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R.J. Barrett, Celtics' Jayson Tatum talk Coach K, Duke difference

By Alex Butler
R.J. Barrett, Celtics' Jayson Tatum talk Coach K, Duke difference
Duke commit R.J. Barrett poses with the 2017-2018 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award in Orlando, Fla. Photo courtesy of Gatorade Media Lab

March 15 (UPI) -- R.J. Barrett and Jayson Tatum are on opposite ends of the cerebral spectrum when it comes to learning from Mike Krzyzewski: before and after.

One touted talent was wooed by recruiters and coaches for years, before finally choosing to take his skills to Durham, N.C. and spend time sponging sorcery from the stoic sideline seargant. The other has been there and heard that. Now he's applying those lessons on life and basketball to a blooming basketball beginning in the NBA.

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Tatum averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during the 2016-2017 season for the Blue Devils, before bolting for pro ball after his freshman season. He now stars for the playoff-bound Boston Celtics.

Barrett stands at the from of the queue, waiting to illuminate Cameron Indoor Stadium. He recently met Tatum for the first time and witnessed what a difference a year under Coach K can make.

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Tatum surprised the Duke commit Thursday with the 2017-2018 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award. He pretended to be a valet driver before forking over the hardware to the hoops phenom in Orlando, Fla.

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"I had no idea it was going on," Barrett said. "My parents said we were going to go out and celebrate my other awards. I came outside and he just pulled up in the car."

Barrett -- the top high school player in the class of 2018 -- received the honor at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Canadian starred at No. 1 Montverde Academy, leading the Eagles to a 32-0 season.

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He was named a McDonald's All-American and Naismith Trophy winner, averaging 28.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, two blocks and 1.5 steals per game. He also maintained a 3.14 GPA.

"It was a great surprise," Barrett told UPI. "I'm excited about winning [at Duke]."

Barrett already has a lot of respect for Krzyzewski.

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"Having one of the best coaches ever...you almost can't go wrong," he said. Barrett said he is excited to compete against perennial powers like Kentucky and North Carolina.

Tatum said he caught Barrett off-guard by showing up and presenting him with the honor, which he won in 2016. The Celtics forward struggled when asked to divulge a lone lesson he picked up while playing for Krzyzewski.

"It's tough to pick out just one thing that I learned from Coach K because...just every conversation and everyday interaction with the coach that you take along the way is very impactful."

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Tatum said that one of the coach's most impactful efforts comes from the pure belief he has in the 18-year-old players he brings to campus.

Barrett and Tatum both enjoyed the Blue Devils' 89-67 win against Iona Thursday in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.

The Blue Devils are obviously loaded with talent again this season. But the next few seasons could bring even more success. Duke already has commitments from the top 3 players in the 2018 ESPN 100, including Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish.

"[R.J. is] the best player in the county," Tatum said. "He's a great talent and has a great game. I'm always excited to see the next group of young guys come play for Duke and Coach K."

Tatum's Celtics had a rough start to the season, losing blockbuster offseason addition Gordon Hayward to injury. But Boston has rebounded behind a spark from Tatum, fresh out of Durham.

"It's a sense of pride playing for Duke," Tatum said. "So many players before me, the five national championships and the opportunity to play for Coach K. Not to many guys can say that."

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