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Wake Forest Center Calls Himself An Original

November 7, 1996

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) _ Tim Duncan is a bit of a novelty _ a college basketball star who actually enjoys school.

Unlike more than 30 underclassmen who left this past season for the potential riches of the NBA, the Wake Forest center chose to remain for his senior season.

``Maybe because I’m different. I’m not the norm,″ Duncan said. ``I did something that nobody else would do _ well, only a few other people would do. I’m original.″

His reward for bucking the trend could be a trip to the Final Four, which the Demon Deacons missed by one game last season. Wake Forest, 26-6 in each of the last two seasons, is aiming for its third straight Atlantic Coast Conference crown.

Regardless of how the Deacons fare, though, Duncan will be a high lottery pick come next June _ and could have been one in the 1996 NBA draft. After ending the speculation about his future last spring, Duncan only strengthened his position as the best big man around with an outstanding performance against the U.S. men’s Olympic team in an exhibition game.

Now he’s back on campus, returning to the psychology course work he likes so much, his free time spent hanging out and surfing the Internet.

``He enjoys being 20, and he likes being with his peers,″ Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. ``He likes walking across campus with his hat on backwards and taking his T-shirt off and throwing a frisbee. He likes looking at a pretty girl and maybe having one look back at him. In his mind, there was no need to give that up so quick.″

Odom helped the soft-spoken Duncan make his decision, but Duncan also relied heavily on family and friends _ and his own conscience.

``I told him don’t go for the wrong reasons, but don’t stay for the wrong reasons _ to be the national player of the year, to win another ACC player of the year, to be a part of winning three ACC three years in a row,″ Odom said. ``That could lead you down the road to possible disappointment.″

Four years ago, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Duncan was a skinny, unproven, unpolished recruit out of the Virgin Islands, certainly not a hotbed of basketball talent. In fact, Duncan wanted to be a world-class swimmer.

However, from the first day of practice it was apparent Duncan had athletic ability and could run well for a big man. He also had defensive skills you can’t teach.

``The first time I saw him, I said, `Wow, he’s going to have a great future in this game,‴ Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said.

Duncan has turned into the greatest defensive force in the ACC since 7-4 Ralph Sampson guarded the lane for Virginia in the early ’80s. The two-time national defensive player of the year has 379 blocked shots and should pass Sampson’s ACC career mark of 462 sometime this season.

Duncan has blocked 124, 135 and 120 shots in each of his first three seasons, becoming the second ACC player to accomplish the feat in his first three seasons. Clemson’s Tree Rollins was the other.

Duncan has also blocked at least one shot in all 96 games he’s played.

``He has a great ability to leave his man and go double as the other guy gets ready for a power move,″ Maryland’s Gary Williams said. ``He has such long arms he doesn’t have to get off-balance. A lot of shot blockers get off-balance because they have to fly at guys to block their shots. Duncan doesn’t have to jump real high to block shots a lot of times. That enables him to keep out of foul trouble.

``The ability to stop a player offensively is one thing, but you can’t stop Duncan from what he does defensively, other than drive the ball at him and try to get him in foul trouble.″

But Duncan rarely gets in foul trouble, averaging a little more than two a game last season. And he didn’t foul out of any of Wake Forest’s 32 contests.

Although he’s reached double figures in points and rebounds in 58 games, Duncan has never averaged more than 20 points a season. With that in mind, the All-American stressed his offensive game in offseason workouts.

``I can tell you he’s a better player today than he was at this time last year,″ Odom said. ``He’s more confident. He’s doing more things better. He is much more offensive-minded right now. He is looking to score.″

Wake Forest has only two returning guards: juniors Jerry Braswell and Tony Rutland, who’s coming off knee surgery and won’t be back until Christmas. Also returning are senior forwards Ricky Peral, who led the ACC in 3-point shooting last season, and Sean Allen.

But all eyes will be on Duncan.

``We have a chance to do a lot of special things this year, and I thought it was in my best interest to come back,″ Duncan said. ``I wasn’t done with college. I thought I had a lot to learn, and that’s why I’m back.

``I have a lot of fun being a college student, plus I was on line to graduate _ that was another incentive.″

End advance for Nov. 9-10

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