Duke duo prepares for finale

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

AP Sports Writer
DURHAM — Few Duke players have taken part in as many victories as Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith — and they’re not done.
Two of the winningest Blue Devils have one last chance at a ‘‘W’’ in front of the Cameron Crazies on Wednesday night when co-No. 4 Duke plays host to Clemson in its home finale.
For Singler, it could be his 120th win in a Duke uniform, and that would move him within two of Christian Laettner for third place on the school’s career victories list. Shane Battier ranks first with 131, followed by Chris Duhon (123).
And while Singler is fifth on Duke’s all-time scoring list — and at his current pace could finish his career at No. 3 — he’s more proud of the way he steadily climbed the wins list.
‘‘Stats and all that (are) great, but when you boil it all down, no one can take away your wins, your championships that you’ve won,’’ Singler said. ‘‘Those really stick to a player and to a person. For me, winning is more important than my stats. That’s something that I’ve always focused on.’’
Smith and Singler forever will be intertwined in the program’s history — and not just because their last names begin with the same letter.
Two of the jewels of Duke’s incoming recruiting class in 2007 took different career paths to reach the same goal, leading the Blue Devils (26-3, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) to their fourth national championship as juniors and then as seniors reaching No. 1 in the nation twice while hoping to cap their careers with title No. 5.
Singler was a starter from the day he arrived on campus, with coach Mike Krzyzewski in ’07 calling him ‘‘our most well-rounded player as a freshman.’’ He started all but one of 140 games in four seasons, averaging 16 points for his career.
‘‘Kyle is all about winning — that’s why he’ll wind up being one of the top two or three kids in the history of our program and in the history of the NCAA,’’ Krzyzewski said recently. ‘‘He’ll be one of the top four or five players to ever play here, as far as the credentials. When you win a national championship during your four years, you already set yourself apart.’’
Krzyzewski calls Smith ‘‘one of the most unusual great players we’ve had’’ because he was only occasionally in the starting lineup during his first two seasons. Smith was a change-of-pace reserve behind Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer, starting only once as a freshman and 21 times as a sophomore before blossoming last year during the Blue Devils’ title run.
‘‘I can’t really think of anybody like that in our history,’’ Krzyzewski said. ‘‘Laettner was always good. Johnny (Dawkins) was always good. (J.J.) Reddick, I mean, really good. … Nolan’s ascent to being one of the top players to play in a Duke uniform has been kind of unusual and really remarkable.’’
Now he leads the ACC in scoring (21.3 ppg) and also is bidding to be tops in assists; he was overtaken this past weekend by North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, who leads Smith by a fraction of an assist per game.
Smith has been a part of 115 career wins, and if Duke beats Clemson, that will bring him out of a tie for 12th on the school list with Scheyer, Bobby Hurley and two others.
‘‘There were definitely times when I’d wonder, but I’d always keep working hard, listen to the coaches,’’ Smith said. ‘‘When coach Dawkins left (for Stanford), he told me to trust the coaches and everything was going to work out. I always believed him when he said that, and I knew it was just a matter of time before my abilities would start to show up, if I buy into the system and be the player that I knew I could be.’’