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Q&A With DJ Steward: Duke Career, Coach K’s Retirement, NBA Draft Process

After posting impressive numbers as a freshman, Duke guard DJ Steward decided to enter his name in the 2021 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-2 combo guard is hoping his skillset will translate well to the pros.

In his only season with the Blue Devils, Steward averaged 13.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He was an ACC All-Freshman selection and was the conference’s leading freshman scorer.

Not only can Steward create plays for himself and his teammates in transition, he can knock down a high percentage of his shots from beyond the arc. The Illinois native made 34.1 percent of his three-pointers this past season.

Steward will have the chance to boost his draft stock over the next month, especially since he received an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

We sat down with DJ Steward to discuss his career at Duke, what he learned from Mike Krzyzewski, what NBA fans can expect from him next season and much more.

The Spun: What was your freshman year at Duke like?

DJ Steward: It was amazing. I had a really good time at Duke and learned a lot. I was a part of a brotherhood and learned how to play alongside other great players. It was great to learn from Coach K and the rest of the staff. It was tough at times because of COVID-19, but overall it was a great experience.

The Spun: Duke was on a run before COVID-19 forced the team to drop out of the ACC Tournament. What was the locker room’s reaction to the news?

DS: It was a tough feeling. We were all really sad when we found out the news because we felt like we were gaining confidence. We were playing well together, sharing the ball well and defending the ball. We just tried to stay positive and keep our heads up. Honestly, it was a tough feeling. 

The Spun: Why was now the right time to enter the NBA Draft?

DS: The confidence I have in myself is why I felt now was the right time to go pro. I felt like it would be great for my development. 

The Spun: How has the NBA Draft process been for you?

DS: Everything has been great. I feel like I’m getting a lot better and my stock is improving. I’m getting a lot of reps in every single day, getting stronger and learning how to play the point guard position right. I’m getting reps out of the pick-and-roll, learning when to hit my man and how to run the floor.

The Spun: Which NBA players do you like to study?

DS: I watch a lot of Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Williams. I also like to throw it back and watch Steve Nash and Tony Parker. I like to watch their pace, their ability to set up their teammates and score. 

The Spun: You don’t shy away from saying Mike Krzyzewski the greatest coach ever. What did you learn from Coach K during your time at Duke?

DS: He’s amazing and knows absolutely everything about basketball. His IQ is just unbelievable. He taught me a lot, especially about the importance of preparing for a game. From watching film to making sure you’re recovering well, he taught us all about the process. 

The Spun: Are you surprised that Coach K is retiring after next season?

DS: It’s crazy, the greatest coach of all time is retiring. He’s amazing and it’s going to be sad to see him go, but another great coach is coming up in Coach Scheyer. It’s going to be exciting to see how this next season goes. 

The Spun: You kind of answered my next question [laughing]. How do you think Jon Scheyer will be as the successor to Coach K?

DS: Coach Scheyer is a great guy and great coach. I’m very proud of him for getting this job. He basically recruited me from my freshman year of high school, so it’s so great to see him get this opportunity. He really cares about the players, knows the game so well from a guard standpoint, and he’s always positive. He’s going to bring that intensity at all times though too. 

The Spun: How excited are you to play in front of full crowds in the NBA?

DS: I’m very excited because I feel like the crowd gives me a lot of energy. It makes me a lot happier and gives me that extra gear. I can’t wait to be in front of fans. 

The Spun: What are your best attributes on the court?

DS: My ability to shoot the ball from all three levels. I can knock down shots from the perimeter, can defend really well, move laterally and play my hardest at all times. I can also be a playmaker. I can set up my teammates and be a floor general. 

The Spun: What has been your inspiration off the court?

DS: My motivation for the game and to be the greatest basketball player I can be. I have a genuine love for this game. I also see my mother wake up and work so hard every single day for me. Seeing her provide for me at all times inspires me. My father is always working hard too, so it makes me want to go out there and put all my effort into this game.

The Spun: What does DJ Steward do during his free time?

DS: I’m usually just watching film or movies – just some calm things that’ll let me relax. I also love looking at shoes. 

The Spun: You mentioned shoes, so I have to ask what’s your go-to basketball sneaker?

DS: My go-to shoes have to be Kobes. 

The Spun: Is Kobe Bryant your favorite player ever?

DS: No doubt. The intensity that Kobe brought at all times is amazing. He persevered through any obstacle and always came out on top.

The Spun: What is an NBA team getting in DJ Steward?

DS: You’re getting a great person with a positive attitude – I’m always smiling. On the court, I’m going to be a sponge and learn as much as I can from the veterans. I’m going to score from all three levels, make the right plays and be a great point guard. 

The Blue Devils have had at least one player selected in 33 of the past 40 drafts. That trend should continue since Steward, Matthew Hurt and Jalen Johnson will be available on July 29.

You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.

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