in the fall, arrived on campus over the summer and immediately began working on bonding with his new teammates.
“We’ve just gotten so much closer over this short period of time since we’ve been here,” Tatum said. “I think it will take us a long way.”