DURHAM — Javin DeLaurier stepped into David Robinson’s gym, ready to get tips from one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, who just happens to be the father of one of his Duke teammates.
He was stumped by The Admiral’s first question.
“Where’s your favorite spot to get the ball?” Robinson asked.
“I don’t know,” the Duke junior stammered.
“Well,” Robinson replied, “you need to know.”
Just like that, Hall of Fame summer school was in session.
“That’s something I never thought about before,” he said. “Where are my spots where I can score and be really effective.”
DeLaurier has shown athletic ability since arriving at Duke two years ago, but his raw talent has made him a project, limiting his time on the court. After playing sparingly as a freshman, he appeared in 33 games last year. He frequently found himself in foul trouble, however — he fouled out of five games and picked up four fouls three other times — which limited him to 12.7 minutes per game.
Still, he has a knack for rebounding which could be a valuable asset for the team, if he can stay on the court. DeLaurier averaged 12.5 rebounds per 40 minutes last season.
He’ll be expected to take on a larger role with this year’s team, which will need someone to do the dirty work inside.
Enter Robinson, the father of junior forward Justin. The Hall of Fame father and former walk-on son extended a summer invitation to DeLaurier to come work out with them.
“For the majority of the offseason (three of the six weeks that the players were off campus) I was actually in San Antonio,” DeLaurier said, “working with Justin and his father, just trying to better my game and learn more about basketball, especially from the mental side of things.”
The question about where he liked to receive the ball was just the start of a master course on the mental side of basketball.
“From a mindset perspective, I really thought about the game in a different way,” he said. “I started to pay much more attention to detail. Before, I would obviously think about the game, but never to the level that he described to me, which is great, having one of the best to ever play the game try to walk you through the process of trying to get better. It’s an invaluable tool.”
They watched tape together.
“It wasn’t film work like you’d think of from a coaching perspective,” DeLaurier said. “We watched tape of old games, and he would point out certain things. But it was more like when we’re on the court, thinking about where you want to get the ball, how to read the defender, things like that.”
Then there was the on-court instruction. Robinson may be pushing 53 and 15 years removed from the NBA, but he still had something left in the tank for DeLaurier.
“Oh yeah,” DeLaurier said. “He’s still quite an athlete. We didn’t go one-on-one full go, but we did some drills. He taught me a lot of stuff.”
Robinson also taught DeLaurier how to train off the court.
“We were in the gym about every day,” he said, “and we did kickboxing and yoga two to three times a week.”
While Duke has done yoga to improve flexibility in recent years, the kickboxing sparring was new to DeLaurier.
“It’s another form of cardio,” he said. “It’s great, because you really learn a lot about your body when you’re fighting someone — how long you are, the distance, how to read other people’s movements. It really translates well to the court.”
And, yes, DeLaurier found himself sparring with the 7-foot-1, 235-pound Robinson.
“He kicks pretty hard,” DeLaurier said. “I’m not gonna lie.”
The early returns have been good for DeLaurier. He started two of the three games on Duke’s Canadian tour and hit 10-of-13 shots from the field. He was third on the team in scoring with 7.3 points per game and pulled down 5.7 rebounds per contest. Even more importantly, he averaged 24 minutes a night, with just two fouls.
“Javin’s played great,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said during the trip. “Not good. Great. He’s understanding his role. He’s rebounding, playing defense, running.
“Javin has solidified what we thought he would be,” Krzyzewski concluded.
All it took was a summer trip to stay with a teammate, and his All-Star dad.