Kahlil Dukes isn’t afraid to move to the beat of his own drum.
When the 2018 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year wasn’t putting up 21 points a game while shooting 41.7 percent from deep during his senior season at Niagara, he was working on a master’s degree in art and literature.
His pre-game routine included reading the spiritualist writings of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, and listening to the sounds of nature through his headphones.
“It helped me free my mind,” Dukes said. “Everyone’s hyped up to play, I’m on a beach somewhere. It’s getting in touch with my inner self, being one with nature before games.”
Dukes is hoping to break the norm again by becoming the first MAAC player since Jason Thompson (Rider) in 2008 — and the first Purple Eagle since Joe Arlauckas in 1988 — to be selected in the NBA Draft, which takes place Thursday night (7 p.m., ESPN) in New York City.
What makes Dukes, who was listed generously by Niagara at 6-foot-0, think he might hear his name called, when recent MAAC stars like Billy Baron, A.J. English, David Laury and Justin Robinson didn’t? Heck, fellow Big 4 guards Wes Clark (Buffalo) and Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure) got to show their stuff in bigger programs and under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament, and neither is a lock to get drafted.
Dukes has a following. He started posting videos of his workouts during his two seasons at USC before transferring to Niagara, and he currently has over 82,000 followers on Instagram.
“I guess a lot of people find my hard work and dedication inspiring,” Dukes said.
“I started posting back at USC when I wasn’t playing and the following became like my belief system, because there was a time where I was across the country with no family,” the Connecticut native added. “It was keeping me confident. Some of the people who followed me encouraged and inspired me.”
Obviously, having a following on social media has nothing to do with basketball talent. But it does help you get noticed.
After graduating from Niagara in May, Dukes moved back to southern California to work out. Dean Hadley from Ten Ten Management saw one of his videos and reached out through a mutual acquaintance.
Hadley took over as Dukes’ agent after a meeting and managed to set up two pre-draft workouts with the Los Angeles Lakers in June.
— Niagara Basketball (@NiagaraMBB) June 12, 2018
“I wish I had represented him earlier,” Hadley said. “NBA teams schedule most of the guys they want to see pre-draft as early as possible. … A lot of teams weren’t aware (of) him.”
Hadley is focused on the back half of the second round, particularly the Lakers (pick No. 47), Minnesota Timberwolves (48), New Orleans Hornets (51) and Oklahoma City Thunder (53, 57).
“Kahlil was pretty much first one in and last one out of the gym with the Lakers in both of his workouts,” Hadley said. “I don’t think it’s going to be hard to see he’s a guy who’s really a pro’s pro at heart, who likes to be in the gym and likes to get better.
“Teams want a player like that, somebody who’s going to bring that culture to your franchise. A lot of these other kids are freshmen and sophomores, and they don’t know how to stay committed.”
If Dukes does go undrafted, Hadley said it’s a “no-brainer a handful of teams will offer him a summer league deal.”
Then, “it’s my job to find him the best opportunity to get the kind of minutes he’s going to need to make an NBA roster,” Hadley added. “It’s just a matter of him finding the right situation where he can show who his is as a player.”