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Black sinks teeth into new aggressive game

You won’t see Chante Black sporting a hot-pink or zebra-print smile anytime soon.

Instead, the freshman shows her Blue Devil spirit by flashing a royal blue grin at the crowd during Duke’s women’s basketball games, usually right after pulling down a monster board.

“It’s like a trademark, I guess,” Black said. “You don’t see that many Duke blue mouthpieces.”

The center began sporting the conspicuous blue mouthpiece Feb. 1, and her play since that time has reflected the worth of the dental appendage. Since she began wearing the mouthpiece, Black has averaged 7.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, above her season averages of 5.9 and 7.4, respectively.

The protective gear has made such a difference in Black’s play that head coach Gail Goestenkors has forbidden the center from stepping on the court without it.

“We noticed the first time she had her mouthpiece in, she was so much more aggressive,” Goestenkors said. “The next time I saw her without her mouthpiece, I didn’t even know she didn’t have [it] in, I just noticed she was very timid again. That’s when I said I didn’t ever want to see her again without the mouthpiece in.”

The Honorable Mention All-ACC freshman’s relative timidity without the mouthpiece stems from the fear of repeating a facial injury she suffered during a summer practice session.

“An elbow went up, and [my teeth] just split right through my chin,” Black said. “I had to get a glue stitch in it.”

Both the injury to her face and an ankle injury, suffered during Duke’s Nov. 14 win over South Florida, hampered Black’s progress early in the season.

The freshman hoped to prove herself as a strong rebounder in her first collegiate season. Black pulled down 27 boards in the first two games of the season before her injury. With the mouthpiece and her renewed confidence, Black has again been able to excel at her favorite aspect of the game.

“Rebounding has always been my forte, ever since I was small,” Black said. “Going to camps with boys, I used to get trophies for being the best rebounder. Growing up, I remember being like, ‘Oh, I want to be like Dennis Rodman, just good on the rebounds.’ That’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed doing. I’m just happy that now it’s picking back up like it was in the beginning.”

Black’s success on the glass has been essential to the Blue Devils, especially as of late, when some of the team’s more experienced post players have been struggling in that area.

“Mistie [Williams’] numbers are down lately, Monique [Currie’s] numbers are down lately, and Chante helped to pick up some of that slack for us,” Goestenkors said.

Although Black originally envisioned herself as a rebound specialist, the freshman has been concentrating on improving her offensive performance since coming to Duke.

In practice, Black has been working on becoming more comfortable with the physical aspect of the game. The male practice players have been using a pad while guarding Black to simulate the pressure of game situations. As a result of this focus, the freshman has noticed a difference in her scoring ability.

“During the first part [of the season], I was more mechanical [on offense]. I was just going through the motions,” Black said. “Now I can put a little twist on it. Be more productive while running the play, not just running to get the offense going for that person, but also to try to produce something for myself and for the team.”

As she furthers her development into a threat on both ends of the court, Black will be a valuable reserve for Duke during its postseason pushes for both the ACC title and the NCAA Championship.

That is, as long as she remembers her mouthpiece.

“I have two of them,” Black said. “The trainer has one, and I have one, just in case I forget it.”

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