No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Albany 12:15 p.m, Friday (CBS)

Coach K: Duke seniors must lead to succeed

lkeeley@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

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Duke seniors guard Seth Curry (30), forward Ryan Kelly (34) and forward Mason Plumlee (5) await to be introduced on Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke beat Virginia Tech 85-57 Tuesday March 5, 2013 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.

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— When Seth Curry was a redshirt freshman at Duke, he knew that Lance Thomas would hold him accountable for any mistakes in practice.

“He was a real fiery guy, competitive guy,” Curry said of Thomas. “That’s the best leader I’ve seen here.”

The senior trio of Thomas, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek led Duke to a national title in 2010. This year’s team would like one of its own, and the first step toward that goal comes Friday at 12:15, when No. 2 Duke will tip with No. 15 Albany in Philadelphia.

There are lessons that these seniors can take from that 2010 team.

“They had that urgency,” Curry said. “They let the young guys know, even Nolan (Smith) and Kyle (Singler), that they wanted to win, they had to win. That’s the biggest thing I took from them, that urgency and how together they were as a team.”

There is not a fiery, vocal leader in this senior trio, composed of Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. What they lack in expression they make up with talent: Both Curry and Plumlee have been named second-team all-Americans, and, if Kelly hadn’t missed two months with a right foot injury, he surely would have garnered a few postseason accolades, too.

So, these seniors have tried to play to their strengths in terms of leadership.

“Our example has to be followed throughout, by the staff included,” Plumlee said. “We have to set a tone in practice and at the start of the tournament. We have to get the momentum going right away.”

Friday’s game against the Great Danes, then, needs to look nothing like the Maryland game, in which Duke fell behind 12-2 and never caught up. By all accounts, the team was flat and not ready to play. How could that be?

“Every team, ever human being fights a little thing called human nature. And it’s a hell of a thing to fight,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “It happens. It just happens. And when it happens, throughout my life when it had happened, the times when it has happened, I couldn’t defeat it as a person or as a coach. And, as a result of when you win those battles against human nature and lose them, you learn through that.

“So I’m 66, I can be ready every day at this time in my life. When I feel the things that would defeat you, I have the mechanisms for me personally, that I can use. Now, to translate that to 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, that’s difficult.”

But that is the challenge that Plumlee, Kelly and Curry have. There are no more, “my bad, I’ll get it next time” excuses in practice, Plumlee said. The younger Blue Devils have to realize that there aren’t second chances in the NCAA tournament, just like there wasn’t another opportunity in the ACC tournament after losing to the Terrapins.

Quinn Cook said he remembered the look on Miles Plumlee’s face last year when the final huddle broke after the Lehigh game. The older Plumlee, who had finished his senior year with one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, was the last on the bus, walking with his head down.

“It was very frustrating for me,” he said. “I don’t want these seniors to go out like that.”

Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, who will be back in the starting lineup, can only do so much. If that scene from last year is to be avoided, it will be up to Plumlee, Curry and Kelly to make sure of it.

“It is mainly about the seniors,” Krzyzewski said. “They need to lead us, they need to play well, they need to step up.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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