DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke freshman Nate James knows the kind of reception he will get tomorrow afternoon from Maryland fans at Cole Field House. It won't be the kind usually reserved for visiting players, whether they be stars or stiffs.
In James' case, that he chose the Blue Devils over the Terrapins will make it even worse.
"It was a pretty hard decision," James said recently, sitting at his locker in the Duke dressing room at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "A lot of people wanted me to go to Maryland, but you always have to decide what's best for yourself."
Except for a preseason injury, things couldn't have worked out better for James. After missing nearly two months with a ruptured tendon in his right thumb, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound forward has made an immediate impact, giving Duke a player who seems as comfortable on the perimeter as he does inside.
While he has yet to repeat the performance he gave in his long-awaited college debut, when he scored 10 points, pulled down three rebounds and made two steals in 19 minutes of an 85-69 loss to then second-ranked Wake Forest on Jan. 10, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is pleased with the progress James is making.
But Krzyzewski isn't surprised that James has struggled a bit the past few games. Since the Wake Forest game, James has missed 11 of 17 shots, including five of seven threes. He's averaging 6.6 points and three rebounds in a little under 15 minutes a game.
"I was shocked that he was able to play that way in his first game, given how much time he had missed," Krzyzewski said earlier this week. "Right now, he's playing the way I thought he would after being out so long. That game he got caught up in the emotion. Now it's back to reality."
Krzyzewski should hope that James gets caught up in the emotion of tomorrow's game against the seventh-ranked Terrapins. Against the Demon Deacons, with the crowd calling his name, James hit his first shot as a college player on a drive down the lane.
After making his second shot as well, a three-pointer, James ran upcourt, waving his arms and slapping hands with his teammates sitting on the bench. Though Wake Forest would go on to win, coach Dave Odom was impressed.
"He's better outside than I thought he was," Odom said. "Every time I saw him play in high school, he was inside."
That is where James played at St. John's at Prospect Hall in Frederick, and that is where Maryland fans (and coaches) envisioned him as a Terrapin. He was supposed to be the successor to Keith Booth, and the player who would allow the 6-6 senior to move his game outside this season.
Stu Vetter, who coached James in high school, said, "He could shoot the three from the time he was a freshman. But he was also the best post player I've had in 22 years of coaching. Regardless of where he played, he's the ultimate team player. He's a great leader."
Most figured there would have been a lot more time for James at Maryland than at Duke, especially considering the recruiting class Krzyzewski is bringing in next season. But James said he came here rather than College Park simply because he loved the atmosphere surrounding the program.
"How can you not?" James asked. "I might get only 10 minutes a game here and 20 minutes a game at Maryland [as a freshman]. Just because you're going to get more time doesn't mean you're going to get better."
Asked about rumors that unhappy players on last year's Maryland team dissuaded him from becoming a Terrapin, James said, "When you make a decision that some people don't like, they'll say this or that. But it was a better situation for me here. I felt more comfortable here."
James, who was injured during a practice late in the preseason, could do little but offer vocal and emotional support through Duke's first 14 games. It was a difficult stretch for a player not used to sitting.
"I did a lot of soul-searching because I think you take things for granted sometimes," said James, who underwent surgery to repair the tendon. "I knew when I came back I was going to try anything I could to help the team. After the Wake Forest game, I started against North Carolina-Greensboro and I began thinking too much instead of playing on instinct."
James can help the Blue Devils in many ways. With sophomore center Taymon Domzalski out indefinitely with knee problems, Duke needs another inside presence. Junior point guard Steve Wojciechowski of Severna Park might have found someone to succeed him as the team's emotional leader.
"Nate's very passionate about everything he does," Wojciechowski said. "He really fits in well here."
Those who thought James could have been a nice fit at Maryland should be a little passionate tomorrow when the player who picked the Blue Devils over the Terrapins comes home. James thinks he knows what to expect.
"I'm going to love it," he said. "It's just a sign of respect."
Pub Date: 1/25/97