Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith didn’t sit back and relax after winning an NCAA championship with Duke in April.
The duo spent part of the summer training with a select team of college students against Team USA in Las Vegas and New York.
“Those two have been outstanding,” Villanova coach Jay Wright, who also coached the select team, said last week at John Jay College in Manhattan. “Those two have been our best scorers.
“Nolan has been great through Vegas and here because he can play both spots, one and two. Kyle has been our best shooter, and in terms of using screens and getting shots off. And he rebounds well.”
The 6-foot-8 Singler considered leaving for the NBA after his junior season but opted to return. His decision makes Duke the preseason No. 1 in many college basketball polls and a favorite to repeat as NCAA champs.
During practices, he showed he could score against the pros on offense and learned from guarding Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay on defense.
“[Durant] is a really good player,” Singler told GoDuke.com. “He’s very tough to defend because he’s like a guard. He can handle the ball really well and he can shoot it really deep and really well. He’s the type of player that can do all things. You kind of have to pick your poison and he’s one of the better players in the NBA so it was a great test for me to guard him.”
Smith, in turn, guarded the point guards Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups and Russell Westbrook.
“The one thing I need to definitely improve is strength,” Smith said. “Their point guards are very strong, D-Rose, Westbrook, Chauncey, their upper-body strength is incredible. But I’m glad I have about 307 days to get ready [for the NBA].”
As Smith gets ready, he’ll have the luxury of teaming in the Duke backcourt with freshman Kyrie Irving , who starred at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick and watched Team USA down France last Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The 6-2 Irving is projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, ahead of both Singler and Smith.
“He ‘s a winner,” Smith said of Irving. “Coming from St. Patrick he just wants to win and he’s a great teammate so far.”
Duke and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has already said he will “Change the whole offense” to suit Irving.
Smith isn’t threatened by that.
He feels he and Irving will combine to form a complementary and dangerous backcourt.
“We’re gonna push the ball, that’s the main thing,” Smith said.
He added: “This summer I’ve been around a lot of great point guards and I’ve learned a lot. So I really feel like in college I can run the one and Kyrie can also score the ball. Once we get going Coach will also see that whoever gets the ball is going to go and whoever is filling it can go to the wing and score and whoever is not can set up the offense. I’m really excited.”
Wright recruited Irving to Villanova, so he knows just exactly what Duke’s backcourt will look like.
“Scary, scary, because both of them can play both spots,” Wright said. “They’re guards. They’re not point guards or two guards. They can bring it up, they can get you in the offense, and they can create for other people. They’re scary.”
With all that talent and the experience Smith and Singler have gained this summer, it’s only natural that they’re thinking about a Blue Devil repeat, right?
“It’s in the back of my mind but I think for us to reach that goal we need to not even think about that,” Smith said. “We have to take it one game at a time, and get better as a team.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.