Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has the right combination of talent and experience to be a legitimate national championship contender. (Joe Lunardi, in a ridiculously early Bracketology, agrees.) But the defining factor of the Blue Devils' season may not be Greg Paulus' jump shot, Gerald Henderson's rise to stardom or the development of an inside presence. Krzyzewski thinks it will be the team's health.

"We're really excited because we're finally going to be old, and hopefully healthy," Krzyzewski said in an exclusive interview with The Chronicle Tuesday.

Perhaps the two least documented injuries are those of Paulus and Henderson. Krzyzewski said Paulus was struggling with an injury a year after he had surgery on his broken left foot. Paulus sat out for more than two months after the season with a problem in his knee, namely the iliotibial (IT) band. Krzyzewski cited a chronic problem, and given some cursory research, it becomes clear that it was most likely iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), a common injury sometimes referred to as runner's knee. Paulus could have had surgery, but opted not to, Krzyzewski said. Some information about ITBS:

  • The IT band is a "thick band of tissue" that surrounds muscle.
  • Common symptoms of ITB pain include a "sharp or burning pain on the outside of the knee when running," and "typically, an athlete is unable to 'run through' ITB pain." There is little swelling, but the knee is often tender and pain usually persists.

Henderson, like Lance Thomas, had surgery April 1 to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. He initially injured his shooting hand in Duke's win over North Carolina Feb. 6, and then further hyperextended it March 15 in the ACC Tournament. He played with a brace after the UNC game. He was expected to be sidelined for 12 to 16 weeks, and is still two weeks away from playing with his right hand.

To compensate, Henderson has been doing everything with only his left hand, Krzyzewski said.

Center Brian Zoubek's problems with health have been abundant. Zoubek had surgery on his left foot in April, less than one year after undergoing a procedure to repair a fracture in his left foot's fifth metatarsal in July 2007. Henderson and Lance Thomas both had hand surgeries in April; Henderson was expected to be sidelined for 12 to 16 weeks, and Thomas' prognosis called for eight to 10 weeks.

The Chronicle will publish excerpts from our exclusive interview with Krzyzewski starting Monday, so be sure to check back then for more about the Olympics, Duke's prospects and more.

--by Ben Cohen