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KYLE SINGLER can barely remember the last time he took two months off from seriously playing basketball, but that's what Duke's sophomore forward did this past summer when he returned to his home in Medford, Ore. Aside from an occasional pickup game with his buddies, the most strenuous thing Singler did was lift his fork to put away his mom's spaghetti. "I wanted to take time off, get refreshed," he says. The respite was necessary following a season in which Singler and the Blue Devils seemed to wear down at the finish. They lost three of their last five games, including a 73--67 loss to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA tournament. "There were moments late in the season where I wanted to dig deeper, but there wasn't much left," he says. "After the season, I knew I had to change something."
That something was his body. Since the end of last season, Singler has put 20 pounds of muscle on his 215-pound frame, and he worked especially hard on adding strength to his legs and hips. His metamorphosis reflects a larger one taking place in the program as a whole. The Blue Devils have been pushed around for the past two seasons—West Virginia outrebounded them 47--27—but now they're bigger, stronger and, best of all, older. "You can pace yourselves when you have a veteran team, but we haven't been able to do that," says coach Mike Krzyzewski, who two years ago coached a team that included no seniors and just one junior. "Kyle plays as hard as anybody, but because we didn't have any depth inside, he had to play more minutes than he should have guarding people who were bigger."
With his ability to score inside and out (he made 51 three-pointers last year and was the team's second-leading scorer), Singler is the kind of versatile power forward who has been a staple of Krzyzewski's teams. (Think Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and Shane Battier.)
Krzyzewski is also hoping for big seasons from junior guard Jon Scheyer, who was the team's sixth man last season, and from junior swingman Gerald Henderson, a dynamic athlete who shot 47.4% from the field but just 31.7% from three-point range. Shoring up the front line is Miles Plumlee, an agile freshman center who Krzyzewski says is the team's best shot blocker.
The most significant change will be at point guard, where sophomore Nolan Smith will replace Greg Paulus, a three-year starter. The Blue Devils could have used Smith's ability to pressure the ball last season, but he was not ready to handle the responsibility. Like everyone else on this team, Smith is older, wiser and stronger. And now that Duke's legs are built for a marathon, the Blue Devils can be expected to go a longer distance this season.