DURHAM, N.C. – He averages more than 16 points a game, leads his team in rebounding and ranks third among Duke's players in assists and steals.
Still, more than once during the past month, students on campus and folks in the Durham community approached Kyle Singler with a rather peculiar question.
"Or something like that," Singler said. "I don't really pay attention to exactly what they say, but I definitely hear stuff."
He won't any more. Not after Thursday.
In what was easily the best game of his junior season, Singler scored a career-high 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting to lead the 10th-ranked Blue Devils to an 86-67 victory over No. 21 Georgia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"Tonight was the first night I really saw him in a great rhythm on the perimeter," Duke guard Nolan Smith said. "Every time he shot the ball I was excited, because I knew it was going in."
Singler entered the game shooting just 39.6 percent from the field in ACC play. In Duke's last three losses he went just 12-of-43 from the field. In other words, for more than a month, Singler wouldn't have been able to hit water if he jumped off a diving board.
But against Georgia Tech he made the basket look like a hula-hoop by going 8-for-10 from beyond the arc. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he basically left Singler alone during his slump.
"I don't think he lost confidence or else he wouldn't have come out and shot it that way," Krzyzewski said. "We told him, 'Whatever you've done, forget it. It's what you're gonna do [that's important].'
"In baseball, if you've got a really good hitter that's in a slump, you don't tell him not to swing. Somehow you have to let him know that he's a good hitter. Kyle is a good [shooter]. I'm really happy for him. Hopefully this is a springboard for him."
And for Duke.
No one questions whether the Blue Devils are a good team. At 18-4 overall and 6-2 in the ACC, Duke has been ranked in the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll all season.
Still, to be a truly elite team – a team that can challenge Kansas and Kentucky and Syracuse for the NCAA title – Duke can't have Singler going 4-of-14 from the field, as he did in Saturday's loss to Georgetown. He was also dreadful during January setbacks against Georgia Tech (2-of-13) and North Carolina State (6-of-16).
The Blue Devils simply don't have enough pieces to make up for Singler's off nights against other Top-10 teams. That wasn't the case last season, when Duke had Gerald Henderson and, at times, Eliot Williams, to help Singler and Jon Scheyer shoulder some of the outside scoring load.
Now more than ever, opponents know Singler is going to take the big shots.
"There is a lot of pressure on him, a lot of expectations," Duke forward Lance Thomas said. "It's not visible, but you know it has to be tough on him, especially when he's struggling. He's a shooter who is used to be able to score.
"The good thing about Kyle is that he never let it affect the rest of his game. He plays hard every play. I don't care if he air-balls 20 shots in a row. He's going to play as hard as possible."
That, Kryzewski said, is the trait that defines Singler the most.
"We're in a situation where people like to define us by what we don't do well," he said. "We've got kids that are doing a lot of things really well."
Indeed, Scheyer is averaging 18.7 points and leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and Smith has increased his scoring averaging from 8.4 points a game last season to 18.2 this year.
Thursday, though, it was all about Singler, who benefitted from a tweak by Krzyzewski in Duke's game plan. In order to enhance Singler's chances of being effective against Georgia Tech, Krzyzewski had the Blue Devils in a motion offense for much of the game.
"That way he can move wherever he wants to and there is no set play," Krzyzewski said. "Someone can screen for him and then someone can screen for him again. He was open a lot, because it's not a predictable movement."
Singler took advantage of his clear looks at the basket – especially in the second half, when he made all six of his 3-point attempts.
At 6-2, Duke is now a half-game ahead of Maryland (5-2) in the ACC standings.
"I don't think I've been shooting the ball that horribly," Singler said. "I've been missing some shots, but having a game like this where I start stringing together some shots … you get into a rhythm."
Singler hopes it continues – while the questions end.
"As a basketball player, you can't let criticism get to you," he said. "I'm the type of person that's confident in what I do, so it didn't affect me much."
- Kyle Singler
- Blue Devils
- Georgia Tech