DATE: Wednesday, March 5, 1997 TAG: 9703050667 SECTION: SPORTS PAGE: C1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY FRANK VEHORN, STAFF WRITER DATELINE: WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. LENGTH: 233 lines
Maryland guard Terrell Stokes walked off the Cole Field House floor with the dazed look of someone caught in the jaws of a storm.
Just before disappearing in the hallway that led to the Maryland locker room, the ruffled Stokes gave one final look over his shoulder at the big wind that had blown him and his teammates away with a 26-point outburst in the second half.
``Tim Duncan,'' Stokes would say later, ``does it all for Wake Forest. He scores, he blocks shots, he rebounds. That is why he's an All-American.''
Not just an All-American, either. Duncan, a native of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, may be the best big man ever to play in the ACC, a contention that will be hard to dispute if he takes the Deacons to a third straight tournament championship this weekend in Greensboro.
Already the 6-foot-10 Duncan, who won't be 21 until next month, has left little doubt he is the best player in college basketball and a certain No. 1 selection in the NBA draft.
``Oh, he's No. 1,'' says Marty Blake, the NBA director of scouting. ``There isn't a close No. 2, either. This guy (Duncan) can do more things than any center I've seen in years.''
Adds Utah's director of personnel Scott Layden: ``Over the last 10 years very rarely have we had a guy who just jumps out at you as the No. 1. Duncan does that.''
Jerry Reynolds, Sacramento's director of personnel, says Duncan would have been the No. 1 pick last year, and probably two years ago, too, if he had come out early.
Unlike several other ACC stars in the last two years, though, Duncan remained in school instead of signing a multi-million-dollar contract. That made him the poster boy for those coaches and NCAA officials urging players to stay in school, but Duncan admits he is not entirely comfortable in that role.
``It is not a good-guy, bad-guy thing,'' he says. ``I won't criticize those who leave early, but it wasn't for me. I enjoy going to college. I'm having fun.''
Duncan did not grow up craving an NBA career. Even now, he says, it is difficult for him to watch a complete NBA game on television.
He's attended a couple of Charlotte Hornets games, but he seemed more amused by the ``social atmosphere of the crowd'' than the play on the court.
``Tim,'' says Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, ``is Tim. He is a very unique person. I can't compare him to anyone else because I've never known anyone else like him.''
Odom quickly adds that he hopes another Duncan comes along and he gets to coach him, too.
But how lucky can one man be? Duncan virtually was dumped into Odom's lap on a tip from a former player, Chris King, who noticed Duncan's talents during an exhibition game on St. Croix in 1992.
King told Odom he should go to the Caribbean to take a look for himself.
``He's 6-10, and he stood up well against Alonzo Mourning,'' King said.
Odom made the trip, and the rest is history - or legend.
In a recent interview, Duncan said the part about him doing well against Mourning was not true. Mourning, just out of Georgetown University, was at the game but did not play because he was still negotiating his NBA contract.
But give Odom credit for recognizing the potential in Duncan, who had planned on being an Olympic swimmer before Hurricane Hugo destroyed his island pool in 1989.
Other coaches had their chances but didn't take advantage. One of those was Clemson coach Rick Barnes, who was at Providence when he got a tip from a friend at Ohio State, where Duncan attended a summer basketball camp.
``We can't use him, but he's pretty good,'' the friend told Barnes.
By the time Barnes got around to seeing for himself, Duncan was headed for Wake Forest.
``I am not sure anyone could have predicted at that time Tim would do what he's done,'' Barnes says. ``He has become one of the great players in college basketball.''
How is it that one of the game's greats comes from St. Croix, hardly known for its basketball resources?
Duncan has heard that question often, and it still irritates him. He is quick to explain that he is not a ``foreign'' player since St. Croix is a possession of the United States.
Basketball isn't foreign to his island, either, and he didn't learn the game on a grass court.
``There was good competition for me,'' he said.
Maybe so, but Duncan's skills were still raw when he entered Wake Forest without fanfare. There was no clue that in two years he'd be the best big man in college basketball.
He had played basketball for only three years, mostly in pickup games with brother-in-law Ricky Lowery, who had played at Capital University, a Division III school in Columbus, Ohio.
At Wake Forest, Duncan was the third member of a recruiting class that included 6-foot-9 Makhtar Ndiaye and 6-10 Ricardo Peral. Odom planned to play Duncan behind those two, maybe even red-shirt him his first season, which Duncan was strongly opposed to doing.
But Ndiaye was ruled ineligible to play at Wake Forest because of a recruiting violation (he transferred to Michigan, and now is at North Carolina) and Peral was not eligible to play his first season.
Duncan, forced into the starting lineup, did not score in the Deacons' 1993-94 season opener, a 70-68 defeat to Alaska-Anchorage in the Great Alaska Shootout. But by season's end, Duncan was the ACC leader in blocked shots (124) and the team leader in rebounding and field-goal percentage.
``He had the kind of season I thought he would have as a junior,'' Odom says.
The next year Duncan was discovered by NBA scouts attending games to see two other sophomore centers, North Carolina's Rasheed Wallace and Maryland's Joe Smith. Both had indicated they might turn pro early.
``If I had my choice, I'd take Duncan,'' said Phoenix scout Al Bianchi after seeing Duncan for the first time in a head-to-head match against Wallace. ``He's as good as the other two and he is going to get much better.''
With Smith and Wallace going pro, Duncan dominated the ACC last year and speculation mounted that he would jump to the pros. Duncan let the suspense simmer before finally announcing he would be back for his senior season.
``I never asked him, but I always thought he would be back because he seemed to truly enjoy college life,'' Odom said.
Both Odom and Duncan agree it was a good decision.
``There have been no negatives,'' Duncan says.
Odom hopes Duncan will be an example for others who might feel pushed to leave early.
``As Americans in this modern day, we have a tendency to live in such a hurry, and most of it is out of fear,'' Odom says. ``What Tim's decision did was to show there is nothing wrong with enjoying the moment, enjoying the present. We don't have to rush our lives.''
Duncan used this season to get stronger and improve his game. Called ``soft'' a year ago by Duke center Greg Newton, Duncan also became a fiercer competitor.
``It is like there's a hunger there now,'' says teammate Sean Allen. ``He seems mad at the people he dunks on.''
Odom says Duncan always has had a passion for the game, something that separates him from Virginia's Ralph Sampson, who towered over the ACC in the early 1980s when Odom was a Cavalier assistant coach.
Odom once said Sampson's reason for playing the game was that he was tall and it was expected of him.
``But he (Sampson) didn't have the passion,'' Odom says. ``This kid (Duncan) has the passion.''
During his first three seasons, Duncan kept a tight lid on his emotions, seldom reacting to a close call, a blocked shot, or trash talking. That changed drastically this season. Odom felt he had to respond to speculation that Duncan was getting too frustrated on the court.
``I don't think that is it at all,'' Odom said. ``I think what's happened was some of the emotion he kept closeted inside, he's now letting out.
``I think it's winning emotion. He wants our team to do well. He wants to do well, and he feels comfortable enough now to express himself.''
The only criticism Duncan gets from opposing players now is that he's protected by officials because of his star status.
``If you breathe on him, it's a foul,'' Florida State's Randell Jackson said earlier in the season.
Not everyone agrees, though.
``I don't think he gets special treatment'' says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. ``I think he's a special player and in a situation where some other player might have to foul to make a play, he has this tremendous discipline and poise that he is able to make the same play without fouling.''
Other ACC coaches also speak of Duncan with respect.
``You can't compare Wake against anybody else because of Tim Duncan,'' says Virginia's Jeff Jones. ``His presence changes a game.''
Teams that have tried to double-up on Duncan have been burned by his ability to pass off to an open teammate. He leads the Deacons in assists, as well as scoring.
``There are lots of inside players that if they have the ball, they are going to shoot,'' Peral says. ``Timmy's not that kind of guy. He gets the ball, he looks around. If there's someone who has a better shot, he's going to pass the ball.''
North Carolina State coach Herb Sendek says he doesn't know anyone who has ``any real genius'' in stopping Duncan.
``He plays totally inside of himself, and doesn't try to force the issue,'' Sendek says. ``He plays with maturity and poise.''
Duncan draws more praise for his defense. Sendek calls him the ``best defender in the country.''
``His presence in the middle is intimidating,'' Sendek says. ``He's a great shot blocker, so he takes away seemingly six to eight points a game by blocking shots.
``But who knows how many points he takes away just by his presence?''
The toughest part of fitting into a superstar role has been the glare of the spotlight. As fans stood and cheered last week during a ceremony to retire his No. 21 jersey, Duncan admitted: ``This is probably the first time in my life that I'm uncomfortable on the court.''
Despite being perhaps the most-publicized college player this season, Duncan has kept the media at arms length by appearing bored during interviews or showing up a couple of hours late. Veteran ACC writer Barry Jacobs wrote:
``A lovely, unaffected person upon arriving at Winston-Salem, Duncan has received uniformly glowing, respectful treatment from the reporters. Yet this season the All-American has increasingly exhibited the signs of spoilage so depressingly familiar in sports, especially in his relations with the media, with which Duncan often strikes an air of infinite boredom or crackling impatience.''
Possibly, though, Duncan was invoking a strong independence that overtook him after the death of his mother, Delysia, one day after his 14th birthday.
``I love my dad, but after my mom died, I never listened to anybody, pretty much,'' Duncan once told Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem Journal.
Odom thinks Duncan has handled the media pressures well, especially considering his background.
``When he came here, he was so unaffected, so clean, his mind so uncluttered,'' Odom says. ``Nobody ever had told him how good he was and, really, no one knew.''
Odom says he doesn't know if Duncan will be judged the best big man ever to play in the league or not.
``I try to stay away from that because there are still things for him and the team to accomplish,'' Odom says. ``But there is no denying that by any standard you want to make it, he is going to be ranked one of the greats. Everyone can agree he certainly is one of the best to play in this league, not only at his position, but any position.
``He's done it with great style and compassion. Whether statistical, championships, games won, he measures up.''
Barnes, who saw some outstanding big men, including Mourning, in the Big East, says Duncan is the best he's seen.
``I've never coached against anyone who had the impact that he does, or could do what he can do,'' Barnes says. ``Players like him cannot be stopped because they are not one dimensional. That is why he is the player he is.''
And why in the ACC there is none better.
Not now, maybe not ever. ILLUSTRATION: SLAM DUNCAN
MARTIN SMITH-RODDEN/The Virginian-Pilot
Wake Forest's Tim Duncan, right, who won't be 21 until next month,
is a certain No. 1 selection in the NBA draft later this year.
HOW GOOD IS HE? First player in NCAA history to have at least
2,000 points, 1,500 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
Only player ever to lead ACC in four major categories: scoring
(20.0), rebounding (14.5), blocks (3.3) and field-goal percentage
First ACC player to lead the nation in rebounding.
Third ACC player to score more than 2,000 points and collect
1,500 rebounds. Others were Virginia's Ralph Sampson and Wake
Forest's Dickie Hemric.
The ``winningest'' player in Wake Forest history. The Deacons are
95-29 in his four years.
Has produced 82 ``double-doubles'' in 124 games. He has 25 this
season, twice as many as any other ACC player.
ACC Final Standings
[For a copy of the graphic, see microfilm on page C6 for this date.] KEYWORDS: PROFILE
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