Singler and Smith ready for repeat
While everyone in Durham, Duke fans around the country and even those who love to hate the Blue Devils were anxiously waiting on the decision of Kyle Singler, what they didn’t realize was that he wasn’t the only senior-to-be wrestling with whether to return for a final season in college.
If Singler didn’t return, Nolan Smith likely wasn’t coming back, either.
“I put a lot of thought into it,” Smith said. “I talked to Coach and my family and Kyle, but at the end of the day, I think we both made the best decision for ourselves.”
“We’re like brothers and we’re trying to do it again,” he added of his relationship with Singler. “We had so much fun this year. We came in together and I think if Kyle had left, there would have been a good chance I would have left, also.”
And just like that, the Blue Devils would have been ordinary again.
Singler’s decision appeared far more difficult, especially on the surface, since he just came off winning the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four and was generally regarded as a lock first-rounder.
But even Smith’s buddy, Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley, acknowledged that it might have been just the right time for Smith to bolt.
Smith went from a guy who lost his starting spot to freshman Elliott Williams as a sophomore to more than doubling his scoring average from 8.4 points to 17.4 last season.
“His stock will never be higher than it is right now,” Beasley told me last month.
“Mike definitely came to me and told me to think about it,” Smith said. “So did Mario Chalmers. The two of them were in my ear, but I wanted to come back.”
Singler and Smith have gone through their share of adversity since arriving in Durham. The Blue Devils hadn’t lived up to expectations for the first two years of their careers, and Smith was close to transferring after a frustrating freshman campaign.
Singler finished last season on a high note, but his junior year was anything but smooth, as he struggled to make the transition to a perimeter player after spending his first two seasons primarily in the post.
“Individually, I didn’t have the year I wanted,” Singler said. “I had good games, but I wasn’t very consistent.”
Singler was informed he likely would have gone late in the first round, while Smith’s draft stock was far more uncertain.
So both players returned and that instantly, along with the addition of talented freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, made the Blue Devils the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
It also gave Coach Mike Krzyzewski a chance to win another national championship.
“We feel like we can be an even better team and we can do it again,” Singler said while explaining his rationale for coming back. “Plus, I want to experience my senior year.”
Singler also is well aware of the influx of underclassmen who decided to leave early for the NBA this year and how that, along with a strong senior campaign, could move him into the 2011 Draft lottery.
Singler and Smith spent last weekend at Chris Paul’s Camp working on their perimeter skills. The plan is for both to attend LeBron James’ camp early next month as well.
With Irving replacing Jon Scheyer at the point guard spot and plodding big man Brian Zoubek also graduating, there’s little question that the Blue Devils’ offense will have a new look.
“I’ve changed my workout because we’re going to be more up-tempo,” Smith said. “I’m working on a lot of transition threes and quick moves,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to play fast with Kyrie and Seth (Curry).”
Both seem more at ease now — and they should. They finally have lifted the burden that has dogged them for their first two-plus years by winning a national title.
“Now people can’t say we haven’t won one in however many years,” Singler said.
“But we want more,” Smith added. “That’s why we came back.”
Both of them.