JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Two days after Duke forward Kyle Singler wiped out ESPN's courtside equipment and personnel while chasing a ball out of bounds during Sunday's ACC championship game, he assessed the damage.
With a shrug and a smile, the Blue Devils junior said he had a few bumps and bruises on his shin and his back. He said, though, he was just glad he didn't run into ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, because he might have caused more damage.
The crash was replayed from about six angles on the highlights shows that night, emphasizing how Singler risked injury and put his body in danger to save a possession for his team. Some other players - particularly the elite recruits with hopes of some day playing in the NBA - might hesitate to do that.
Singler doesn't know any other way.
"I'm fine," he said. "It's a play I would still make. I didn't realize what I was doing. I didn't realize I was going to jump into the stands, but what happens, happens."
Singler's hustle and skill have helped Duke (29-5) win the ACC tournament and a share of the conference's regular-season title. And as the Blue Devils prepare to open NCAA tournament play at 7:25 tonight against No. 16 seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Singler is playing his best basketball.
A 6-foot-8 forward who scores in the lane and from 3-point range, Singler was voted the ACC tournament's most valuable player and is averaging 21 points per game over Duke's past nine games. His true value to the team goes far beyond scoring, representing the essence of what Duke basketball players have been under Mike Krzyzewski.
Many an opposing coach has admired the effort Krzyzewski gets out of his McDonald's All-Americans in a game where some elite recruits don't display the hustle to match their ability. Consider Singler the poster child for Duke's hustle .
Krzyzewski said Singler "plays with abandon" and ranks among the top players he's coached in terms of being competitive.
"The guys love playing with Kyle because he gives everything," Krzyzewski said. "He gives everything, and if you watch them in a practice, he just gives everything all the time."
Singler's family said he possessed that ferocious competitive streak long before he arrived at Duke.
He was born into an extremely athletic family. His father, Ed Singler, played quarterback at Oregon State, where his mother, Kris, also played basketball. He has four uncles who played basketball or football at schools such as Oregon, Texas and Stanford, and younger brother E.J. plays basketball at Oregon.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be the best," Singler said. "Just coming from a family that did compete in sports helps."
For as long as anybody can remember, Singler has been fearless and has thrived on physical contact. Having a mother who grew up as the only girl with four athletic brothers and who didn't worry over every bruise may have added to Singler's mentality.
If you ran across kids jumping off a rocky ledge into one of Oregon's many gorgeous rivers or lakes when Singler was growing up, chances are that Singler would be leading the group of young daredevils. He still enjoys playing paintball and said he would love to skydive or snowboard some day.
His first love as a young elementary school student was roller hockey. Later on, he played both sides of the ball for his varsity football team at South Medford High in Oregon. Krzyzewski has attributed some of Singler's savvy to the fact that he was a quarterback, but Singler relished playing linebacker.
On a pivotal play during a big rivalry game against Grants Pass in his junior season, Singler met an opposing running back near the goal line. An arm tackle would have allowed the back to lean into the end zone for a touchdown, but Singler wasn't having it.
He hit the running back square and hard, dropping him short for one of the biggest plays of the season. In another instance during a state football playoff game, Singler threw a crackback block so hard that his father said he was afraid the opposing player wouldn't get up.
"He's not afraid to throw his body around," Ed Singler said. "He's not afraid. He doesn't shy away from physical contact."
After he came to Duke and played out of position as an undersized center as a freshman, his family counted the number of stitches he got - mostly on his face - over the course of a brutal season. The total was 26.
Man in motion
Early this season, however, Singler wasn't quite living up to the expectations set for him.
The media had voted him the ACC's preseason player of the year, but he averaged just 16 points after his first 21 games. After a disappointing 89-77 loss at Georgetown on Jan. 30, Krzyzewski made changes in Duke's offense that rejuvenated Singler.
Krzyzewski decreased the number of set plays Duke was running and had the Blue Devils work more often with a motion offense. He said Singler benefited from the more free-flowing system because it didn't have predetermined spots or times for Singler to shoot.
It allowed Singler to play more instinctively - like a linebacker figuring out where the ball is and chasing it down.
"If you are running plays, a lot of times you get into, 'OK, this is where I'm supposed to shoot,' " Krzyzewski said. "Where, when you're running motion offense, we've added some sets that would give him the opportunity to go into the post, to cut, to be on the boards."
In the first game after the change, Singler scored a career-high 30 points against Georgia Tech. Since the Georgetown game, he has averaged 20 points per game, and Duke has gone 12-1.
Combined with his hustle, the improvement on offense made Singler a first-team All-ACC selection and one of the hottest players in the nation in February and March.
He might be a hazard to fans and media courtside at the NCAA tournament. But Krzyzewski wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think he likes to hit and get hit," Krzyzewski said. "And he's not bashful there. He does have more bruises and cuts on him [than other players]. I love that kid."
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