With Zoubek, the 6' 8" Thomas and the 6' 10" Plumlee brothers—Miles (a sophomore) and Mason (a freshman)—the Blue Devils shifted their emphasis from the outside to the inside. "We had to become a physical basketball team," says assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski, who tutored 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 embodied the new Duke. 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 Blue Devils' 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 threw a ball off the rim and three Duke bigs battled for the rebound until somebody controlled it and scored 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 in 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 that of Scheyer, 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 with former Blue Devils star J.J. Redick, the 2006 National Player of the Year.
Krzyzewski saw another side. "People wanted to call him a point guard," the coach says, "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, 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, West Virginia had developed a reputation for toughness, but the Boilermakers had pounded them into submission.
"Purdue played physical, pressure defense," said Wojciechowski. "We wanted to show our team what happens when you do that." What happened in Indianapolis was an unexpected blowout. Duke stretched an eight-point halftime lead to 14 midway through the second half and never allowed the Big East champions to make a run. And when the game was nearly finished, Krzyzewski emptied his bench and brought his regulars to the sideline. They hugged and raised fists to the sky and then sat on the Blue Devils' bench, full of joy and celebration.
Only then did Krzyzewski turn to his players and admonish them, and for a moment it was 1991 again. It was then, after the stunning victory over UNLV, that Krzyzewski had walked onto the floor, scowling, pushing his palms toward the floor to quell the celebration. "It was a similar thought," said Krzyzewski later. "You can't think about what you just did, even though you just did it. Because there's one more game." And sometimes there is a little value in history, after all.