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Breaking with tradition

Duke's disappointing loss to LSU in the Atlanta Regional semifinals marked more than just the end of the 2005-2006 season. It marked the end of an era.

Six seniors graduated, leaving this year's 12-man roster with four freshmen and six sophomores.

And while a lot of people around here are nervous about Duke's immediate future, this massive turnover in personnel may prove to be exactly what the Blue Devils need to get what they really want-a fourth national championship.

For as much as J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams were the poster children for Duke basketball in their tenures here, they also fell (heartbreakingly and consistently) short of that elusive NCAA title.

Cue the newest and youngest-ever captains of your 2006-2007 Blue Devils-Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts.

Why did Coach K break 101 years of Duke tradition by naming two sophomores as captains of his illustrious squad, you ask?

The cynical, and perhaps most practical, answer is because there is no scholarship senior on the roster and DeMarcus Nelson, the third captain, is the team's only junior.

But the optimistic answer is that maybe this team is ready for a new look and a new attitude, and that Paulus and McRoberts can bring both.

It's not like either of them were benchwarmers last year and are suddenly being thrown into positions of leadership.

McRoberts was named to the ACC All-Freshman team and ACC All-Tournament second team in his first season as a Blue Devil.

Paulus clocked 1,163 minutes last year-more than Sean Dockery (1,069) and Lee Melchionni (717), two of last year's captains. He also was one of only four players in the history of the ACC to lead the conference in assists as a freshman.

Being named as an official captain just seems like a natural progression from the leadership role Paulus gave himself last year through solid, smart play on the court.

"It's an opportunity for me to share what I like to do. I like to lead. I like to be in control," Paulus said. "It would be great to have more experience, but this is an opportunity for [me and Josh] to come back to show what we've learned and how we've developed and bring the freshman along with us-because they're so close in age."

This closeness in age, combined with a lack of true veterans, is what makes this team so unique. The freshmen and sophomores have the chance to grow together through their time here.

Without Redick and Williams taking the vast majority of Duke's shots-52.4 percent to be exact-this new, sophomore-led team will finally be able to develop its own character. It also won't have to deal with the intense media scrutiny J.J., in particular, brought.

With room to reinvent itself itself on offense, Duke can emerge as a faster and more athletic squad. And it likely won't struggle against teams like Florida State-teams deep in athletes, but not necessarily in basketball players.

"We haven't demonstrated what kind of success we can have-or we can't have," Paulus said.

That's the beauty of starting anew.

When last year's seniors left, they told the sophomores to keep working hard and carry on the tradition of Duke basketball.

The best part of this season is that the players who will be most responsible carrying on the Duke tradition have already proven themselves strong enough to break with it.


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