Never the team's standout, never even the star of a single game, fifth-year senior Matt Christensen differentiates himself from his fellow teammates by carrying himself with an uncharacteristically mature air of self-contentment.
Unlike so many athletes playing for highly-touted basketball programs, he does not crave the bright lights or the media's tape recorders; instead, he thrives in situations foreign to many of his peers--those in the classroom and in church.
His 1.7 points-per-game average is fairly unimpressive, but his double major in civil engineering and economics is not.
In addition, Christensen has derived different lessons out of his Duke basketball career than most.
"I think that the most valuable things going forward have been the things I've learned about interacting with other people through basketball, about performing under pressure, about speaking extemporaneously," he said. "Normal Duke students don't get that experience, and I think those are things that will make me unique down the road."
The 6-foot-10 son of a Rhodes Scholar is unique for a variety of other reasons as well.
Most glaringly, some of the most fond memories of his collegiate years, which started in 1995, did not even occur on American soil. After his freshman season, Christensen, a Mormon, traveled to Germany to fulfill his religious duty to the church. There, he said that his days mostly consisted of his "going door-to-door inviting people to learn more about Jesus Christ."
During this two-year mission for the Mormon Church, Christensen gained a maturity that makes him such an anomaly in collegiate locker rooms. Whereas many of his younger teammates can let petty bickering detract from the team's overall standing, Christensen knows how to handle situations of personality conflict, from dealing with a missionary partner whom he had fundamental difficulties with.
"The real way to work through those problems was to have both of us just give everything we had, and to focus on the work we were doing as missionaries," he said. "Somehow, everything else took care of itself [once we started doing that]."
And that mentality works itself onto the basketball court as well.
Completely devoted to the cause of victory, Christensen commits himself to the team in anyway asked of him.
On the court, especially in practice, he has strongly affected the development of younger post players.
"Most fifth-year seniors would be jealous of a young guy coming in... but Matt has been so unselfish," junior center Carlos Boozer said. "He has worked with me, he has told me things.... He has been a tremendous asset to our program and to me personally."
And, on a team that he often times sees as relying on its vast individual talent instead of its even greater team potential, Christensen offers a quiet leadership that can spur his teammates on to fulfill their collective capabilities.
"I think I can add perspective to whatever is going on," he said. "I have the advantage of having been through this before."
Seven years removed from his freshman fall, he undoubtedly has a breadth of experience his teammates do not.
Nevertheless, some men can live a lifetime and not emerge with the sense of self-assurance that Christensen possesses at 24 years old.
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