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Nelson thrust into multitude of roles

DeMarcus Nelson is the kind of guy that, had you never met him, might have really bothered you in high school.

He is the kind of guy that seems to be able to do anything. The kind of guy that can fit in with any group, talk to anyone and always know what to say, earn good enough grades to keep himself on the honor roll and play basketball and football well enough to be named an All-American in both.

Of course, the same master-of-all-trades quality that might irk those who have never met him endears him to those who know him best. And this season, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound freshman’s versatile basketball skills and impressive maturity will endear him to Duke fans.

Although Nelson’s ability to finish near the basket has drawn comparisons to former Blue Devil great Jay Williams, his strength and versatility—as well as Duke’s lack of depth—may force him to into a role more like those once filled by taller players such as Grant Hill or Luol Deng.

“I see my role... as being aggressive, looking to score—that’s something I’ve always done my whole life—and helping the team that way,” Nelson said. “But not only that, playing as a second guard, handling the ball as I did [in the Blue-White Scrimmage] and getting other people involved and creating shots for other teammates. And then, playing good defense, rebounding, getting steals and finishing hard to the bucket... I can do a lot of different things on the court.”

Although Nelson will miss two to four weeks of the preseason with a broken hand, head coach Mike Krzyzewski sees the solidily built freshman filling an even more expanded role when he does return, envisioning him playing every position except center.

“Nelson’s got to be able to play every position on the perimeter, but if we go small at times and want to press, he might be the second big, because he’s the strongest of all the perimeter guys,” Krzyzewski said. “And so we can develop some depth by having multiple responsibilities.”

California’s reigning Mr. Basketball demonstrated his ability to rack up statistics and play solid defense while in high school. Nelson holds the California high school career scoring record with 3,462 points, ranks third all-time in career rebounds with 1,522 and is ninth in career assists with 791. He averaged at least 30 points and 10 rebounds during each of his last three years in high school.

Despite his prolific scoring ability, Nelson knows that he will often be asked to sacrifice his own shots to set up teammates this season, a role that he accepts eagerly.

“Teams are going to put all the pressure and try to highlight J.J. [Redick] and highlight Daniel [Ewing] and highlight Shav [Randolph] and will leave some players like me, Lee [Melchionni], Sean [Dockery] open one-on-one or with our guys helping down, and we’re going to burn them,” said Nelson about what his point guard play can do for the offense.

“Then they have to play us honest, which means they have one guy guarding J.J., one guy guarding Shelden [Williams] and Shav, well hey, they’re not going to be able to do that either. So it’s like pick your poison, that’s what we’re training for.”

What makes the freshman remarkable, however, is not his physical ability, but rather his basketball acumen and team-oriented approach. Only one week into practice, Nelson is in tune with his team’s dynamics. He is quick to point out what he must do better to fit in with the team’s personality and is perceptive when talking about on-the-court strategy.

“Knowing player personnel is something that, being a good athlete or a good player, you have to do,” Nelson said. “Just something small like that makes a big difference and makes us a better basketball team.”

The precocious freshman’s athletic versatility and work ethic has already made him beloved by his teammates.

“DeMarcus is an incredible athlete,” co-captain Redick said. “He’s just one of those freaks that you hear about that can run forever, he’s got no body fat, he lifts as much as the big guys in the weight room. He’s just an incredible athlete. And on the basketball court he’s also a really good player.”

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