‘Much Deserved Champ’: Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum Congratulate Duke Blue Devils New Assistant Coach Nolan Smith

Published 04/16/2021, 5:30 PM EDT
Jan 20, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) in the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


The Duke Blue Devils recently lost associate head coach Nate James. He joined Austin Peay State as their head coach, and that led to Nolan Smith getting the assistant coach job. NBA stars Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant were quick to congratulate him on this promotion.

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Smith played for the Blue Devils from 2007 to 2011. During his four seasons, he won an NCAA championship and also the ACC Player of the Year, among other honors. He followed in his father, Derek’s footsteps, winning the NCAA title 30 years after he won it with Louisville in 1980.

The Trail Blazers drafted Smith in 2011 with their 21st overall pick, but within two seasons, he was out of the league. He then played in Europe for a few years before coming home to work at his alma mater. Smith joined the Blue Devils as their special assistant in 2016 under coach Mike Krzyzewski. That is when he worked with Tatum and became close to him.

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Nolan Smith’s friendship with Kevin Durant

While he was born in Louisville, Smith grew up in Prince George’s County, a Washington, D.C. suburb. That’s where he met Durant when they were still in school. They have been close friends since then and have a trio, which also includes Michael Beasley.

All three of them grew up to be NBA players. While not all of them had the same level of success, each of them had some success in their own arena. Durant is one of the best NBA players right now, has multiple rings, and also an MVP. Smith had an excellent NCAA career with the Blue Devils including a title, while Beasley was also successful in the NCAA and also in his initial years in the NBA.

Jan 31, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook (4) defends in the fourth quarter at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2013, Smith talked about how corelation between basketball and the county they grew up in. “Basketball is basically ingrained in your DNA if you’re from here,” Smith said. “We all grew up together, playing with and against each other. It fueled us, made us want to be the best.”

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Can Smith find the same success he did as a player?

The Blue Devils had a horrible 2020-21 season. They missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996 and also had internal problems and fallouts. Smith will hope that the program can turn it around and help them to achieve similar success to what he had as a player. With a few promising recruits on board already, it is going to be an exciting season for the Blue Devils.

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Aaron Mathew

1666 articles

Aaron Mathew is a sports analyst at EssentiallySports. A graduate in Mass Media from Xavier’s College, Aaron has been a part of EssentiallySports since May 2020 where he covers both NBA and NCAA basketball news, and has also covered NBA 2K. In the past, Aaron has worked at the Sports Desk of Mumbai Mirror.

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