Dec. 19, 2007
BERKELEY - Sophomore Jamal Boykin, who began his collegiate career at Duke, makes his debut in a Cal uniform Saturday when the Golden Bears host Utah at 3 p.m. Boykin transferred in time for the 2007 spring semester and becomes eligible after the completion of this fall's final exams.
A 6-8 forward from Los Angeles, Boykin was named the Gatorade state Player of the Year after averaging 22 ppg, 12 rpg and 4 bpg as a senior at Fairfax High School. He saw limited time as a freshman at Duke, appearing in 26 games and contributing 1.0 ppg and 0.8 rpg in 2005-06. After playing in three games last season, he contracted a severe case of mononucleosis, and during his recuperation time, he decided to return to California.
In anticipation of his first game with the Bears, Boykin sat down with Bay Area media for an interview session Tuesday afternoon.
Are you excited about checking into a game for the first time as a Golden Bear?
Boykin: I've been counting down the days - four days now, so I'm very excited.
What has it been like to change from the gold team to the blue team in practice, putting you on the same squad as many of the starters?
Boykin: I've been doing that for the past three practices and it's been good. The first day was hard adjusting. Coach (Louis) Reynaud talked to me about just being myself, because playing on the gold team, the practice team, I played a lot of roles where I was taking a lot of the shots. And moving on to the blue (team), I didn't want to do that right away. That's a way not to make friends, to come on to a new team environment and take all the shots.
It took me a little while to get my groove, my rhythm with the guys, but over time I've gotten my rhythm with them and I feel we're going to play well together.
You've played both forward positions throughout fall practices, but are you as comfortable at the 3-spot as you are at the 4, where you've typically played?
Boykin: Wherever they need me, I feel I can play. I'm still learning the offense, but I feel could play (3) if they need me to play there. And I feel that we could really dominate the boards as well, with me, Ryan (Anderson at the other forward) and DeVon (Hardin at center), if (the coaches) were to use that option, but wherever they need me, I'm ready to perform.
Are you surprised how quickly the team has seemed to adopt you as a leader even though you haven't played?
Boykin: Not really. That's my personality. It's not like I'm considered the team captain. I feel I have a leadership personality. For guys to pick up on that energy, it's not really a surprise for me, but I do feel honored that some guys look to me as that. But that's been my personality and whether that's my title or not, I try to be myself, and that's the type of person I want to be.
Are you so animated and involved on the bench during this waiting period simply because you haven't been able to demonstrate that energy yet on the court?
Boykin: It's just as important whether I'm playing or not. I feel that's part of my game, the enthusiasm. I feel the more I talk, the better I play, especially when I'm tired. When I'm tired, the more I talk on defense, the better I'll be in a stance. If you're telling someone else to do something and you're trying to command someone else, you automatically check yourself because you can't tell someone else to do something if you're not doing it yourself. So you have to hold yourself accountable. That energy has been good for our team, and other guys (on the bench) have shown that energy, guys like Patrick Armstrong, Taylor Harrison, Jordan Fillmore, Thomas Fang. It's a contagious thing and it's been good for us.
What was your relationship like with head coach Ben Braun when you were a prospect, and you ended up deciding to attend Duke?
Boykin: My original decision to go to Duke was due to a dream. I had dreamed of going to Duke since I was about 10 years old, and even when I wasn't recruited by Duke and recruited by all these other schools, I always said they were No. 1 on my list. I almost felt like it was something that I thought (into) reality, in a way. You want something so much, and eventually all the schools in the ACC were recruiting me except for Duke, and they learned I had this great passion for them, and I think that was a lot of the reason for Coach K being interested. They like players who have an extreme passion for the tradition, the coaches and the basketball program, and that all worked to my advantage. I hadn't taken an official visit, (but) as soon as he said, "I'm offering you a scholarship," I was the first player, right on the spot, over the phone, "I'm coming." And that was it for me.
Unfortunately, I feel fantasizing about a school as a fan is not the best way to go about going to a school. You have to look at it from many other aspects. But I'm not saying that going to Duke was a mistake, because by all means I feel that it better prepared me for Cal, that I'm a better leader because of it. I've learned so much, and I feel that it's really going to help me and the team going forward.
I thought about Cal after the first year (at Duke). When (the Blue Devils') Eric Boateng decided to leave and go to Arizona State, I said, "This Duke thing is going to work." (But) getting mononucleosis midway through the season, after those first couple of games, finding out that that was an issue for me - I was going to miss the season - that brought it back up. But Cal was really the only school I looked at, the only school that I physically considered going to after I decided to leave because I had already thought about it after the first year. I decided Duke was going to work out for me, but then, with the mono coming back up, I felt (coming to Cal) was an option I wanted to look into.
Was your interest in Cal due in part to your contact with Coach Braun while you were in high school?
Boykin: That definitely helped. I feel like a lot of kids, when they decide to transfer, the first schools that they look at are the schools that recruited them before. But also the relationship I had with a lot of the guys - I love my teammates like brothers. I feel like that was a huge part of the decision. The fact that this is a great academic institution - Duke was on a very high level, so I wanted to go somewhere that was up there as well - this being the No. 1 public school in the country, I felt that it would be a good transition and a good move for me. All those things factored in for me. Talking to the coaches in high school, I remember some of our conversations, and whenever a coach sees you at a young age and offers you a scholarship so early in the recruiting process, that's something to look into, something to remember.
What are some of the specific things you take with you from your Duke experience?
Boykin: One thing especially is the work ethic that you have to have every day. That was a huge thing that I took from Duke. There were two types of leaders there my freshman year: J.J. Redick, who was very vocal - he'd call a guy out, cuss a guy out, he was very vocal; and you had Shelden Williams, who was quiet and led by example in a lot of ways on and off the court. So watching those two leaders, I felt that coming here, I could take some of the qualities I learned from them and try to use some of those over here. I think I'm somewhere in the middle because I'm not the type to cuss someone out, but if I see something that I feel is holding someone back, or someone is asking me a question about their game, I'll be honest with them and straightforward. It doesn't help anyone to hold things back. It's not going to help that person or the team.
With Coach K, I learned a lot about the attention to detail you have to have. Even when you run sprints, touching the lines, and when we watch film, taking notes. Clean-shaven, as they say, tucking your shirt - all these little things I picked up from there, a lot that was taught at home, but further magnified when I was at Duke.
How do you try to motivate your teammates?
Boykin: Everybody is pushed in a different way. Some people are hard on themselves, or some people are their worst critics, and you don't really have to say much to those people. Other people, they need to be pushed, they need someone to put their arm around them, they need someone to tell them the right thing at the right time. I've also learned how to take that and see when it's necessary to say something to someone and not to say something to someone.
What do you look forward to most about your upcoming debut?
Boykin: I'm looking forward to just being out there with everyone. I feel like a freshman in a lot of ways. I'm just looking forward to that feeling of being an NCAA Division I college athlete. It's hard to even express, to be honest.
I'm going to come out and be very enthusiastic and very excited, but I have to realize my main focus is winning the game and doing what this team needs me to do, giving my part so that we win the game. So that's going to be my main focus. I know that in my first game at Duke, I went in and I'm slapping the floor, and we're up 40 points. It was to the point that it was disrespectful to the other team. You would have thought we were down 10, I was so excited. So I'm not trying to do any of that. I'm just trying to go out and play the game with a lot of enthusiasm. I can't help but be enthusiastic. I love my teammates. I love to see them do well, and in a lot of cases I get more excited for them than I do for myself.