Don't feel sorry for Taymon Domzalski. He's having the time of his life.
A peculiar human barometer for the rebirth of Duke basketball, Domzalski quietly goes about his business, oblivious to the daily media crunch which envelopes his teammates.
"It's been the most fun season I've had here," said Domzalski, often the first Duke player to arrive at practice-and the last one interviewed by the media, if at all.
It's been a backwards journey for Domzalski, a highly touted recruit who has improved markedly over four years while watching his playing time simultaneously decline.
As a freshman, the Lovington, N.M., native played in 31 games, starting 18. In the three years since, he's started nine games combined.
"I think I've gotten better every year," said the senior, who averages 10.3 minutes per game. "It's just that there are different roles that need to be filled and different guys to do it."
Two years ago, when coach Mike Krzyzewski locked up the nation's top recruiting class, rumors abounded that Domzalski would transfer from Duke to another school offering more playing time. Domzalski never did anything to substantiate that talk.
Instead, he learned to put the team's goals ahead of his own, sacrificing the spotlight for a shot at a national championship.
"Coming out of high school," Domzalski said, "where you're the main man on the court, to a program on the college or NBA level... you have to understand that everything is bigger than you. And that if you throw yourself into the whole, it's going to be so much more rewarding for the team-and yourself."
Which is not to say that Domzalski stopped working on his own game. After a freshman season in which he fouled out nine times-once in just 13 minutes-Domzalski heard all the jokes and nicknames, like "Dumbfoulski."
But he learned to
"You guys just see what he does in games," said teammate Elton Brand. "You don't really see what he does in practices. I give Taymon a lot of credit for my improvement, because he's constantly making me better in practice."
Brand doesn't think most observers understand Domzalski's work ethic or his potential for stardom. Virginia coach Pete Gillen, whose Cavaliers face Duke in the first round of the ACC tournament, agrees.
After a 46-point loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Gillen explained Duke's talent level in terms of its ninth man, Domzalski.
"He's a guy who's a high school All-American, and he can't even get on the floor," Gillen said. "If he came to Virginia, we'd build a monument to him, right next to Jefferson. Maybe not quite as tall."
Domzalski, the 1997-98 Paine Webber National Scholar Athlete of the Year, has long had a dream to go to medical school. He's already been invited to the Portsmouth (Va.) tryout camp for NBA hopefuls, however, and he plans to put graduate school on hold.
"I'm going to play as long as I can," said Domzalski, who got his first and only start of the season on Senior Day.
Playing abroad is a possibility, he said without hesitation.
For now, though, there are more pressing matters. Like getting Duke back to the Final Four. Domzalski's former teammate Steve Wojciechowski graduated last year as a member of the first Duke class since 1985 never to play on the last weekend in March.
The humble Domzalski might be the poster boy for this 29-1 Duke team, a No. 1-ranked squad that is being called everything but invincible.
"You know what it is?" Domzalski said. "It's the talent, but it's also the selflessness. I've been around so many teams with tremendous talent, but everybody wants to be the man. It's hard for some guys to understand that not everybody can be the all-star, superstar player."
Domzalski explained the unique chemistry this team has developed.
"You have to have people to do the little things and fill roles," he said. "And we call them little things, we call them role players and we look at 'role' as a nasty word sometimes. But it's not. It's doing things that make the group better, make the whole better, make the team better."
Few people understand that as well as Brand, whose All-ACC and All-America accolades have come at the expense of his elder teammate. Domzalski may be running out of time on his college career, but he's not going unnoticed.
"I remember coming in freshman year, Taymon was playing great and I wasn't sure what my role was going to be," Brand said. "But he put the team first. That's what good players have to do, and he's done it. He's sacrificed."
Domzalski credits Krzyzewski for molding his outlook and inspiring the team-first concept that the Blue Devils have so firmly embraced. The results speak for themselves: a 29-1 record, a perfect 16-0 ACC record and a No. 1 ranking.
With the clock ticking on his career, Domzalski is typically unconcerned with personal goals. He's more worried about where this team, already dubbed by some as the best Duke squad ever, will finish.
"We've said it a million times: a team has a lifetime," Domzalski said. "It starts when we get to school here in the fall and ends in the spring. That's the lifetime of this team, and we'll never have this unit back again, never have this team back again."