The last time Duke honored scholarship seniors in 2006, the Blue Devils lined up at midcourt after an 83-76 loss to North Carolina, thanked the crowd and basked in serenade of "Thank you, seniors!"
Then-sophomore DeMarcus Nelson stood near his graduating teammates. But as he sat in the visitor's locker room after Duke's 86-70 win over Virginia Wednesday, Duke's lone senior didn't quite remember the senior day tradition.
"I don't have a speech yet," Nelson said, slightly worried. "Am I speaking?"
"Yeah, you're speaking," sophomore Gerald Henderson said emphatically as he walked past the captain.
"Well, I don't have a speech ready," said Nelson, playing his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night. "I'm just going to say whatever comes to me."
He may not be sure about his speaking plans, but Nelson's performances in his past three home rivalry games have said plenty.
As a freshman, Nelson tallied his second-most minutes of the year in Duke's last win over the Tar Heels in Cameron. He scored 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 29 minutes, and followed his first Duke-UNC home experience with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting the next year.
But in that game-and in last year's contest, in which Nelson scored 12 points-North Carolina came out on top, sending the sulking Cameron Crazies back to their dorms rather than Main West quadrangle to burn benches.
This time around, Nelson said he has prioritized the Duke win, and the bragging rights and ACC title that can come with it, over personal performances.
"That's my biggest focus," Nelson said. "As long as I can lead my team to the win, I don't really care how I perform.
"It's going to be a big-time game. It'll be emotional. I'll try to keep my emotions in check."
No matter how he plays, or whether Duke wins, Nelson will take centerstage after the game. In 2006, Lee Melchionni solicited a roar from the Duke faithful when he said that despite the Blue Devils' loss, the season was "nowhere near over."
Nelson may not be able to recreate that type of inspirational message. But he can do something that J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Melchionni couldn't: secure a win in their last home game.
And if he can do that, Nelson's game would speak louder than words.
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