PORTRAITS OF THE PLAYERS-Greg Paulus, the point guard

"So what's this story going to be about?" Greg Paulus asks.

"Well, if you had to write this story, what would you say?"

"I don't know, I probably wouldn't write it on me," Paulus says, flashing a huge smile and letting out a strong but markedly humble laugh.

In that one moment, the junior reveals exactly what makes him so enigmatic: Greg Paulus never wants to be the story, but the Duke point guard always is.

It's almost impossible to get Paulus to talk about himself. He laughs at almost every tough question because even though he takes his success seriously, he doesn't take his celebrity so-at least not in the egocentric way you expect a high-profile college athlete would.

He shies away from questions about the struggles of last season: his battle with a serious foot injury, his 101 turnovers to 124 assists and Duke's first round losses in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. He prefers to talk about the team, the future and what's been on his mind lately.

For four of the past five nights, Paulus has been at teammate Jon Scheyer's apartment trying to beat the sophomore in "FIFA Soccer" on Xbox. Paulus hasn't won yet (he's a PlayStation football kind of guy) but that doesn't stop him from coming back nightly. He will play 10 to 15 games in a row until he wins. And if he doesn't, he'll show up the next day and stay until he does.

"He's resilient," Scheyer says with a grin, "I give him credit for that."


The allure of the Blue Devil tradition-particularly the one built by Bobby Hurley, Tommy Amaker and Jason Williams-is a large part of what drew Paulus to the hardwood of Cameron Indoor in the first place. Duke point guards not only control the tempo of a game, but also the tenor of one of the richest histories in college basketball.

"There's a lot of responsibility, but I knew that before I got here," Paulus says. "I knew that when I said I wanted to come here and when I came on my visits. The tradition and the expectations and the standard that all the players before me have built-that's what makes this the best place."

It was only natural that the kid who was named the top high school athlete in the country would want to come to the place he deemed the best. Paulus would never tell you he was New York's Mr. Basketball in 2005 and Gatorade's National Football Player of the Year, but he was. Turning down football offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Paulus joined Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer as the only players in the 22-year history of the pigskin award to never take a single snap in college.

Paulus' story was almost as perfect as it was easy to tell: The acclaimed quarterback turns in his cleats for blue and white hightops and guides a talented team with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams on its quest to a national title.

And just like that, before he even had a chance to prove himself on the collegiate level, the freshman who doesn't want to be the story was a neatly-packaged novella sportswriters, commentators and analysts devoured. You couldn't turn on a television without Dick Vitale screaming about how Paulus was a top-rated quarterback or the second coming of Hurley.

The hype continued to build when Paulus won the first ACC Rookie of the Week honors of the season after draining four free throws in the final 43 seconds to beat Indiana in Bloomington. In that game, Paulus dished out six assists, but he also committed five turnovers. That seemed to be the story of his freshman season: Paulus was the fourth rookie in conference history to lead the league in assists, yet he averaged 3.3 turnovers per game.

A freshman is supposed to make mistakes-it's expected. But it's also expected that the Duke point guard won't. Especially when he's at the helm of the No. 1 team in the country.

There's a lot of pressure in tradition.


On Oct. 14, 2006, long after Redick and Williams left campus and shortly after he was named as one of the youngest captains in program history, Paulus and his story took an unwelcome turn. In only the second day of official practice, he reaggravated a left-foot injury that kept him on the sidelines for the entire preseason.

"I think [that was] the toughest and most frustrating thing for me," Paulus says. "It was three straight weeks of not doing anything-it was the physical part but also the mental part, where I had never had anything that serious before."

Despite returning to the court in late November, Paulus struggled physically for the duration of the season. Suddenly Paulus had to deal with his own rehabilitation, his responsibilities as captain and the public criticism that came with his struggles.

Yet, as usual, the guard didn't want himself or his injury to be the story.

"Was his foot bad? Yeah," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Was he at his best? No. Did we ever talk about his injury? No."

In an overtime loss to Virginia Tech at home Jan. 6, Paulus went scoreless while committing six turnovers in only 18 minutes of action. After Deron Washington blocked Paulus' three-point attempt to win the game at the buzzer, the Duke guard was so frustrated he looked close to tears. When the Blue Devils lost four in a row the following month, the point guard absorbed the brunt of the media's blows.

"Greg took a beating for being the point guard at Duke," ESPN analyst and former Duke guard Jay Bilas said. "It's not fair, and it's probably not objective or right, but it's almost become expected.... His weaknesses seem to be emphasized at the expense of his strengths-and he's in a different category of player in regards to how he's treated by the media."

The Blue Devils lost eight of their last 12 games in 2007 and fell in the first rounds of both major tournaments. The NCAA tournament loss to Virginia Commonwealth snapped Duke's 11-year run of reaching the second round. The media again openly criticized Paulus, even though he led the Blue Devils in scoring in their final five contests (he dropped 25 against VCU) and scored in double-figures in 16 of their last 17. On one foot.

But while media may have been harsh, no one was harsher on Paulus than the guard himself.

"Everyone on the team took [our losses] hard, but I think that he took them harder," said junior Griffin Tormey, Paulus' roommate, who walked on to the team last season. "He's the point guard and the captain, and he felt more responsibility. There were certain times in last year he was frustrated because he wanted to play better, and it wasn't happening for him. You could definitely see it bothered him a lot."

It seemed like after every Blue Devil loss last season, you could scan the floor and find Paulus, hunched over, crouching, as if the weight of defeat-of failing to live up to that Blue Devil tradition-fell squarely on his shoulders.

In his mind, it does.

"Nobody likes to lose," Paulus says. "I do feel that when we lose, I'm not doing my job. I'm supposed to make sure everything is running smoothly, everything's in place, that we're getting the job done. When we're not doing that, I feel responsible for it."


Paulus underwent surgery March 27 to repair the damage in his left foot and has been in Durham all summer taking classes, rehabbing and conditioning. Since getting back onto the court for the first time in mid-June, Paulus has done everything from the Steve Nash skills camp-an elite, invitation-only affair for the top 10 college and top 22 high school point guards-to scrimmaging against former National Player of the Year Jason Williams in Cameron.

He talks a lot now about creating good habits on the court, which makes sense because he is such a creature of them off it, from obsessively watching college football on Saturdays and attending mass on Sundays with Tormey to playing video games with Scheyer. In a time when most big-time college athletes try to prove their status as Big Men on Campus, Paulus seeks to maintain a "normal" life.

Now, it seems he just wants to find normalcy on the court again. He has a chance to prove to the college basketball world what Scheyer and the rest of his teammates already know.

He's resilient. Give him credit for that.


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