The Duquesne men’s basketball team currently holds a 9-15 record on the season. However, breakout freshmen like Mike Lewis II and Isaiah Mike, paired with a solid 2017 recruiting class, have fans anticipating a promising future for the Dukes.
One of the marquee players set to join Duquesne next season is 3-star point guard Jamari “King” Wheeler. Following his team’s 82-73 victory over Hillcrest Prep Friday night, Wheeler spoke with Pittsburgh Sports Now to discuss multiple topics—including the origin of his bold nickname.
“Everybody in my home town—Suwannee—they started calling me ‘King Wheeler’ because I played football, baseball, and basketball, and won MVP in the same year,” said Wheeler. “So from then, they called me ‘King Wheeler.’”
Wheeler committed to play for head coach Jim Ferry and the Dukes back in September, and has since submitted his signed Letter of Intent. While he held offers from other universities like Bowling Green and Chattanooga, it was the family atmosphere at Duquesne that won the hearts of Wheeler and his mother.
“I had took a couple of visits to the University of San Antonio, then I took my second one to Duquesne University. And I just liked the way they [are] as basketball players. They’re family. They joke around all the time. It’s not like they just come in like, ‘Well I don’t know you. I just come in to play basketball.’ They’re a family-type program. And the style they play, up-and-down, I like to get up and down the court. And defense, they play good defense. The coaching staff were recruiting me since day one. They’ve been to every summer game I had that was live. They were there watching me. Head coach, assistant coaches, everybody—no matter where I played at, they were there. And I just felt like it was a home. My mom came with me. My mom liked the school, the academics, and everything like that. So she was like, ‘I could see you here. I feel comfortable sending you here.’”
Since committing, the 6’1” 160-pounder remains in touch with members of Duquesne’s staff, including head coach Jim Ferry. However, the individuals with which he speaks most often are Mike Lewis II and Isaiah Mike, two of the Atlantic 10’s premier freshman performers this season.
“The two freshmen [Lewis and Mike], they’re the ones I talk to the most,” revealed Wheeler. “Like on a daily basis. After every game, or before their game, I Snapchat them or get on Instagram with them, and let them know how it is, how everything’s going. And I feel really good. I feel like them two as freshmen—they’re really good. Like, really talented.”
Wheeler stated that he anxiously awaits joining Lewis, Mike, and the other Dukes next season. Once the Class of 2017 recruits arrive, Duquesne will feature a talented young corps of players that very well may lead to eventual Atlantic 10 title contention. Jamari cannot dedicate too much time to thinking about his future at Duquesne though, since his current season requires complete focus. The Rock School, located in Gainesville, Florida, is currently in the midst of a special season. With a 25-2 record against impressive competition from across the country, their squad is receiving national recognition. As a team player, this is what matters most to the future Duke.
“Oh, it’s good. It’s going really good. Like I expected, we’re working hard as a team. One of our goals was to get ranked as a national team. We weren’t ranked at all last year. And we wanted to make it to some big tournaments this year. Like, we’re at the Grind Session right now that’s in Kentucky that we got invited to. And we’ve been ranked really high…We took a tough loss to IMG [Academy], but we just bounced back pretty good.”
Individually, The Rock School’s starting point guard is enjoying an impressive season as well.
“It’s going good. I’m averaging like 16 [points], 6 assists, and like 5 rebounds,” said Wheeler. “I had three triple-doubles back-to-back…So I feel like it’s going really good.”
Making the jump from high school basketball to the Atlantic 10 will require physical and technical preparation by Jamari. Although he cannot dedicate much time towards additional training at this moment, he understands where he must improve once his senior season concludes.
“This year, my team, we play 50 games in high school. That’s unbelievable. It’s my first year ever doing that…So I haven’t been in the weight room as much as I wanted to, like in the beginning of the season. But I get in there when I can. [I will] get bigger once the season’s over with. Working on my pull up jumper off screens, because there are some big centers in the A-10. So work on my floater, my pull up, finishing at the hole with contact.”
With offseason improvements considered, I asked Jamari what kind of player the Duke’s will be adding next year.
“A tough one,” he replied. “One that likes to win; I hate losing. Defense. I love to play defense full court. I love to be active. I love to play aggressive. My shot has been getting really good this year. I like to drive first, pass ahead, get my teammates to run the floor, [and] get easy buckets in transition.”
The young man knows his game, and what he can bring to Duquesne. According to Jamari, he has already been apprised of the role Coach Ferry would like him to assume.
“He wants me to come in and be that true point guard that gets everybody in the right spots…Lead the team at my point guard role.”
The day after our conversation, Wheeler and The Rock School earned an 85-82 victory over Prolific Prep Academy, the third ranked in the nation according to MaxPreps. Per The Rock School’s Twitter account, Jamari was second on his team in scoring with 14 points.
In Jamari Wheeler, Duquesne fans have a prospect that should garner excitement. At The Rock School, he is learning what it takes to transform an unranked team into a title contender, and he will bring this knowledge with him as he looks to elevate the Dukes in the upcoming years.