SI Vault
 
Tough As They Come
TIM LAYDEN
April 12, 2010
Led by a rejuvenated coach and embracing a bruising brand of play, Duke seized its fourth national title in Indianapolis—but only after resilient Butler gave the Blue Devils all they could handle in a breathtaking final
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 12, 2010

Tough As They Come

Led by a rejuvenated coach and embracing a bruising brand of play, Duke seized its fourth national title in Indianapolis—but only after resilient Butler gave the Blue Devils all they could handle in a breathtaking final

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4

A year later Duke again fell ignominiously, in the Sweet 16, as Villanova scored 51 points in the second half of a 77--54 rout. While 'Nova players didn't woof, the result was embarrassment enough. "I'll never forget those games," Zoubek says. "If you play your heart out, you have no regrets. But against West Virginia we just got outfought, and against Villanova we fell apart."

The Blue Devils had not been to a Final Four in five years, the longest drought in Krzyzewski's tenure. Worse, they had become a finesse team (read: soft), but three things happened to propel them in another direction: Dynamic 6'4" junior guard Gerald Henderson left for the NBA, sophomore guard Elliott Williams transferred to Memphis and Zoubek got healthy after two years of either missing games (nine in 2007--08, one last year) or lacking strength and conditioning because of foot injuries.

With the 6'8" Thomas, and the 6'10" Plumlee brothers—Miles (a sophomore) and Mason (a freshman)—Duke shifted its emphasis from the outside to the inside. "We had to become a physical basketball team," says assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski, who tutors the team's big men. "There was a time when Duke could generate easy baskets through turnovers with pressure. Now we have to do it with offensive rebounds."

Zoubek embodies the new Duke. Healthy for the first time since his freshman year, he lifted weights ferociously all summer to strengthen his lower body. He also shaved his head and grew a beard to project toughness, transforming his look from Glee to WWE. The facial hair, normally forbidden in the Duke program, prompted discussion at a fall team meeting. "Coach said, 'So what about the beard?'" recalls Zoubek. "Then Wojo spoke up and said he liked it, and Coach went around and everybody said they liked it, said it made me look tougher. So I could keep it, as long as I trimmed it clean."

All year Zoubek was the leader in fierce practice sessions among the post players, most often in a three-man drill in which Wojciechowski throws a ball off the rim and three Duke bigs battle for the rebound until somebody controls it and scores on the other two. "And Wojo never blows the whistle," says Mason Plumlee. "Never."

Zoubek made his first start of the season on Feb. 13 for a home game against Maryland, and the Blue Devils went on to win 15 of their last 16 games. His increased presence helped create shooting and driving space for the 6'5" Scheyer (18.2 points per game), the 6'8" Singler (17.7) and the 6'2" Smith (17.4). When Duke beat Baylor on March 28 to reach the Final Four, it was tough man Zoubek who wept in the team's locker room at Reliant Stadium.

Zoubek's growth was on full display in the title game, as was Scheyer's, who all season long fulfilled the career expectations heaped on him four years ago, although on his own terms. When he arrived in Durham, he was immediately compared to former Blue Devils star J.J. Redick, the 2006 Player of the Year.

Krzyzewski saw another side. "People wanted to call him a point guard," the coach said. "But he's not a point guard, he's just a real unique player. He doesn't really have a position. But he's a beautiful kid. In four years he never had a down day, never needed any maintenance. I never had him on the couch." Scheyer emerged from those four years mature and dangerous—shooting, slashing and passing with equal efficiency.

"It took me a while to find myself as a college player," said Scheyer before the title game. "People did expect me to be J.J. Redick, and I wasn't. I struggled a little bit. It's kind of crazy, this path I've been on. But I appreciate what it took to get here."

It was appropriate that in order to reach the title game, Duke would have to beat the same program—with some of the same players—that so exposed the Blue Devils' lack of toughness two years before. In preparation for West Virginia, Krzyzewski and his assistants showed his players a four-minute video of the Mountaineers' 77--62 loss to Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on New Year's Day. Built in the image of coach Bob Huggins, they had developed a reputation for toughness, but Purdue had pounded West Virginia into submission.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4