Saturday, October 18, 2008
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Back to work for Coach K, Duke

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[October 18, 2008]  DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- They treat Greg Paulus like he's the voice of experience at Duke, and rightfully so. The senior point guard is one of the few Blue Devils who knows what it's like to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

At nearly any other point during Mike Krzyzewski's previous 28 seasons in Durham, that wouldn't seem like much of an accomplishment. But the Blue Devils' last two postseasons ended during the first weekend of March Madness, so they opened practice Friday once again hoping to shake the lingering disappointment of another early NCAA exit.

"I don't think you get over things - when you want to achieve something and you come up a little bit short, it keeps you going," Paulus said. "I know it kept hunger in everybody, and as a result, everybody's gotten better since last season. We definitely haven't forgotten about it, and that's why it's so exciting to get going, for it to be the first day and kind of start the journey."

It was another long summer for the Blue Devils, who enter this season having lost three of five during a 28-6 finish that was tainted by yet another late-season tournament collapse, and the Hall of Fame coach at least partly attributes it to the pressure of Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick and the other ghosts of Duke's past who helped Coach K rack up three national titles and 10 Final Fours.

The No. 2-seeded Blue Devils' one-point win over Belmont was followed by a 73-67 loss to West Virginia that kept them out of the regional semifinals for the second straight year.

"Obviously, some of it is Xs and Os, but some of it is just being in that time, and not being able to compete against one team, but try to carry on something, and people throw that at you," Krzyzewski said. "I'm OK with them throwing it at me, but that's the first time for these guys that it's thrown at them, and I shouldn't allow that, if I can. ... I didn't really realize it until it was over, that that may be a part of it - where you end up, your own success beating you."

Ever since leading the Americans to the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, Krzyzewski urged his team to greet its victories with more appreciation and less relief. As practice started, he maintained that message, stressing that "we're playing for right now."

"No matter what else other people are counting - number of victories, number of NCAA titles, counting how many times we did go to the Sweet 16 and it wasn't that big, and we didn't (get there) and now it is big. Don't go along with that," Krzyzewski said. "Just ... play. Just do it, and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Even if Coach K isn't counting anymore, the Blue Devils who took the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium had the look of a team that could add to those lofty totals.

Nine members of last year's 10-man rotation are back, and so are four double-figure scorers - including ACC rookie of the year Kyle Singler and Paulus, a 42-percent shooter from 3-point range whose Redick-like lightning-rod personality has made him one of the most polarizing players in college basketball.

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He joins David McClure as the two seniors on scholarship, and that's an improvement - during the past two seasons combined, the Blue Devils had just one.

They're complemented by a three-man freshman class that includes five-star guard Elliot Williams and big-bodied forwards Olek Czyz and Miles Plumlee.

Czyz and Plumlee will be counted upon to bolster the size and depth of a team that last season was criticized for being undersized in the low post and too dependent on its perimeter game. While the Blue Devils showed few weaknesses during a 22-1 start that included a No. 2 national ranking and a victory over rival North Carolina in a 2-vs.-3 matchup, they were exposed in a loss at Wake Forest and lost five of their last 11 games.

"We did have a great year last year, up until the end where we lost a few games (and) I think we lost confidence in ourselves," guard Jon Scheyer said. "One thing that's important is, guys on the team individually and as a team, you have an ego. You believe you're good. For us, we're not missing any pieces, and I think this year we have all the pieces to do what we want to do, and that's what makes us feel confident."

[Associated Press; By JOEDY McCREARY]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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