Degree, finding 'closure' at Duke trumped beginning pro career early
I thought Kyle Singler was certifiably insane when he decided not to go out in the NBA draft last spring.
The Duke junior had just been named Most Valuable Player of the Final Four, leading the Blue Devils to the NCAA championship.
Singler had done everything he could do at the college level.
Now it was time to throw his name into the draft, where he was projected to go from No. 18 to 25 and would stand to make from $925,000 to $1.24 million as a rookie.
An additional incentive to go pro was the impending work stoppage after the 2010-11 season, threatening any player's chance to make a living the following campaign.
Everything added up to Singler ending his college career and riding into the NBA on the ultimate high.
So when Singler announced he would return to Duke for his senior season, I was somewhere between floored and flabbergasted.
The 6-9 South Medford High product had his reasons.
'I wanted to graduate and have the experience of my senior year at Duke,' says Singler, who worked out Thursday for the Trail Blazers at their Tualatin training facility. 'If I had left early, I'd have really missed out on not having that senior year.'
Singler consulted with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his parents, Ed and Kris Singler, before reaching a decision.
'Ultimately, it was Kyle's decision,' says Kris, a one-time basketball player at Oregon State. 'He knew best. If he's not happy, nobody's happy. We were going to support whatever he decided.'
In the end, the Singlers felt the same way about it as their son.
'It was important to finish out his education, to get his degree,' Kris says. 'Then there were the things he would have missed by leaving early - being captain of the team, the chance to lead the team, was really important to him. And being around the guys he started out with.
'He is loyal to a fault. He wanted to finish it out, what he said he was going to Duke for. If he'd left early, he felt like he was letting down the team. He wanted to be there to give his senior speech to his teammates, to talk at his senior banquet -- all the things you do as a senior.'
Singler says it was 'kind of' a hard decision.
'I wasn't leaning toward going to the NBA,' he says. 'I didn't know what I wanted to do. Once I made the decision, I knew it was the right one.'
Chad Buchanan, Portland's acting general manager, says he was 'a little bit' surprised in Singler's decision. Buchanan figured Singler would declare for the draft but not hire an agent, leaving him eligible to return to school if he met a deadline six weeks before the draft.
'I thought he might at least test the waters, coming off such a successful junior season,' Buchanan says. 'But Kyle is a guy who loves college. He loves Duke. They had a chance to win back-to-back national championships.
'I respect him that he went back. I completely understand why he'd want to go back. That reflects what he is about. He is about the team, and about winning.'
Duke didn't win another NCAA title. The Blue Devils went 32-5, finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and were eliminated by Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.
As a junior, Singler averaged 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds, shooting .415 from the field, .399 from 3-point range and .798 at the free-throw line. As a senior, the numbers were similar - 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, .430 from the field and .806 from the line. The only real drop was in 3-point accuracy - .321.
The fun factor during his senior season, though, was off the charts.
Singler played only a few games with freshman point guard sensation Kyrie Irving - all but assured of being the No. 1 pick in next Thursday's draft - because Irving missed most of the season with a toe injury.
But Singler finished out his career with fellow senior Nolan Smith, played against his brother, Oregon's E.J. Singler, at the Rose Garden, and got to be the senior leader of a storied college program.
'It was a blast,' he says. 'Being on a different team. Being there with Nolan. Playing against my brother - that was special. Being a captain. Graduating.
'It summed up my whole career. If I'd left after my junior year, I wouldn't have had closure.'
Singler ranks fourth on the Duke career scoring list with 2,392 points, behind only J.J. Redick, Johnny Dawkins and Christian Laettner. And Singler is sixth on the school's career rebound list with 1,015. Only Laettner and Singler have amassed 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in Blue Devil history.
On May 15, Singler received his diploma during Duke's commencement ceremony, carrying a 3.0 grade-point average in visual arts.
The weekend before, he was in Medford, helping run the fifth annual Kyle Singler Open basketball tournament for middle-school youths.
As a senior project at South Medford, Singler chose a benefit tournament for 'Kids Unlimited,'a southern Oregon agency dedicated to helping underprivileged children.
In the years since, former NFL safety Chad Cota - now a Medford resident - has joined as co-host, and brother E.J. has added a Saturday night skills competition.
The weekend tournament had 60 teams from Oregon and northern California. Combined with the skills competition and an auction, it raised more than $100,000, enough to fund about 100 kids in the program for a year.
'It's professionally run now, so Kyle doesn't have to do that much,' Kris says. 'But he was there the whole time. Must have signed a million autographs.
'He wanted it to be something that would live on, and I think it will.'
Singler says he has been told he will be a mid- to late-first round pick. The mock drafts I've seen have him going as early as No. 24 and as late as No. 32.
So he cost himself some money - not only the $1 million he didn't pocket last season, but some through the entirety of his rookie contract as well. If a lockout erases part or all of next season, the shortage grows.
But Singler, 23, won't wind up in poverty, whatever happens. I think he'll stick in the NBA for a lot of years. So does Buchanan.
'Athleticism will be his major hurdle, but his intangibles - his toughness, the winning basketball he plays - can overcome some of athletic traits you're missing,' the Blazer exec says. 'He has to become a knockdown shooter. That will be the key for him, whether he's a 10- or 25-minute-a-night guy. He can be a very solid role player in our league.'
When I ask Singler if he thinks players in his situation should stay in college for their senior season, he shrugs.
'For some kids, yeah,' he says. 'If you're ready to go - you don't really like school or you're a top pick - I think you should go no matter what. But if you're not leaning one way, you should stay.'
Yeah, Singler put off the start of his career a year, and maybe more. To the Singlers, there are more important things.
Earning a paycheck 'was going to come,' Kris says. 'This part of his life - his senior year at Duke - he wasn't going to get back. It was the right decision.'
I still think Kyle Singler was crazy not to go out in the 2010 draft. But I do get it. There is more to life than money. It makes me admire him even more.