Senior PG has become Devils' leader
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Chris Duhon doesn't make the game-winning drive down the gut of North Carolina's defense a season ago.
He just doesn't.
He would have looked to coach Mike Krzyzewski for guidance. He wouldn't have reacted on his own instinct. He even might have frozen.
"Last year, I would have walked it up, tried to make a set, but we would have probably gone into another overtime," said the senior point guard.
See, no confidence.
So much has changed for Duhon in one season. He has evolved into one of the best lead point guards in the country, helping the current No. 1 team win close game after close game.
He put away Florida State, making his only 3-pointer of the game from the corner with 39 seconds left to push Duke's lead to five points at Cameron.
And then Thursday night, in this epic rivalry, Duhon took an inbounds pass and raced up the court, reacting to Carolina's David Noel and Raymond Felton getting crossed and taking the ball straight to the bucket with 6.5 seconds remaining to win the game 83-81 in overtime.
"I glanced at the clock, saw the time (13 seconds left), glanced at coach to see if he wanted a timeout or not, and he was waving his fingers to go, so I just attacked and took what the defense gave me," Duhon said.
"He made a tough shot," Felton said. "Duhon, being the smart, crafty player that he is, kept going to the basket (after Noel and Felton ran into each other)."
"Any other player wouldn't have made that drive," said Duke junior guard Daniel Ewing. "He got the ball, attacked the basket and made the big shot."
So, how do someone's instincts change? Isn't learning by definition not instinctual?
"It's a process," said Duke assistant coach Johnny Dawkins, a former Blue Devil lead guard. "For lack of a better word, you've got to have big cajones. Not everyone has that. Not everyone would want the ball at the end of the game. You know that. I know that."
He has put immense pressure on himself the past two years. He was in the shadow of Jay Williams two seasons ago. He was billed as a potential pro -- first out of high school and even after his first two seasons in Durham.
A year ago, Duhon couldn't handle the added pressure. He was supposed to lead a band of freshmen but couldn't handle it. His shot suffered, and he went a career-low 27.3 percent on 3s, down from 34 percent the previous season. His 38 percent from the field overall was three points worse than his sophomore year.
"I was struggling," Duhon said. "I wasn't doing the things a Duke point guard was supposed to do. I wasn't a consistent leader. I wasn't there for my teammates. At times, I went into my own shell. It was all about me."
Duhon even played 40 of 45 minutes Thursday night without wilting. He had a modest nine points, six assists and four turnovers. But he didn't need to do more. He picked up his fourth personal foul with 9:10 remaining. But that didn't change his aggressiveness.
"I've got to thank coach (Krzyzewski), because a lot of guys would have given up on a guy like me," Duhon said. "He helped me out. Every time I look into his eyes, I feel the utmost confidence in the world. I feel like I can do anything."
Dawkins kept talking about how mentally tough Duhon has become. He was the one yelling at his teammates when they got down 69-62. He was the one who told the team they couldn't lose this game.
And, so far, he's the one who has willed this team toward an incredible run in easily the toughest conference in the country. Duke won at Maryland, at Georgia Tech, crushed Wake Forest at home, beat N.C. State and won a tough fight against Florida State at home.
Duke still has to go to N.C. State, Wake Forest and Florida State. They all look like potential losses. But it's hard to go against the Blue Devils right now because they find ways to win games, especially with Duhon at the point.
"There's such a confidence and an air about him," Dawkins said. "Guys really believe in him. It's beautiful to watch how he's developed.
"We're so proud of him," Dawkins said. "The expectations were so high on this young man. He's been able to adjust and play his game. He doesn't need to score 25 points, dish out 10 dimes. He's a pure point guard. He runs the team. He makes big, selective shots."
Ewing said the Blue Devils wouldn't be the team they are without him. He said Krzyzewski and the staff trust him, and the team trusts him.
"My whole development has been great, even the downfall," Duhon said. "That helped me as a person and a player. It helped me mature. I've learned from all of my mistakes. I'm ready to help this team do something special."
Duhon won a championship as a freshman. But it wasn't his team. This is.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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