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Duke 2nd-stringers play together, stay together

To those outside the Duke program-the virulent fans, the competitive coaches, the pestered players-the Blue Devils have more than enough ego.

But for head coach Mike Krzyzewksi, heading into last weekend's ACC Tournament, Duke did not have enough. Or at least where the veteran coach knew he would need it most-the bench.

The Blue Devils don't have an established superstar. They don't have a plethora of veterans. They don't even have a menacing frontcourt to potentially throw at Kevin Love, UCLA's 6-foot-10 freshman phenom, who looms at the top of the West Regional bracket.

They do, however, have a wealth of options when it comes to their rotation.

So Krzyzewski and his staff drove into Charlotte with a gameplan. At the three-minute marks of the contests against Georgia Tech and Clemson, they would call for a mass substitution, sending five new players to the scorer's table to replace the starters.

Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, Nolan Smith, Dave McClure and Taylor King had put in a solid week of practice collectively over Spring Break, and Krzyzewski wanted to put them to the test-together.

"There are many things happening in a game, and some of them go beyond that game when you're trying to do something in your season or your program. It wasn't just for that game, it was to make my team better," Krzyzewski said. "Part of what we did was to put all of them in so it would be good for their ego. And they would have more ego playing with the guys... that they've practiced with."

And it worked. The bench combined for 25 points in an 82-70 win over Georgia Tech and 34 in the 78-74 loss to Clemson.

Although Krzyzewski said the procedure was not one he would use moving forward in the NCAA Tournament, he did say it was effective in enabling Zoubek, McClure and Smith, especially, to play their best basketball of the season.

Zoubek, who recorded eight points, six rebounds and a block in 20 minutes of play over the interior-oriented Tigers, has emerged as one of Duke's most pleasant surprises since March began.

The Blue Devils' only true center has been gaining confidence and momentum since returning from an ankle injury, and that upward trajectory seems to have been sparked by a quiet but strong performance in a 76-68 loss to North Carolina March 8. Zoubek scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting and pulled down three offensive rebounds in a mere nine minutes of action against ACC Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough.

After the game, despite his disappointment with the loss, Zoubek was confident in what teammate Scheyer had called the best game of the center's career.

"I can hold myself against anybody," Zoubek said. "It's just the intangible stuff that I bring to the table-I think the intensity and just energy. I hope my teammates can feed off it, and I can provide a boost that way, and hopefully a presence inside. Not that we've been lacking, but we need to be a little stronger in there."

Although Zoubek is building his confidence now, Scheyer has been playing with it all season. The sophomore, who was a starter last year, averages 11.5 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists per contest off the bench. Racking up 28.3 minutes per game, Scheyer plays more than starters Greg Paulus, Gerald Henderson and Lance Thomas-a statistic that has led Krzyzewski to dub him "the sixth starter."

And it's not just his coach who sees it that way.

"Scheyer is essentially a starter," ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas said. "He plays so many minutes. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he's the same player.... It gives [Duke] a different look and a new energy, and he's a very well-rounded player."

The shooting guard, who also shares responsibility at the point with Paulus and Smith, paces the productive bench. And with everyone healthy and finally clicking, the non-starters could prove vital to a Duke run through the bracket.

The ACC Tournament was only a trial run in showcasing their potential.

"It was basically just letting everyone know that they're equally important, that the players and coaches have confidence in everybody," captain DeMarcus Nelson said. "It's going to take a total team effort-not just from five or six guys-for us to win."


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