A week before Duke and California were placed together in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament—the two could meet in the second round this Sunday—former Blue Devil Jamal Boykin spoke with The Chronicle’s Andy Moore about his experiences as a Golden Bear. Boykin played the 2005-2006 season at Duke and started the following year in Durham as well, but appeared in just three games before leaving the program. He is a Los Angeles native.
The Chronicle: So how has your career gone ever since you left Duke? Are you kind of happy you left?
Jamal Boykin: Well, I’ve always been the type of person to appreciate what I have when I have it. And when I was at Duke, I was very appreciative of the opportunity. I remember waking up so excited every day. I was so excited [for] all the opportunities that Duke had. It was a dream of mine.... I really appreciated that experience just like I appreciate this experience. I’ve never been one to be bitter about anything that happens in life. I look at everything as a lesson learned, and I had a great experience at Duke. Now, I’m having a great experience here [at Cal]. The two together have combined so that I’ve had a very rich, versatile experience.
TC: Well, the weather’s a little better there, right?
JB: [Laughs] You know what? When I was in Durham, the weather was really good. I enjoyed watching the seasons change. One day it was so cold I couldn’t feel my face, but for the most part, the weather was really good, especially once I got used to the humidity. The scenery is beautiful. When I first got to Duke, I didn’t go home for nine months, from the time I walked on campus. I had opportunities to go home, but I was perfectly content to stay.
TC: So, what have been the biggest differences between being at Cal and being at Duke, both academically and on the basketball team?
JB: As a student, the biggest adjustment I had to make was that some of my classes had over 500, 600 people. It was a huge transition to go from that compared with Duke, where some classes had 12 students. A lot of kids here never know their professors... unless you reach out on your own time. Obviously, there are more students here on campus. Probably a more diverse campus—you have people from all over the world here. And you’re in one of the major cities in the country.
A big difference was that at UC-Berkeley, I wasn’t really known. People looked at me and said, he’s tall, he must be a basketball player. But it wasn’t nearly the same attention than at Duke, where everyone knows you. I wasn’t even playing much at Duke, but there was still a lot of support from the fans. Whereas here, that was built over time. It’s that way now. But when I first got here, I thought I was invisible.
TC: I bet that was kind of nice, though? Did you embrace the anonymity at Cal?
JB: I actually kind of embraced [being known] at Duke. I would go up to the cafeteria by myself and watch people come by. I’m very much a people person. Maybe I would have had an issue with [being too popular,] but probably not. It was more difficult coming here and feeling that it was negative to be an athlete, because there are certain stereotypes associated with being an athlete here. The team wasn’t doing particularly well, and there wasn’t that same level of support being given by the student body. But, like I said, that’s all transformed now.
TC: What’s different basketball-wise? Is your coach now easier than [Mike] Krzyzewski was, or about the same? What’s been the difference of the dynamics of the team?
JB: Well, I’ve actually had three coaches. When I first transferred here, I was coached by Ben Braun. There was a drastic difference in coaching style between him and Coach K. At Duke, everything in practice, everything was done like clockwork.... At Cal, it was a different mentality. You’re coming from a team where everyone was the best player in their state to where guys are trying to earn their recognition. We all know Coach K runs one of the most professional practices anywhere. But [current] Coach [Mike] Montgomery, one thing I admire about him is he has really allowed players to play their game, what fits their talents best.... He likes players to be free, to play their game within his system.
TC: We’ve noticed that there’s been a spurt of transfers [away from Duke] lately. I was wondering if you could explain why you think that keeps happening?
JB: I was asked so many times, “How could you leave Duke?” But I think what people need to understand is that as you look at Duke’s bench, those players could be a main contributor on another team. Going in, you don’t understand the sacrifice you have to make. You dream about playing at Duke, like I did. I dreamed of being like Shane Battier, to have that type of career [where] I’d be one of the featured players. I felt if I could have the scholarship to play at Duke, why couldn’t I be one of those players? I think it’s hard to say, “Be patient and keep working hard” when you only have four years. I think if you do leave, the lessons that you learn there are priceless. The lessons that I learned at Duke I still use today.
I worked as hard as I could to be in that seven-man rotation. The reality of it is, everyone can play and everyone deserves to play, but everyone can’t play. That’s just the reality. Before I left, for me, getting mononucleosis made the decision for me. Before that, I had it in my head that I was going to be the type of player that would have to be content [with] giving the team as much as I could in practice. I was content with that. My family noticed a change, but the way I thought was, I’m a part of something bigger than myself and Coach K obviously knows what he’s doing. What he has me doing is what I should do for this program to be successful.
I was willing to do that, but getting sick and having to miss that year made the decision for me. If not for that, I would have continued to be there and be a role player, and I would never probably have known [laughs] what it felt like to have a 20-and-10 game and help a team build its program back to the best in the conference. I think I still would’ve been happy [at Duke], but it’s hard to tell.