Duncan wasn't supposed to play much that first season. There was even talk of red-shirting him until another recruit, Makhtar Ndiaye of Senegal, was declared ineligible, and Duncan had to step in at center. In his first college game, on the road against Alaska-Anchorage, on the first day he'd ever seen snow, Duncan didn't score a single point. Didn't even attempt a shot. Later that season in a game at Clemson, he got schooled by the Tigers' smash-mouth center, Sharone Wright. "Sharone handed Tim his head," Odom remembers. "It was a man against a young boy, one thunder dunk after another. I got worried about Timmy. I called him into my office the next day, and I eased my way into the conversation because I didn't want to scare him. Suddenly he interrupts me and says, 'Coach, I'm fine. I'm just out there having a good time.' "
Duncan's stoic attitude makes him something of an enigma, even to Odom and his teammates. This is a guy, after all, who slept through Hurricane Hugo. And while his laid-back style is often mistaken for disinterest, he is really just marching to the beat of his own steel drummer. "Some people think he doesn't care enough on the court," says former Maryland center Joe Smith, who's now starting for the Warriors. "Don't be fooled. He's much more vicious than he looks."
Despite his slow start as a freshman, Duncan needed just 51 games to set the Wake Forest record for blocked shots, and his 3.98 rejections per game in his career is the third-best in NCAA history, behind David Robinson and Shaquille O'Neal. As a sophomore he averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, joining Smith as the only other player in the conference last year to average a double double. After the season Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, Duncan's fellow ACC super sophs, all decided to turn pro. Each was among the first four draft picks, and all would have dropped a notch had Duncan, 6'10" and still growing, fled as well. "I was not ready," Duncan says. "I just felt I was too young to be in the NBA."
Everybody on campus was ecstatic that Duncan was coming back for another season, and tickets for the Demon Deacons' games will be hard to come by in Winston-Salem. But one fan who will be in the audience at many Wake games is Tricia, a physical-therapy aide in Baltimore, who can be heard shrieking wildly whenever she hears her brother's name called, just as lone surely would have. (Tricia's grasp of the game needs work though; she even shrieks when Duncan's name is called for a foul.) "I sit there in awe," Tricia says. "I think about how much Timmy has matured, how he's become a man."
Sure enough, this past Christmas in the family photo, Tim was beaming, looking straight into the camera. Cheryl's going to have that one enlarged.
St. Croix also has Dick Vitale.
The roars come from homes all across the island on winter nights. The citizens scream together, but whether they are cheering his name, Duncan, or his fashion of scoring, dunkin', is difficult to say. At the Duncan house William sits in the "dad chair," and Cheryl and Ricky huddle on either side as Tim, the closest person the island has to an ambassador, goes to work. Whenever Tim scores or rebounds or rejects a shot, one ghostly chirp rises above the rest.
"Mom never got to see Timmy play ball seriously," Cheryl says. "But I think she's looking down from heaven cheering him on, the loudest voice among all the angels. I think Timmy still hears her."
Good, better, best....