DJ Steward knew Duke was interested.
The Blue Devils coaching staff started poking around with the Young star very early on in his career. There wasn’t an early offer but Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer, the former Glenbrook North superstar, made early inroads, kept tabs on his progression and stayed involved in his recruitment.
While Steward was being courted heavily by the likes of Texas, Louisville, Illinois and others this past year, the recruiting process with Duke was always evolving. But he was never 100 percent sure an offer was looming.
Steward began talking with five-star recruit Jalen Johnson, one of the top five players in the country in the Class of 2020 who had committed to Duke in early July. Steward said Johnson kept assuring him an offer was coming. Steward remained unsure.
“Jalen kept telling me, ‘It’s coming, the offer is coming,” Steward said. “I said, ‘No it’s not.’”
But Steward shined on a big stage at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam and Duke soon offered.
“It was a great feeling when they did,” admits Steward of the Duke offer.
But Steward already had a lengthy recruiting process and relationship with Texas and coach Shaka Smart. He had taken two separate visits to Texas. Louisville was also an emerging contender in recent months. But Duke took its recruitment to another level in the past week.
The entire Duke staff — coach Mike Krzyzewski and all his assistants — showed up for Steward’s first fall open gym last Tuesday. While that did open Steward’s eyes, it was the dialogue that came during that visit to Young last week that resonated with him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen four coaches show up like that before,” Steward said. “But we had a great conversation during the visit at school last week. We talked about so many different things. After that meeting I was so excited to get down there to visit, to get my eyes on it.”
He then quietly shuttled off to Duke for an official visit this past weekend, which turned out to be the final piece the state’s top-ranked senior prospect needed to make a decision.
Steward committed to the Blue Devils and the legendary Krzyzewski on Wednesday, though he knew exactly where he wanted to go just before boarding his plane back to Chicago on Sunday.
“Before getting on the plane to come home I told my family this was it, this was where I wanted to be,” Steward said. “I knew this was the best decision for me and my future after being down there. Duke is a prestigious school both academically and athletically.”
Steward becomes the second Young star to play at Duke in the last five years. Jahlil Okafor led Duke to a national championship as a freshman in 2015 after leading Young to a state title in 2014.
“It’s definitely been a dream of mine to play at the highest level and on the biggest stage,” Steward said. “That’s what I’ve been working for. And to be able to play at Duke and play for Coach K? I have a belief that he can help make me a better player and person. With everything they do there, it’s a NBA-ready program, both on and off the court.”
The 6-3 combo guard is ranked No. 26 and No. 31 in the country by 247Sports and Rivals.com, respectively. The smooth, shot-making combo guard has put together a high-profile and productive career in his three years.
He led Fenwick in scoring and to a state runner-up finish in Class 3A as a freshman. After a stellar sophomore campaign at Fenwick, Steward transferred to Young last year where he put together an all-state season averaging 24.3 points and 3.2 assists a game. This past summer he was one of the leading scorers on the Nike EYBL circuit and vaulted up the national rankings.
“He knows how the game is played and has a terrific basketball I.Q., but even more impressive is that he’s an incredible teammate,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “He supports the success of his teammates, big or small, as if they were his own and celebrates their victories. He cares about all the right things. It’s not completely foreign, but it’s certainly not the norm in today’s game and world.”
Steward now embarks on a season that he hopes will provide the missing piece in his career: winning a state championship.
With his recruitment and decision in the rearview mirror, a process he admits became stressful at times, Steward is excited about getting back to work and being with his teammates at Young. The unselfish star admitted he felt like he was neglecting his team by taking visits and taking care of his own recruitment.
“I can get back to focusing on my game and improving,” Steward said. “I want to get back to being with my team, build a chemistry and help us become a better team. The main goal is to win that state championship.”