Filed under: Duke basketball, Duke Player | Tags: Brian Zoubek, Duke, John Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Seniors
With the Final Four just days away, it finally hit me that for Duke’s seniors, this was it. , by this time next week, we would never see John Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek in a Duke uniform again.
After 28 years of watching Duke basketball, you’d think I’d be use to it. I’ve seen hundreds of kids come and go, but for this group of seniors, its been a long four years…that’s felt more like eight. It’s almost hard to remember what a Duke team looks like without Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek.
In the end, I obviously want these guys cutting down the nets Monday night, but you know what? Whether they bring home the title or not, I just want to take this moment to say thanks to them personally.
Why? First, because I’m a nice guy. Just ask my mother. But second, when you think about it, so much has been asked from these guys and they’ve always done it. As freshman, they were thrown into the fire, asked to keep our dynasty afloat. We’ve asked them all to check their egos and take seats on the bench at some point or another. We’ve asked Zoubek to play through pain and we’ve asked Thomas and Scheyer to play out of position. We’ve asked a lot and they’ve always come through.
The big fella. What a crazy four years it has been. I remember that freshman year clearly. For moments, it looked like you had never touched a basketball in your life. I always joked, Brian Zoubek got called for traveling checking into the game. You had zero offensive moves, you looked stiff on defense and in the time I wrote this sentence, you got called for traveling three more times.
It was a rough freshman season. Yet you didn’t run. You didn’t hide away and transfer like previous Duke big men who were unhappy with playing time.
You stuck around and over the next two years, you spent more time struggling with injuries than grabbing rebounds. Any Duke fan could see the mind was there. You were learning the game, you knew what needed to be done, but the body wasn’t capable of playing along.
With a nagging foot injury, you had the hop of a paraplegic frog, struggling to get off the floor. Your offensive moves looked to be in slow motion. Frustrated, you would often find yourself in foul trouble and back on the pine. I’ll be honest, I began to lose hope. I never thought you’d be completely healthy and I assumed you would never be more than a couple of rebounds and a couple of fouls off the bench.
Yet in your final season, you finally walked onto the court healthy. Despite not starting, you came off the bench and grabbed more boards per minute than anyone else. Eventually, when things look bad for Duke, Coach K made his signature late season change. That change was inserting you into the starting lineup for good.
Everyone knows the stats, there is no reason to go through them again here (actually I’m just too lazy to look then up). After three and a half seasons of struggles, you finally looked like the biggest guy on the court. The travel calls were long gone. Sure you weren’t Kareem, but a hook shot from time to time brought me to my feet.
Most importantly though, it was the rebounding. With your height and size, there was no reason why you couldn’t dominate the glass. Of course there was a reason, that nagging foot injury. But when that foot healed, you become the ‘X’ factor in this Duke team. The Big Three became the Bigger Four and suddenly opposing coaches were asking, “how the hell am I going to stop Zoubek?”
No matter what happens tomorrow, you’ll leave Duke knowing that you were on a Final Four team. You’ll also know that without you, this team doesn’t make it to the Final Four.
I dubbed you the scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz’” a long time ago. Not because you had no brain, oh no. It was because of the wild and flailing way you play this game. This is who you are, a man barely able to contain the excitement in his body. The energy would be needed of course.
As a player at Duke, the fact was, I can’t remember any person in the history of Duke who was asked for three straight years to play out of position like you were.
At a skinny 6’8, you were asked to play center for Duke, forced to guard and score against some of the biggest bodies in the ACC. The reality was, you probably should have just been a (larger) small forward, who would have spent his career learning how to shoot from the outside.
Instead, for three straight years, you were asked to be the biggest man on the floor. It was a lot to ask for. In fact, it was probably too much to ask for. You just never had size or ability to be a true “big man.” Yet, you had one thing a lot of coaches wish their stars had, heart. You had the passion. You had desire.
For four seasons, Lance…you’ve been the spark plug. The energized rabbit that refused to settle down, who refused to quit. If a player like Josh McRoberts had half your heart and half your desire, he could have been great.
In the end though, thanks to the arrival of the Plumlee Brothers and the improvement of Zoubek, you were finally allowed to move to a more natural position. Sure you still had more shots blocked than anyone I’ve ever seen in the history of Duke basketball, but you developed a very nice outside jumper, you dramatically improved your free throw shooting and you’ve crawled over and around anyone to get a rebound.
You’ve become a true team leader. You have worked your ass off to do all the little things that never end up in the stat sheet and I’d be willing to bet you take a ton of pride in that. It was almost fitting that your offensive rebound/put-back slam dunk against Baylor is what sealed the deal for the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight.
In the end, the most importantly thing is, you continue to bring an energy and excitement to this game. At the very least you remind us fans that this is still just a bunch of college kids playing a game. If you can have fun playing it, then I can certainly have fun watching it.
Being a star in high school is not the same thing as being a star in college. It takes time to grow. It takes time to learn and develop your skills. Jon, you were not afforded that luxury. From day one, you were hurled into the starting lineup and asked to be a main contributor. The college basketball world dropped J.J. Redick’s shoes onto the floor and asked you to fill them. There was nothing fair about it. Yet, you certainly tried.
In that first year you played fearless, never afraid to take a shot, never afraid to create some offense. Sometimes you were up for the challenge and sometimes you weren’t. In the end of that first year, you were broken…not mentally, not emotionally, but physically. Your tank, as well as the teams, was empty.
The following year, you received an even bigger challenge…you were asked to take a seat on the bench. Nobody wants to get benched, not after all the hard work and effort put in the season before, but it never fazed you. In fact, you became the most important six man in the ACC. Sure there were slumps, but your intensity never wavered and you continued to develop.
In your final two years at Duke, you again were asked to put the team in front of your own personal stats, your own personal glory, by taking over the point guard spot. Nothing about you screamed point guard. You’re not fast. You’re not going to break any ankles on a crossover move. You’re not going to throw a ton of behind-the-back, no-look-passes…yet there you were, the quarterback, the floor general.
Despite not being the best shooter, you can score from deep. Despite not being the quickest guard, you can score inside among the trees. You’re dribbling abilities won’t end up on too many highlight reels, but you lead the team in assist and almost never turn the ball over. You do all this while making the ugliest faces on a basketball court.
Overall though, it is your calmness and coolness that has brought Duke back to the top. It is also the number one reason that after four long years, no one compares you to anyone anymore…especially that J.J. fella. You’ve created your own legacy. Sure you probably won’t get your jersey hung from the roof, but with two more wins, you’ll have something a lot of players won’t have, including Redick…a championship.
Thank you, seniors.
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