Rare early riser at Duke: Dunleavy

Forward jumps out from predecessors by trying to `fit in'

February 16, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

DURHAM, N.C. - There is a certain pecking order when it comes to playing basketball at Duke. No matter what the pedigree a player has, or the credentials he takes with him from high school, he must wait his turn with the Blue Devils before becoming one of the team's stars.

It has happened that way ever since this modern college basketball dynasty was born with the Duke's appearance in the 1986 Final Four. It happened for Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner, for Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, for Shane Battier and Jason Williams.

Mike Dunleavy got a jump - not to mention a few crucial jumpers - on his role this season for top-ranked Duke in last year's NCAA championship game against Arizona. With Battier off target and Williams battling the flu, it was Dunleavy who led the Blue Devils to their first title since 1992.

"It seemed all last year, Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] was really pushing me," Dunleavy recalled yesterday before practice for tomorrow's showdown with No. 3 Maryland in College Park. "He wanted me to get up there with Jason and Shane. I just didn't find any room for that.

"I just tried to fit in, and it just so happened the final game of the season, I stepped up and had a big game. I think it just carried over to this year, starting from the beginning of the season in Maui and continuing all the way up to now."

The season Dunleavy is having - averaging a shade under 18 points and a little over seven rebounds - is much the byproduct of the time he spent in the weight room last summer. After growing nearly three inches since he came to Duke, the 6-foot-9 Dunleavy also put on 20 pounds and weighs a solid 220.

The added strength has done nothing to diminish the guard skills Dunleavy brought with him to college, honed in his years growing up as the son of an NBA coach. One of the benefits of having Mike Dunleavy as your father comes in the caliber of some of your playmates.

"When I was in the fifth grade, my dad was coaching the Lakers," said the younger Dunleavy. "We had a Christmas party and I was shooting hook shots in the back yard with Magic Johnson. Not many fifth-graders were doing that. It wasn't serious at all, but I was picking things up."

It wasn't until Dunleavy's senior year in high school outside Portland, Ore., where his father was coaching the Trail Blazers, that Krzyzewski showed any interest. If anything, Williams and junior center Carlos Boozer were considered the stars of their recruiting class.

But Krzyzewski saw some similar traits to another son of a former athlete (the elder Dunleavy played 10 years in the NBA). Those comparisons to Hill have grown nearly as much as Dunleavy himself, and now seem to have more validity than ever before.

"I went out to dinner with Grant the other night and told him Mike reminded me so much of him," Krzyzewski told the New York Daily News last month. "Grant was more of a point [guard]. Mike is a little better shooter, Grant a little better athlete. There isn't a point on the floor where they can't be effective."

Just ask the Terrapins. After scoring just two points and sitting out the last few minutes of the first half of last month's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Dunleavy scored 19 in the second half, most of them coming when he posted up either Juan Dixon or Drew Nicholas inside.

"A guy like Battier was difficult to play against because of how hard he played," Maryland coach Gary Williams said earlier this week. "Now you've got a guy who's just as tall who can dribble-penetrate and get to the basket or shoot it outside. It makes him very tough to defend."

It has also made Dunleavy a certain NBA prospect, probably even a lottery pick by the time he graduates after next season. What has made Dunleavy even better this season is that he can turn an off-shooting night into an otherwise solid game.

That happened Thursday here against North Carolina State. While he finished a rather pedestrian 5-for-13 from the field, including 0-for-5 on three-point shots, to finish with 12 points, Dunleavy also contributed nine rebounds and four assists.

"I think that's one of the biggest signs of change and maturity from last year," Dunleavy said. "When my shot wasn't going, my whole game was off at times. This year I haven't let whether the ball was going in the basket determine how I play. I don't get very frustrated with it."

Said sophomore point guard Chris Duhon: "He's matured as a basketball player. He doesn't look at a missed shot as the end of the world. He's earned everyone's respect as one of the leaders of this team."

When Williams graduates this spring and heads off to the NBA himself, Duke will become Dunleavy's team. While he'll share some of the leadership responsibilities with the fast-improving Boozer, as well as Duhon, he will be looked upon as Battier was last year, as other Duke players have in the past.

Battier didn't leave his former roommate the prized ugly green recliner that they shared in their apartment, but he did leave some words of advice.

"He just kind of gave me the keys, so to speak, and said, `Have fun,' " Dunleavy recalled with a smile.

Dunleavy has certainly proved to be a good listener.

Next for Terps

Matchup: No. 3 Maryland (20-3, 10-1) vs. No. 1 Duke (23-1, 11-1)

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

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