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The Bold and Bashful Landlord

Shelden Williams is hard at work in the kitchen, deftly working two deep fryers at once.

He can hear screams coming from the other room, where his teammates are watching Texas beat N.C. State. It's the day after Duke hammered George Washington in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Blue Devils are back in Durham, enjoying a rare day off during the hectic postseason run.

But Williams is focused on the task at hand. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward is cooking up his special recipe for fried chicken to go along with the mac and cheese and green beans he's already prepared.

The team's over at the off-campus apartment Williams shares with Lee Melchionni because-well, because Shelden said so.

Williams, dominant in both of the weekend's games, could tell his team-and it really became his team this season-needed to spend some time together off the court. So he put out the word.

Such leadership from Williams would have been close to unthinkable when he arrived as a freshman nearly four years ago. Williams is still humble today, but back then he was introverted, even anti-social.

He was reticent for good reason. During his senior year at Midwest City High in Forest Park, Oklahoma, Williams was embroiled in a rape controversy that had Duke fans questioning whether the school should be extending him a scholarship offer. After being kicked off his high school team and left out of the McDonald's All-American game, Williams was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

But the psychological scars stayed, and Williams had trouble adjusting to life away from home. "One of my huge problems is trusting people," Williams says. "I have a huge wall when it comes to new faces and new things. That's something I've had almost all of my life. I've been in a position where people always want something from me, always want to take advantage of me."

At Duke, Williams closed out the rest of the world, focusing on just basketball and schoolwork. Some of Williams' teammates embraced their status as campus celebrities, but Williams was more likely to be found in Perkins than he was at Shooters. To say the hulking freshman was quiet would have been an understatement. He hardly spoke to his teammates and virtually never offered more than one or two words to reporters.

By the time Williams was a sophomore, Mike Krzyzewski was fed up with what he saw. He had believed his big man when the high school senior swore his innocence, and now he needed Williams to believe in him. Krzyzewski wanted the introvert to become more vocal on the court and spend more time with his teammates off of it.

The coach sat Williams down and told him flat out-unless Williams made some changes, he could kiss his playing time goodbye.

"I came here to go to school and play basketball," Williams says, recalling the meeting. "If you're taking [basketball] away, that's a big part that would be missing from my life."

For all Krzyzewski's prodding, however, Williams might never have really broken out of his shell if it wasn't for Melchionni. Paired to room together freshman year, the two seem like Duke's version of the odd couple. On one side there's Williams, so straight-edged he still wakes up at 9 a.m. on weekends and makes his bed, and on the other there's Melchionni, the team's motormouth and ambassador to the student body.

Somehow the duo has worked-flourished, even-as the two have become best friends. And Melchionni's effusive nature coaxed Williams into embracing his status as a college basketball star. After the pair's freshman year, Williams took a trip to visit Melchionni's hometown. The two were at a local mall when some college basketball fans recognized Williams and implored him to take a turn on a Slamball court that had been set up there.

At first Williams was hesistant, as always, but Melchionni urged his roommate to give it a shot. The problem was, Williams had never used a trampoline before. So when Williams tried to dunk-as if he needed any help to begin with-he jumped right into the basket's support.

"When you first meet Shelden, there's a wall up and he's a pretty intimidating guy, but once you get inside that he's just as talkative and is a big goofball," Melchionni says. "I just call him a big teddy bear."

For most of four years, Melchionni has been one of the only people to know Williams' non-basketball side. While J.J. Redick's video game habits are dissected ad nauseam by the national media, Williams' personality is still mostly a secret.

He's polite to a fault, and he collects DVDs and shoes. His assortment of kicks-mostly Nikes and Jordans-has grown so much that he can't fit them all in his closet. And he's picky about when they leave the closet-if it's raining, forget about breaking the clean sneakers out, it's definitely Timberland weather.

Having grown up so much during his time at Duke, it was only fitting that Williams would repay the debt, passing up sure-fire NBA riches to come back for his senior season. After an All-American year, he'll leave Duke as the school's leader in rebounds and blocked shots. His career stats rival some of college basketball's best big men of all time. Coach K has called him one of the best shot-blockers college basketball has ever seen.

A year later, with his Duke career over after a Sweet 16 loss to LSU, the next stop for Williams is the NBA. The senior captain is finishing up his work in the two classes he has left to graduate.

But as he embarks on his post-Duke life, it's unclear how he'll be remembered. Space has already been cleared in Cameron's rafters for Redick's jersey, but it's less certain whether Williams' '23' will join it.

"My time here was a great journey. Unfortunately it didn't end up the way we wanted," he says. "I think people will remember me as being a team player, somebody who gave everything he had for his Duke team to win."


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