2020 NBA draft prospect Cassius Stanley has already accomplished quite a bit, but he continues to set tremendously lofty goals for himself.
Stanley, 20, won back-to-back state championships when he played high school basketball for Sierra Canyon. As a senior, when his program won the trophy in the California Open Division, Stanley averaged 17.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game and earned USA TODAY All-USA 3rd Team honors.
This season, he earned ACC All-Freshman honors averaging 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 three-pointers per game during his sole collegiate season at Duke.
He recently caught up with HoopsHype about his pre-draft process and how he is preparing for his transition to the NBA.
Thanks so much for your time today. How have you been keeping busy?
Cassius Stanley: Pretty good. I just worked out, now it’s back to quarantine. I’ve been taking online classes. I have had a good amount of classwork and homework to do, essays and things like that. It’s honestly what I would have been doing if there wasn’t a quarantine.
What are some things you have done to reconcile with the fact that the NCAA season was cut short right before Duke could have made a run?
CS: That was definitely pretty tough. We definitely thought we were going to be playing in Atlanta for the Final Four. We definitely thought we were going to be there. But we all keep up on the group texting. When the whole thing was going down, we were all talking to each other and keeping each other happy and upbeat and letting each know how good we were. It was very disappointing.
Duke is obviously known for its brotherhood. How was your relationship with the players on the team?
CS: My relationship with the guys on the squad is really tight. You hear about the brotherhood on the outside, then you get into it, and you still don’t really know the extent of it until you get into a real battle mode with the guys in practice or big-time games. Early in the season, we were tested in different tournaments and non-conference games. But then in conference games on the road, that is when the brotherhood gets tighter and stronger, especially when things happen like the coronavirus – we all were sitting in the hotel together in Greensboro for the ACC Tournament. That was the closest we have all been. We were just sitting there and talking it all out with all of the coaches. We all came to the conclusion that the smartest thing was to not play. Then, it got ruled that everything would be shut down a couple hours later. I think that was when the brotherhood was most serious.
What were some of those conversations like with your teammates during the whole process?
CS: The conversations were great. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] was a great leader. He told us what he knew and what he thought. He let us talk it out and make a decision before there was a decision made by a higher power. We just talked about how we love the game and we want to play the game but at the same time, we want to be smart and we want to think about ourselves and we want to think about our families and we want to think about other people involved. We can’t just think about going out there and playing. We have to think about being in such close contact with other players, refs. Then we would have interacted with our families, coaches, everyone. We can’t think about just ourselves. We had to think about the bigger picture and the people who it would impact.
I am so, so sorry that you were not able to play March Madness. What were some of the things you felt you improved most on during your time at Duke?
CS: I would probably say just being more versatile. I felt like I was improving just being able to impact the game in any way from any position, one through three. I felt my shooting was improving day-to-day. I think just being a competitor, too, and becoming the best player that I could be, which was improving every day. I think that we would have been really special if we had the chance to play in the postseason. Because I felt like while I was improving a lot, we were all improving a lot.
Have any former Duke players given you advice on taking this next step?
CS: Yeah, the brotherhood is really real. In the summer, even before going there, I ran with so many NBA players. I worked out a lot with Justise Winslow. I also worked out with Austin Rivers and Seth Curry and Rodney Hood. They were all great and telling me to go into it with the mindset of learning everything you possibly can from Coach because he knows exactly what he is talking about. That is exactly what I did. I came in as a sponge, just trying to soak everything I could.
I think you were incredibly underrated all season. Can you think of any reason for this?
CS: I didn’t really think about it that much. People can say it’s my age or that I’m playing on teams that have other good players or whatever, so I’m not going for 30 or 40 points every game. I’ve heard it all. I just know that I win and my record speaks for itself. I’m not really worried about what people were saying or why they were devaluing me. I just know that every time I step on the court, I get the job done since high school, Peach Jam and Nike Skills Challenge. I’m a winner. That’s all I know.
One thing people that people do not realize is you have the ability to play the one. Can you share your history as a combo guard?
CS: I am a combo guard. I am a one and a two. I’ve worked on my ballhandling skills every single day. Coach tested me with the ball in pick-and-roll situations or just creating in isolation situations. So I’m very comfortable with the ball at the one and the two.
I also loved watching you push it as the ballhandler in transition like Russell Westbrook or Lonzo Ball. You ranked in the 99th percentile for points per possession on these looks. How will that help you in the NBA?
CS: I learned that young. Being a rebounding guard, you can set the tempo and you don’t have to wait on an outlet pass or anything like that. You start the break. You can create for yourself or others off of that. I’ve always been a big guy on making sure I’m a rebounding guard on offense and defense.
You were a perfect 10-for-10 on transition leak outs, in a style similar to a team like the New Orleans Pelicans. You had no turnovers. Plus, you drew a couple fouls. How did you develop your skills there?
CS: It actually started, I think, in the summer during film sessions, just talking to Coach. He really emphasized running the break and running and running and making sure you get a good run out. Because he was telling me he saw in the summer that I was kind of jogging and waiting for the ball. He was just big on getting out there, getting a good sprint, because he felt like he knew I was very fast. He was like: If you beat everyone down the court and you get the ball with your good stride and a good dribble and everything like that, you are going to either get fouled or you are going to convert on the play. After that, I kind of just… if I had the ball, I’m sprinting out with it. If I don’t have the ball, I’m sprinting down the court waiting for the ball and just beating people down the floor.
You played for one of the best coaches of all-time in Coach K. What were some of the lessons he taught you that you are most grateful for now?
CS: I would probably say accountability. He runs the program like a pro team. He supports his players a lot. He taught us so many things. He taught us off-the-court stuff. He would teach it himself or he would have other people just stressing it. We had a nutrition staff, we had a strength-and-conditioning staff. Everything was high level. He taught me and he taught all of us how to be real men and be professionals.
How did your body change during your year with the Duke staff?
CS: I think I gained seven or eight pounds, which was exactly where they wanted me to be. Maybe a pound heavier. But they really told me that this is what I had to do. And the results came immediately. I was in the weight room every time they wanted me to be. I would take all the supplements that they wanted me to take. It helped me a lot to get my body right.
Even at your orientation, you immediately broke the record set by Zion Williamson for the best vertical in program history. Has that changed at all?
CS: My mom ran track and field in college. She was an alternate on the Team USA Olympic team. That’s where I get my leaping ability from, it’s definitely her. As a young kid, she would tell me different things on how to jump high and after that it just became natural. It is probably higher than 46 inches now. I think that was maybe just where I topped out that day. I really think I can jump higher. I could probably max out at an inch and a half more.
You put down some highlight-reel dunks as a freshman. I’d love to hear about your dunking style and how you use your vertical to help you as a basketball player.
CS: I use my vertical ability for rebounding, blocking shots and obviously for dunking. In the summer, I learned a lot of things. [Coach] would always say to stop playing around near the rim – just dunk it. Every time you get near the rim, just dunk it. He wasn’t just directing that towards me. He was directing that at everyone. So I picked up on that. So every chance I got, I put it down.
How do you think your jump shot has improved since high school and where is your confidence in it right now?
CS: After my junior year of high school, I really started to lock in and things started to click. I feel like ever since then, I have been really confident in my jumper and even throughout this past year, I felt like I was really confident in my jumper I put in a lot of work. Late nights, early mornings with managers and coaches and they definitely helped me tweak a couple things with my performance. But they let me shoot the ball how I wanted to shoot it. I think that’s one of the biggest things. They weren’t trying to change my jumper. They were trying to tell me they were confident it and just keep shooting it.
You shot almost 50 percent on your three-pointers taken from the corner. Why is this such an important part of your game?
CS: I actually didn’t know that. But I know just from talking to some of our video coordinator guys that are big on the numbers that if I can knock down that shot consistently, that’s a big deal because it really spaces the floor. I’d always try to go deeper in the corner during practices and shoot it because I know that the deeper I can shoot it, the more space I can get – especially at the next level.
You also shot 43.8 percent on three-pointers off the catch. How do you see yourself as a catch-and-shoot player moving forward?
CS: I’m very confident in my catch-and-shoot ability. I feel like I am pretty much knockdown if I can get my feet set. It’s going to go in most of the time. I feel that way off the bounce, too. I might not have hit the same amount off the bounce, but I feel very confident in that too.
What are some of the things you can do to improve your three-point shooting above the arc?
CS: I think I just need to get more reps out of that. I didn’t really rep that out that often during the year because I wanted to simulate more game shots like things I would get from the wings and the corners and the slot.
What are some of your goals for your basketball career?
CS: I just want to have the best career that I possibly can. I want to be an All-Star. I want to win championships. I really just want to be the best player. Simple. I definitely want to win a championship and be MVP and be an All-Star. I want to be the best player in the league.
What about eventually participating in an NBA slam dunk contest?
CS: [Laughs] We’ll see. I don’t want to say I will, but I definitely will highly consider it. I’ve thought about it every year since, like, sixth grade.
How old were you when you first dunked a basketball on a 10-foot rim?
CS: I was either 11 or 12 years old. I had a lot of friends who were like two or three years older than I was, so they were dunking before I was. But in my grade and in my age group, I was first. It was crazy. I was always close. Everyone knew that one of these days, I was going to get it. It was like before school started in the summer, some orientation day and I was in a Polo and Vans.
Who are some players who you’ve watched that you feel like you can emulate?
CS: I’d say Russell Westbrook and Zach LaVine. I actually grew up a USC fan, though. But I started gravitating toward UCLA a little bit when Lonzo Ball came around.
What are some of your fondest memories of playing basketball at a big high school like Sierra Canyon?
CS: I’d say probably winning two state championships back-to-back. That’d be it. That’d be it, for sure. That’s a great school. It’s a great environment with great people there from top to bottom. It’s a family. It’s a warm environment. I think they’re going to be very successful every year because people want to go there. Not even just for basketball. Just when you get on campus, you feel at home. I think they’re going to be very successful every year. They are just going to keep getting elite players.
What is it like seeing Drake rep your school and rocking Sierra Canyon gear?
CS: Oh, yeah. It’s pretty crazy. We definitely had our fair share of people there too, though, so I’m not surprised to see it get to that level. We had Kanye at a game. We’ve had many other people. It’s always great to have celebrities rep your school. It’s pretty interesting how I went from Sierra Canyon in a spotlight to Duke in the spotlight. It’s really interesting to see how not much has changed from both environments.
What are the biggest similarities and differences between Sierra Canyon and Duke? That is a path that Marvin Bagley III took as well.
CS: I think both schools are very well-run. Both schools want the best and want to be the best and know how to teach players and kids how to be the best at whatever they are trying to do.
What was it like playing in front of someone like Kanye West and the Kardashians while in high school?
CS: It was pretty fun. It definitely gets you prepared for the next level of college and especially the NBA. The NBA, you are going to see all kinds of people at your games. So it’s very interesting to have had that in high school and it’s very unique.
What are you currently studying in school for your online courses?
CS: Right now, I’m taking the History of Hip-Hop as well as computer science and a classical musical class and ancient sports in Greece.
Do you think that you’ll eventually try to earn a degree from Duke?
CS: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Not in the beginning years of my career because I really want to sit down and focus on basketball and being the best player that I can be. But towards the back end of my career, I definitely want to get back to Duke and finish out. That is one of the biggest things my dad preaches, getting a degree. I would like a degree either in economics or in law because I want to be in those two fields. My main goal is to end up being the commissioner of the NBA.
Oh, wow. That is amazing. Please do tell me everything about that goal.
CS: It has been a thing of mine since probably a couple years ago. Maybe even junior high school. That’s about the only dream job probably for me if anyone had to ask. I feel like the sport of basketball is the field I want to take on. So right now, I’m obviously working on the playing field in that sport. But I feel like you are only going to play the game for 10 or 12 years max, if you are lucky. After that, you have a whole life story. I feel like I want to stay in the field of basketball and I feel like I don’t really want to be a broadcaster or a coach, so I feel like being the commissioner would be the best thing. I’m really interested in it. I’ll see what I can while I’m playing, what internships and things I can do to get involved.
What are some things you would want to do as the commissioner of the NBA?
CS: I just want to be in a position to help the younger generation and help the guys who are going to be coming after me and then after them and make the league better for them.
Could you see yourself being involved with the NBPA and the union?
CS: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I think I could definitely be a team rep. And just attend meetings and meet the right people and be involved.
What were some of the biggest things you learned from your father, who is an NBA agent?
CS: I’d probably say keeping a routine. Stability in life is one of the most important things I’ve taken from my dad. Trying to keep things stable. A lot changes. It’s hard to deal with, especially if you are doing the change. So a routine, doing everything the same way and mastering it, is important. He has helped a lot. I definitely have a good head on my shoulders when it comes to making decisions when it comes to athletics. But also academics with my dad being a lawyer. I think I got a good mix of both.
What are some of the biggest things that you learned from your mom?
CS: I’d say being competitive. Being aggressive. Be the best. Try to win everything. I was going to gravitate toward sports in some way. My mom is an athlete and my dad represents athletes.
What do you like to do when you are not playing basketball?
CS: Obviously, I’m big into school. Education and knowledge is key. I take school really seriously. After that, I’m really big into listening to music. I like to explore music and many different genres. I’m a big article reader. I like to read a lot of different articles.
You mentioned a wide range of music. What are some of your favorites?
CS: I definitely listen to Drake. I listen to Kanye West for sure. I listen to Travis Scott. I’ll listen to jazz. I have a wide range of jazz. I like to listen to Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. My dad got me into jazz. That is pretty much all he listens to. That and Motown and soul. I’m not as into that. But I picked up on the jazz.
What are some things that you like about listening to jazz music?
CS: You aren’t going to have many lyrics in your jazz. But you can still pick out tone and what the artist is trying to convey in whatever instrument they are playing.
I love that. Do you like to play any kind of video games at all?
CS: Ah. Not really. But lately, I have been just because the options of doing things during the quarantine have been very low. But I’ve always been a guy who tries to stay away from video games because I feel like it just hurts my head. It just kills my brain cells. I’ll maybe play an hour or two because I can not play it all day. It hurts my head. I’ll do movies or TV shows instead.
Any movies or TV shows that you’ve seen that you’ve liked recently?
CS: I am watching “The Sopranos” right now. I watched “Entourage.” I’ll pretty much go on HBO and Showtime. I’m getting around to watching Netflix, too. I’m trying out all kinds of shows. Like, I just finished “All-American.” I felt like season one was better than season two. It deviated away from the sport.