BasketballNews.com had the opportunity to speak with Duke
Blue Devils guard and NBA prospect DJ Steward ahead of the 2021 NBA
Matt Babcock: You grew up in Illinois with your parents
and your little brother. Could you tell me a little bit about your
childhood and what it was like growing up in your
DJ Steward: You know, my family, we're real
close. We’re a close-knit family, and we pretty much do everything
together. They have supported me ever since I was a kid. We love to
have fun. We're a very goofy family. We just love to stay together,
do a lot of fun things and just support each other as much as we
can. They’re at almost every single one of my games, except for
this year at Duke, because we couldn’t really have fans. They’re
just a great support system for me. We love each other a
Did you play any other sports growing up? And when did
you commit to being a basketball player?
Steward: Yes, I did. I actually played football
before I started playing basketball. I played a little volleyball
in middle school as well. I started playing football when I was
five years old, and I played that all the way up until I was about
12 years old. I want to say when I was like 13, in middle school,
that's when I started playing basketball.
What led you to transfer to Whitney Young High School
after your sophomore year?
Steward: I did two years at Fenwick High
School, and then I decided to transfer to Whitney Young. I thought
that was the best decision, for me to move to Chicago. It was a
great decision for me and my family to get my name out there,
playing a national schedule, just to play against great competition
as well. Also, Whitney Young is a great academic school as
At what point did your college recruitment really take
off? Also, when did you receive your first major
Steward: During my junior year in high school,
my recruitment started taking off. Then heading into the summer, my
recruitment really started to take off. My first offer was
after my freshman season, and then my first high major offer was
from in-state Illinois and then from out-of-state, I think it was
Florida or Georgia Tech.
At what point in your recruitment did you choose
Steward: I committed to Duke my senior year in
September. I knew it was the right spot for me. I took a visit
there and I knew it was the place for me. I built an amazing
relationship with Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and Coach [Jon]
Scheyer. Scheyer, that's my guy, that's my main guy. He recruited
me since my freshman year of high school, actually. I built a bond
with him and it was just amazing. And then, you know, Duke is
another great school academically as well.
North Carolina heavily recruited you in high school. Now
that you've played for Duke, how do you feel now about
Steward: I have the ultimate respect for UNC.
They got us twice this year; they won twice against us, but you
know, they're another great program. Great coaching staff, great
players. So have I ultimate respect for them.
Although the game was canceled due to COVID last year,
you were named a McDonald's All-American. What did that mean to
Steward: It meant the world to me, both to me
and my family. It was a big goal that I wanted to accomplish ever
since I started playing basketball. I’ve been going to the games
ever since I was younger. They were there in Chicago at first, and
they moved them out to a different location. It was just an amazing
thing for me to accomplish. You know, not being able to play in
that game -- it kind of hurt. But just to go down with those names
and be a McDonald's All-American. It's a great thing!
How big of a disappointment was it that the game was
canceled, as well as all the other All-American events because I'm
sure you love to play in those.
Steward: Yeah, it was very disappointing. It
was my senior year and I wanted to go off and just have fun at
those camps and prove a point. I had a chip on my shoulder. Not
being able to go to those games and play in those games -- it was
This past year or so has been challenging for everybody.
What's been the hardest thing for you over the past
Steward: Just dealing with COVID. With school,
I couldn’t really go around campus and meet people and build those
great relationships and friendships for the future. I wasn’t able
to build those bonds; it was tough. Then, not having fans as well,
while we played throughout the season. When we traveled, we’d
sometimes have fans to a limited amount. But at Duke we didn't
really have fans, so that was pretty tough.
This past season you were used as a shooting guard and
primarily played off the ball. Can you talk to me a little bit
about the role you played at Duke?
Steward: I was a spacer. I pretty much played
off the ball a lot. It was what Coach K, Coach Scheyer and the rest
of the coaching staff wanted me to do. I'm a great team player, so
I'm always ready to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win. If
that's what it took for us to have the best chance to win, that's
what I was going to do. That's the mentality that I’m going to have
to take at the next level as well. I know that my natural position
is point guard. At the next level, that's something that I'll have
to work towards.
How do you see your role changing once you're in the
NBA? Do you want to be primarily a point guard?
Steward: Yes, for sure, most definitely. I'm a
scoring guard, but I know that I can play point guard really well
If you had to pick one lesson that you learned playing
for Coach K this past season, what would you say that
Steward: I would say just the sacrifice that it
takes to not only become a great player, but a great team. He also
taught me to stay hungry throughout the entire season and through
the ups and downs. He also taught me the preparation that it takes
to be a great team: watching a lot of film, lifting and doing all
the little things that it takes to become a great player.
Entering the NBA Draft after only one season in college
is a big decision. How did you come to that
Steward: I have confidence in myself. I thought
that this is the right time for me to go on to the next level. I
feel that I will develop better at the next level. So I’m going up
there to work on my game, continue to get better, grind it out and
also play my natural position -- which is point guard. I need to
show the NBA that I can do that.
I've been told that in addition to being a good
basketball player, you're also a good student in school. Do you
plan on continuing to work towards your degree even though you'll
be in the NBA?
Steward: Yes, one-hundred percent! That's
something I definitely want to work on, and I know that would make
my parents really proud. I'll be very proud of myself once I
complete that, too. I am definitely working towards that.
I know you're just starting your professional basketball
career, but let's fast forward to life after basketball. What would
you like to do after you’re done playing?
Steward: I’d hope to become a broadcaster on
ESPN, doing talk shows and things like that. I’d like to stay close
to the game, maybe becoming a coach or trainer. I’d like to stay
around a game and help people. I want to help kids in Chicago get
better and help give them the opportunity that I had to further
What are some of the things that you'd like to work on
and improve in your game before you get to the next
Steward: My body. I have to get my body a lot
stronger. I'm definitely working hard every single day. I’d also
like to get my three-point percentage up. This past season I shot
34% from the three-point line. In order to be successful, I need to
get that up to 40% or higher. I’d also like to show that I can play
the point guard spot and run the point at the NBA level.
If you had to choose one player past or current that you
model your game after who that would be?
Steward: I would say Ja Morant. We have the
same body type. We both play with a little flash. He has a lot of
confidence. He can score well from all three levels and I love how
he gets all of his teammates involved.
If you had to name one short-term goal and one long-term
goal for yourself, what would those be?
Steward: Short-term goal? I would say
establishing myself in the NBA and earning respect around the
league. For a long-term goal? To become one of the greatest point
guards of all-time. I want to be a great point guard. I've watched
a lot of different players: Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Chris Paul,
just a lot of great point guards that lasted in the NBA for a
Let's pretend you just entered an elevator with a
general manager of a team that's considering selecting you, what is
your pitch as to why you should be his guy.
Steward: I'm young, I'm developing, and I’m
only going to get better and better. I'm going to grind it out. I'm
going to do whatever it takes to be a winner, a great player, and
person. I'm going to score the ball from all three levels. I can
make plays for others as well as myself. I’m going to do things the