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Premature end leaves Devil blue

State prep standout Kyle Singler will build on good first season
by: STREETER LECKA, Duke’s Kyle Singler says “I know I’m not ready” for the NBA. He’s content to spend more time with the Blue Devils, learning and playing inside against bigger opponents.

Kyle Singler’s biggest transition from high school to college had less to do with playing basketball in one of the nation’s most high-profile programs than leaving home for the first time. Things are different when the folks aren’t around to take care of a lot of it. “You have to be a lot more independent,” says Singler, the Duke freshman out of South Medford High. “You’re not used to the things you have to do within a day that … well, go unnoticed. “The first couple of weeks here, I didn’t eat three meals a day. I sometimes just forgot. Small things like getting a haircut, keeping up your hygiene … things you don’t pay attention to because Mom and Dad take care of them.” Back home in Medford, parents Ed — the former Oregon State quarterback — and Kris are nodding in agreement, glad that their oldest son noticed. In Durham, N.C., coach Mike Krzyzewski is glad they sent the kid his way. All Singler did this year was earn the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year award. “That was a great honor,” says Singler, who served as Duke’s No. 2 scorer (12.3) and top rebounder (5.8). “I feel privileged to have gotten that award.” But there is disappointment in his voice as Singler reflects on a season that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 73-67 loss to West Virginia — after sneaking past No. 15 seed Belmont 71-70 in the first round. It was a shocking end for a Duke team that was once 22-1 — matching the best start in school history — including 10-0 in the ACC. “We had a good year,” Singler says of the Blue Devils, who finished 28-6 and second to North Carolina in ACC play. “I’m not going to say great, because it wasn’t. We beat some really good teams and played some really good basketball. Shoot, we beat several teams that made a good run in the (NCAA) tournament. You can’t hang your head, but we have a bad taste in our mouths about the way it ended.” West Virginia outrebounded Duke 47-27, which reflected the Blue Devils’ biggest weakness all season — and a reason why Singler’s debut was even more impressive. Listed at 6-8 — “I like to think I’m closer to 6-9,” he says — and blessed with an agile, athletic body, Singler is ideally suited for small forward. He basically was the center on an undersize Duke team that had difficulty matching up with teams loaded up front. “I was definitely the inside presence on defense,” Singler says. “We didn’t really have a center, and we were kind of handicapped in that department. But we were able to work toward our strengths. Coach K tailor-fit the offense toward our style of play and the type of players we had.” Coach says he made right bet Singler didn’t have his best games in the postseason. He had 11 points and four rebounds against Belmont, then took only three shots and finished with six points and four boards in the loss to West Virginia at Washington, D.C. “Throughout the season, I felt I did a pretty good job making the transition (to a post position),” he says. “I helped out the team as much as I could. The latter part of the year … things don’t necessarily go your way. You have to fight through them. Sometimes it kind of gets the best of you. “I took more of a beating than I usually have playing basketball. That comes with playing a different position than I was used to. But overall, I had a blast, and I learned lots. Right now, we’re focused on coming back strong next year.” Singler started every game and enjoyed learning from Krzyzewski. “I loved it,” he says. “He is definitely a teacher-coach. He gives you a lot of freedom as a player, which I like. He’s a different guy than what some people make of him. He demands the best out of you, which is a good thing. You want to give him the amount of respect he deserves.” Krzyzewski, who targeted Singler as one of the nation’s top prospects during the recruiting process, wasn’t disappointed. “Kyle can shoot, defend, pass — he’s a winner,” Krzyzewski told reporters near the end of the season. “He has it all, and it’s just a matter of getting the physical maturity there. He’s still a young body, but he’s not a young heart, nor a young mind. He’s big-time in both of those areas.” NBA gets a pass, for now Singler definitely will return to Duke next season. “I didn’t give the NBA any thought,” he says. “I know I’m not ready. I need to mature both physically and mentally. I want to get stronger and quicker, and I want to work on learning how to play the game. I’m at a great place for that.” Duke loses its leading scorer, senior guard DeMarcus Nelson, and Taylor King — a 6-6 freshman guard who is Singler’s roommate — has announced he will transfer. Everybody else returns, and the Blue Devils will add incoming freshmen Olek Czyz, a 6-7 forward, and Elliott Williams, a 6-4 guard. Singler probably will play the key inside role again, but he figures they’ll be in the national championship chase. “That’s definitely something we’re working toward,” he says. “We had a good enough team this year, but we gained a lot of experience, and with the guys coming back … we’re hungry, and we’re sick of watching teams play (further in the postseason).” One of those teams is UCLA, led by Kevin Love, the Lake Oswego native who shared the state’s player of the year award with Singler last season. “We haven’t talked for a while, but I’ve kept close watch (on the Bruins), and Kevin has played great,” Singler says. “I knew he was going to have a great season. Those honors he has gotten are well-deserved. It’s a pleasure to see an Oregon guy get some recognition. I’m happy for him and wish him well.” This email address is being protected from spambots. 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