AMONG THE NICKNAMES GIVEN TO THE DUKE TRIO OF Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith—the Three Musketeers is a predictable favorite—the most apt appears to be the Firm of Scheyer, Singler and Smith. The players can be bland in interviews, and they have a businesslike demeanor on the court, each playing with precision and discipline more than athleticism or swagger.
But with a few clicks on YouTube you can view a less lawyerly side of Scheyer, Singler and Smith. There is a video featuring Scheyer that spoofs all that he can do in 75 seconds, including delivering a baby and reading War and Peace. In another, Smith and a teammate teach a dance class. Singler sits for a press conference in a third clip, appearing to announce that he will turn pro, but instead he declares that he will attend Duke University Improv's Big Show.
For guys likened to boring suits, Duke's Big Three can be darn funny.
"The thing that makes us so close is our off-the-court interactions," Smith says. "We go to the movies, hang out, go to lunch, dinner. Whatever. So when we go to the gym, we might be still talking about those things while handling our business."
The Big Three handled its business this season, combining for 52.4 points per game, the most by any three players on a Division I team. "They're not just good shooters," said Purdue coach Matt Painter, whose Boilermakers fell to Duke in the Sweet 16. "They get to the free throw line. They drive the basketball. They create for their teammates. They've got intermediate games.... They've got the whole package."
Scheyer, a senior from Northbrook, Ill., got to Duke in 2006, a season before Singler (Medford, Ore.) and Smith (Upper Marlboro, Md.). All were heralded recruits. Smith is the son of Derek Smith, who led Louisville to the 1980 NCAA title game and played nine NBA seasons. The 21-year-old has a likeness of his father, who died of a heart attack when Nolan was eight, tattooed on his right arm along with the words FOREVER WATCHING. "I take a lot of his game, his passion and the way he approached every game," Smith says. "It makes me feel good. When I take the court, I look down at my tattoo.... I know he's with me."
Smith's teammates sometimes tease him that his father was bigger (Derek was 6' 6"; Nolan's 6' 2") and more athletic. "We watch the YouTube clip where his dad dunks on Michael Jordan," Scheyer said.
The Big Three became friends almost immediately upon Smith and Singler's arrival, but it took a little longer for them to meld on the court. It wasn't until late in the 2008-09 season that Scheyer was moved from shooting guard to point guard, where he has proved most effective. Smith found his niche playing off Scheyer, sharing ballhandling duties and covering quicker guards. Singler started at power forward last season but this year moved to small forward. He struggled at first, but coach Mike Krzyzewski tweaked the offense, providing more motion that freed Singler a bit.
By the ACC tournament the trio had found a groove. Singler, in particular, may get even better. "I don't think Kyle's completely there as a perimeter player," Krzyzewski says. "He's really good, don't get me wrong...but Kyle's got a chance to become very, very good."
Scheyer, meanwhile, had always been a steady shooter, and if he made a three-pointer early in a game—as he did en route to a 23-point performance versus West Virginia in the NCAA semifinals—it was usually a sign that he was in for a big night. "Knowing he's hitting, you never go away from him," says Smith. "After he hits that first one, our team becomes so much more dangerous. Teams get scared."