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Trevon Duval is the 5-star recruit who treated high school like a pro career

The best prep point guard in the world has been living and training like an NBA player for years. Duke got a good one.

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Portraits Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Trevon Duval initially had little interest in attending IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

After spending his first two years of high school at St. Benedict’s in New Jersey and the next at Advanced Preparatory International in Texas, the constant changes of scenery left the Delaware product homesick and craving a sense of normalcy.

It was in these moments that Duval wondered what it might be like to be a typical high school student. Then again, as the best point guard in the class of 2017 and a projected lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft, nothing about Duval has ever been typical.

“Quite frankly, he didn’t want to come,” IMG Academy head coach Vince Walden told SB Nation. “We obviously had a bunch of interest in him joining us, and he had some interest in coming. But then, one day he just texted me and said, ‘Coach, I really don’t want to come.’

“I didn’t want to hear no, so I started talking to him about what some of his goals were and some of the things he was looking for. I thought that as a school we could still meet the things that he was looking for athletically, academically and socially.”

Duval has been in the spotlight since exploding onto the national recruiting scene as a sophomore. His explosive yet graceful style of play has already drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.

Duval is considered the No. 4 overall player in the class of 2017, according to Rivals. He committed to Duke on May 15. But before he could move on to the next step in his basketball journey, he first had to finish his final year of high school.

Duval would’ve preferred to play out his senior year back home in Delaware surrounded by family and friends. Or even at St. Patrick’s, a perennial hoops powerhouse in New Jersey only a few hours away.

But the decision wasn’t his to make. Duval’s parents had a different plan.

“As his father and as his trainer, I felt like IMG was the ideal place for Trevon to be,” Trevor Duval said. “We had his back 100 percent, and we just wanted what was best for him. We felt like IMG would give him a sense of responsibility and would better prepare him for the next level.”

Since its establishment in 1978, IMG Academy has built a reputation as the nation’s premier multi-sports boarding school and training facility. Its campus spans over 500 acres, and the student body is comprised of roughly 1,000 students who come from more than 80 countries.

IMG basketball has produced 89 Division I commits since 2012, and three NBA draft picks since 2014. IMG has also trained the likes of Jimmy Butler, Iman Shumpert, Moe Harkless, Skal Labissiere, Diamond Stone, and Satnam Singh during their NBA pre-draft processes.

Based on raw talent alone, Duval was already good enough to play high-major college basketball. He didn’t need IMG. But his parents understood that if he wanted to reach his full potential, he’d have to continue to push the boundaries of his comfort zone.

In most cases, mom and dad know what’s best. And in hindsight, Duval agrees that transferring to IMG Academy was a necessary sacrifice.

“[My parents] were telling me about how they thought IMG was the best fit for me on the court and off the court,” Duval said. “Once I got here, the more I settled in, the more I realized they were right.”

Every move Duval made has been dedicated to improving his basketball future. His loyalty to the game was instilled at a young age.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Duval would always play his son against older, faster, and bigger competition in local YMCA leagues. And on the AAU circuit, Trevon competed with some of the best teams throughout the Mid-Atlantic region such as WE R1, New York Gauchos, Bentalou Bombers, and D.C. Assault.

The Duvals would sometimes drive hours from Delaware to D.C. and back just so he could make it to practice.

“We always had higher goals for him,” Trevor Duval said. “When I heard about competitive, young and talented kids somewhere, I took him to that area so he could play with the best.

“When he was younger, D.C., Maryland and Jersey had the best competition, so the movement was just situational. It wasn’t about jumping on someone else’s bandwagon.”

When Duval left St. Benedict’s for Advanced Preparatory International as a sophomore, it was to surround him with better athletes as he made the transition from the wing to the point.

And when he left API for IMG Academy as a rising senior, Duval gained the coaching and resources necessary to train according to his aspirations.

In many ways, Duval’s high school career has been treated like a professional career. And though his journey has been unique to him, it’s a similar path taken by young athletes every year.

Star recruits are increasingly choosing the prep route over traditional high school because of its superior competition and opportunities for exposure. DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, Brandon McCoy, and Gary Trent Jr. — four of the top 10 prospects in the 2017 recruiting class — all attend preparatory schools.

These prep schools typically play a national schedule, which means players have to travel frequently and find a balance between school, sports, and personal life just like college athletes do. At a boarding school like IMG, kids have the added responsibility of taking care of themselves while managing their time efficiently.

It’s kind of like being a college athlete, without actually being a college athlete — and believe it or not — a few of these prep schools are actually treated better than some college teams in terms of media coverage.

“It was different at first with the schedule, training and everything that goes on,” Duval said, “but I think I adjusted very well and I’m better now because of it. I became more mature and a better a leader on and off the court.”

Duval has always understood the value of playing against the best competition. These days, anyone can edit game film and make an average player look elite. Duval rose to a five-star prospect because he was constantly testing himself against the best.

“There’s a lot of misdirection these days [when assessing a players talent],” Walden said. “Everything is somewhat staged now. Guys are quick to put up the highlight dunks. Which is great, but can that player still do the things that translate to winning at the college level? That’s what college coaches have to figure out.”

However, there’s no misdirection when evaluating Duval’s game. Against the nation’s best, the senior averaged 16.2 points and 7.7 assists per game.

Because of Duval’s contributions, IMG Academy spent the majority of the 2016-17 high school basketball season ranked as one of the top teams in the country. The Ascenders’ 26-1 regular season led to the school’s first-ever appearance at the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament in New York back in March.

Second-seeded IMG Academy was upset by seventh-seeded Greensboro Day in its first-round game, but Duval still managed to lead the team with 14 points despite playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game the night prior. Until that point, the Ascenders’ only loss of the season was against Monteverde Academy.

Though Duval’s senior season at IMG Academy didn’t end with a championship as he would’ve liked, he still considers the growth he experienced during his time with the program to be invaluable. With a stay at Duke looming, Duval and his parents know that there’s still a long journey ahead.

Duval has proven throughout his high school career that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. Now his elongated path through high school is about to end, and he’s ready for the next step.

“It’s been a journey since I was a baby, but I think that’s what helped me become the person I am now,” Duval said. “Everything I do is with a purpose — for me, my future and my family. I missed out on being home, I missed out on being with my family and friends but hopefully the sacrifices I made will get me to where I want to go.”