On the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast, host Michael Scotto is joined by projected first-round draft pick Chris Duarte. The two discussed how Duarte came over to the United States from the Dominican Republic, learned to speak English, and started playing basketball at 14, why he pulled out of the NBA draft combine, his long-term career goals, and more.
For more interviews with players, coaches, and media members, be sure to like and subscribe to the HoopsHype podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
:50 What’s something people don’t know about you?
Duarte: I’m a family guy. I used to play baseball. It was my first sport growing up. I’m Dominican and from the Dominican Republic. That’s our first sport over there. A lot of people don’t know that.
1:40 You started playing basketball around 14 years old. How did you get into basketball?
Duarte: I got into basketball just watching my brother as I was growing up. It looked like it was more fun for me. I got bored and tired of baseball. I quit, and I jumped into basketball.
2:19 Which players did you like to watch growing up?
Duarte: Growing up, we used to watch a lot of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Back in my day where we’re from, I’ve got a couple of friends, and we used to make teams of Bryant and James and go against each other.
2:55 You played AAU for the New York Lightning and JUCO basketball. Did you have any doubt you’d become an NBA player?
Duarte: That was always my dream. That’s something that I’ve been working for. The good thing about me is I always have faith, and I’ve always believed in myself, and everything can be positive for me. The NBA, for me, when I was growing up as a kid from the DR (Dominican Republic), it’s really hard. Not a lot of kids make it out. Once I came here (United States), I believed more in myself and played against the top guys. I had faith in myself, prayed a lot, and worked a lot.
4:10 Was there a moment you realized you could be an NBA player?
Duarte: When I came here and played in high school, I played against the top guys, and I did a good job. That opened up my eyes a little bit bigger. I started seeing myself going further and further.
4:45 What did you learn while you were at Oregon playing for coach Dana Altman?
Duarte: I learned a lot. I’ve learned from every coach I’ve played for. With Dana (Altman), I learned how to be more persistent, how to play without the ball, and how to play harder defensively.
5:50 What do you think is your best position playing in the NBA?
Duarte: I’m a guy who’s coachable. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m down to do it. If the team needs me to play defense, I’m willing to do it. If the team needs me to score, the same thing. I’m a guy that brings a lot to the table. But yeah, I feel more comfortable with the ball and shooting, and also on defense.
6:40 Why did you pull out of the NBA Draft Combine?
Duarte: That was a decision that me, my agent (Charles Briscoe), and my family made. We felt like that was the best decision for us. I already showed what I can do. I already proved to people what I can do. I’m ready to go to the league, perform, and do my thing. I took that time to learn more about basketball. I added a little bit more to my bag, like little details of watching more film.
8:04 Some people wondered if you felt good about where you’d be drafted potentially in the first round. Where do you think your draft range is?
Duarte: A lottery pick. I don’t care about what anybody says. I’m a lottery pick. They keep talking about my age. My age doesn’t matter. If you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Right now, I’m a lottery pick, and I’m going to prove it.
9:00 What’s the benefit for you coming into this draft as an older guy?
Duarte: I’m just more mentally prepared. I’ve been through a lot. What I’ve been through will help me at the next level. I’m ready to play. I’m mature enough. I’m just ready to go.
9:45 Do the questions about your age give you a chip on your shoulder, or do you feel underrated?
Duarte: I’ve been feeling like that since I came here to the United States. It doesn’t matter to me what people say about me, about my game, about my age. I know who I am, and I know what I can do on and off the court.
10:20 What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Duarte: I’m a good player that can really shoot the ball. I can be a playmaker. I can put it on the floor coming off the pick-and-roll, move without the ball. Defensively off the ball. I’m really working on (guarding) the ball. I’m a good defender. I think that’s something that people are really underrating.
11:22 What is it about defense that you enjoy?
Duarte: I just like getting free points. That’s a free point when you get a steal, and you go down the court and score. That’s what I like the most. I just feel good about it, and it hypes my teammates up. I sent the tone. That’s what I like setting the tone defensively because a lot of people don’t like to do that. I’m looking forward to guarding anybody in the league.
12:10 Who would you compare your game to?
Duarte: I watch a lot of Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, and I used to watch a lot of Kobe Bryant and how he played, but I’m just Chris Duarte. I think everybody is different. I can shoot and dribble the ball. I can be a playmaker. I learned a little bit from everybody. I think everybody is special, and everybody has something that’s really good.
12:55 Why should a team draft you?
Duarte: I’m a hungry guy. I’m a good guy on and off the court. The stuff that I bring to the table. I’m a coachable guy and a hard worker. I’m willing to do anything that the team needs me to do to win games.
13:50 What are your long-term goals for your career?
Duarte: I want to accomplish a lot of things. I want to be Rookie of the Year. I want to be in this league for a long time. I want to be an All-Star and win a championship. Those are the goals I have, and I hope I accomplish those goals.
14:35 What position did you play in baseball and how can that make you a better basketball player?
Duarte: I was a pitcher. I used to play third base, shortstop, second base, any base. The second question, I think it helps. We run a lot, especially when you’re a pitcher. That helps you conditioning-wise. We don’t really work on jumping, but we really work on lateral quickness sliding your feet.
18:25 How did you learn to speak English after you came over from the Dominican Republic?
Duarte: When I came over here, I used to read the dictionary, and every day I used to learn 10 words. Then, I was talking to my teammates. Basketball takes you to different places. That really helped me out. Having pictures in school and reading. All that helped me with my English and is still helping me.
19:20 What was it like learning a new language and getting adjusted to the United States?
Duarte: For sure. A different language and culture. It was really hard for me, especially being away from your family and the people you love coming over at a young age like I did. All of that was really hard for me. I used to cry by myself at night. Depression. Being without money and family, nothing basically. It was hard for me to adjust.
20:35 When you’re about to realize your dream and play in the NBA, what goes through your mind?
Duarte: A lot of things. Excitement. I think I look at myself five years ago at how I was and came over here compared to now and everything that’s happening for me and my family, and it just makes me feel good and think about hard work paying off. Everything that I did was good. Now, it’s time for me to enjoy, have fun, and be able to take care of my family. It feels amazing.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto