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Tigertown: Jalen Duren joins Memphis' 2021 class

08/06/2021, 6:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin & Matthew Ryan

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)

Jalen Duren is going to Memphis — and it’s happening in just a few weeks.

The Wilmington (Del.) native made his much-awaited announcement Friday evening at the Grail Sports Complex in his hometown, flanked by his mother Anisea, his older sister Jada and brother Jermel at the table.

With several dozen friends, family, former teammates and coaches watching, he thanked everybody for coming, announced he would be entering college this fall and then stood up and unzipped his black Team Final jacket to reveal a blue Tigers shirt underneath, ending a recruitment that saw not just high-level colleges but professional leagues vying for Duren to suit up for them.

If Duren went the college route, it was going to be either Memphis, the University of Kentucky or Miami (Fl.); the NBA’s G League and the Australian Basketball League were the other entities in the mix. The other uncertainty in his recruitment was whether he’d stay in the Class of 2022 or graduate high school early. And it’s no surprise that the most college-ready player in the country is heading to the next level as soon as he could.

In choosing to play for the Tigers, Duren will become the second No. 1 overall player to play under head coach Penny Hardaway, who is entering just his fourth season at Memphis.

It was sometime this week that Duren came to the realization that Memphis was the place for him, the place that could help him fulfill his biggest goal of being an NBA draft selection a little less than a year from now. It's a staff with a lot of NBA experience: Hardaway, who played in four all-star games during a 16-year NBA career, recently brought on board former Sixers coach Larry Brown and Suns assistant Cody Toppert to join his staff.

"I loved (Hardaway's) plan for me, honestly. It was amazing," Duren said, following his commitment. "I’ve always been big on developing. With coach Penny, coach Larry, coach Toppert, those are three guys who were in the NBA or done stuff in the NBA or have been on that level, at a high level, so I feel like those guys can definitely get me to where I need to be.

"The amount of development that I want and that I need is there. They've done it before, with guys like Precious (Achiuwa) and James (Wiseman), who they've done it for who are at my position."

Jalen Duren (above) is foregoing his senior year and heading to Memphis. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The rock-solid 6-foot-10, 230-pound center is joining four-star prospects Josh Minott, Sam Ayomide and Johnathan Lawson, and three-star recruit John Camden, who played on Team Final with Duren a couple of years ago. Both Camden and Ayomide, who went to the Phelps School and lived with the Camden family, got involved in trying to get Duren to the home of the blues.

“They were throwing in their pitches, just telling me about the school, being real truthful," he said. "I respected that, that they were being honest about the school and their experiences down there. They definitely threw in that little recruiting pitch.”

Duren’s commitment catapult’s the Tigers into national championship contention and puts them near the top of the American Athletic Conference. Last season, Memphis went 20-8 (11-4 AAC), winning the NIT after a two-point loss to Houston in the league semifinals.

The most impressive, imposing frontcourt prospect to come out of the area in decades, Duren had risen to claim the No. 1 spot in the 2022 rankings, previously held by Michigan wing Emoni Bates, who earlier this week announced he’d also be moving into the 2021 class. The two teamed up briefly on the grassroots circuit for Team Final this summer, creating one of the must-see hoops spectacles of the summer.

There's a chance the two could team up together again: Bates has Memphis in his final four, along with Oregon, Michigan State and the G League.

"Knowing how this whole process is, I wouldn't put too much more pressure on him than he already has," Duren said. "But definitely if he decides to come play [at Memphis], I know it would be amazing for college basketball [...] I can't say I will be recruiting him, but if he decides to come, that'll be something that'll shock the world."

Duren started off his high school career at Roman Catholic, where as a freshman his team won the PCL championship and the 6A state championship and he was named second team all-state and first team all-PCL. In his sophomore campaign, Duren was named first team all-state and first team all-PCL, and following the season made the decision to transfer to Montverde Academy (Fl.).

In Duren’s first (and last) season at Montverde, the Eagles finished the season with a 25-1 record and won the GEICO HS National Championship for the sixth time in school history. At Montverde, Duren averaged a team-high in points (14.3 ppg), rebounds (8.4 rpg) and blocks (2.2 bpg), according to MaxPreps, and was the only junior to be named to the MaxPreps All-American first team.

This summer and spring, playing under head coach James Johns for Team Final, Duren led his squad to a 35-3 record, going 6-1 at Peach Jam and taking home the title for the first time in program history. In 15 EYBL games, Duren led Final in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg) and was second in blocks (2.3 bpg), according to The Season Ticket.

Having accomplished all he needed to at the prep level, he decided it was time to move on, admitting it was a "tough decision to make" and had to explore whether it was even a possibility before making it happen.

"Where I'm at in my game, I needed more, I needed to be challenged a lot more," he said. "there's a saying, if you're the smartest guy in the room, you've got to leave that room. So I took that perspective and thought it was time for me to move up to the next level and develop more on that level."

Of the three colleges in Duren’s top five, Miami was the first to offer him, way back in December of 2018, and were also the first to get him in for an official visit. Memphis and Kentucky each offered Duren in 2020, and he took official visits to both programs on June 23 and June 28, respectively.

He’s the latest prospect to spurn the potential of making money this fall to instead go to college, along with recent Duke commit and former Montverde teammate Dariq Whitehead. The NCAA, spurred on by legislative changes in many states, recently changed its bylaws to allow student-athletes to profit off their own Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) while still retaining their collegiate eligibility.

"Of course it was there," Duren said of the potential to earn good money right away, "but I always wanted to pick a school or a place that is going to help me develop, that was my main thing. It never really been about the money and it never will be. I mean, it’s there, but like I said it never really played a big part.”

Duren wasn't exactly sure when he'd leave for Memphis, saying it would likely be at the end of the month. Just weeks after playing on the AAU courts in front of Division I coaches, he'll be preparing to face those same programs on the court in a few short months.

"It's crazy, but I'm ready for it," he said. "I was happy to end off my AAU career with the championship, so now I feel like I'm ready for that next step."

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