Rivals Trio Goes 1-on-1 with Yags
It’s not often that one grassroots program is represented by three prospects at an elite camp like the National Basketball Players Association Top-100. But the Mass Rivals trio of AJ Reeves, David Duke and Akok Akok did exactly that last weekend when they went toe-to-toe with the nation’s best.
We tracked them down to find out what they took away from the experience.
What does it mean to be invited to the NBA Top-100 Camp, knowing that the majority of today’s great NBA players also participated in the event during their prep careers?
David Duke: It was a blessing. When I heard I was invited, it was a true sign of my progress and a reward for all the work I've been putting in these past few year. I knew it would be a great opportunity to learn from the current and former NBA players on the Top-100 staff and also give me a cnahce to show what I can do.
Akok Akok: I'm grateful to be a part of this camp. It's a great feeling to know that so many talented players were in our same situation, then went on to college and prospered in the NBA.
A.J. Reeves: It meant a lot being invited to the top 100 camp because so many great players are invited and it just shows that your hard work is paying off.
You guys have an opportunity to play against great competition on the Adidas circuit but the NBA Top-100 brought the top players from all three circuits together. Were you looking forward to matching up with anyone in particular?
Duke: I was just looking forward to matching up against all the other top guards in my class. There wasn’t anybody specific, just anyone who is considered better than me. I wanted to match up with them to prove what I can do, that I could compete with them and see for myself how I measure up against other great competition.
Akok: I had no particular person but I just came to the camp to work hard and compete.
AJ Reeves: I just wanted to match up with the top shooting guards in the country. I wanted to go at them, prove that I can compete with the best of them and hold my own at the end of the day.
NBPA Top-100 Camp also assigns you to a team with other elite players who you’ve probably never had a chance to play with. Which one of your teammates did you relate with best or which teammate had a skillset that really complimented your game?
Duke: Simi Shittu, I played against him this past school year but I got a chance to play alongside him this week and it was great. We both play hard and look to push in transition, so we went hand in hand.
Akok: I didn’t go into camp knowing any one player on my team too well but after I spent a couple days with my teammates on/off the floor, we started to build friendships and that chemistry started to show when were on the court.
Reeves: I would say that as a team we all built pretty great good chemistry it wasn't just one player. We all wanted to win and we understood by sharing the ball we can make that happen.
Yags: This is where today’s players own a distinct advantage over the last few generations. People, and the media in particular, love to complain about NBA free agents choosing to build “super teams” but, it sends a message to young players that being unselfish is a small sacrifice to make in order to win championships. It’s all a product of who’s succeeding in the NBA at the time. Guys like LeBron and KD simply play the game the right way and send the right message.
What was the one thing you’ll take away from the NBA Top-100 Camp, from the on-court or off-court sessions?
Duke: One thing I'll take away is definitely to be mindful of my off-court decisions. Every player at the camp was in a similar situation. We came from a hometown where we are well known and, while the spotlight is a blessing, it can quickly become a curse because somebody is watching everything you do. We got first hand from professional players who shared their stories and it was inspiring.
Akok: What I took away from Top-100 camp is just to always be grateful. The speakers would talk to us about the positions we were all in and it’s something I’ll never take for granted.
Reeves: The things I took away from camp were to never stop working hard and always remain professional. As a top player in the country the spotlight is always on you. It made me realize the importance of carrying myself like a professional if I want to become a professional.
What part of your game will help you receive the most attention this summer?
Duke: I believe my first step and athleticism are definitely going to help me a lot.
Akok: My shot blocking!
Reeves: I think using the screen. I am going to be working more on that because using the screen opens up a lot not only for myself but my teammates. Whether one roles or the defender helps off the man, I can create by swinging it. Then I can attack the rim, shoot it or even get a dribble pull-up.
AJ, how does it feel to be recognized by your peers, like top-15 prospect Nassir Little, who called you the best shooter at the 2017 NBPA Top-100 Camp? And what does it mean to have two of your Rivals Brothers with you on this whole journey?
Reeves: It was pretty cool having guys recognize me as the best shooter in camp. I’m starting to notice the respect other top players are giving me and it’s appreciated since I’ve worked so hard to develop a deadly jump shot. And it's truly amazing that two of my Rivals brothers got selected for the Top-100 too. It shows that our team has some of the best talent in the country and that makes us very dangerous. This is what puts Mass Rivals in the talks of the best programs in the country. We compete, play hard as a team and we have top guys in the country because of that. It's a great feeling.