As much effort as it put into winning the 2010 national championship, the Duke basketball team is now faced with an even tougher chore.
The season is still four months away, but seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are already getting a sense of the expectations that stem from winning a title. Instead of reveling in the past, Smith said fans who approach him are already looking toward the future.
"They're ready for another one," he said.
The possibility is anything but far-fetched.
Duke will likely begin the 2010-11 season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. The Blue Devils will only stay there, though, if Smith and Singler can provide the type of senior leadership that departed stars Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek exhibited last season.
Although being vocal is a bit out of character for the twosome, Smith and Singler said they'll adapt to their new roles just fine.
"It excites me," Smith said. "Kyle and I have had multiple talks about it. We're really quiet guys. We're lead-by-example type guys.
"But now we've got to teach the freshmen and the younger guys. We've got to show them the ropes and teach them how things are done at Duke and how we win."
Singler (17.7 points per game last season) and Smith (17.4) should be good mentors. Both shot just under 40 percent from 3-point range and developed reputations for being quality defenders.
So good were Smith and Singler during the NCAA tournament that, at times, the possibility seemed strong that they'd enter the NBA draft after the season. Singler, who likely would've been selected in the first round, had multiple conversations with coach Mike Krzyzewski about the subject.
As for Smith? He left the decision up to Singler.
"Both of us were having so much fun in college on and off the court and neither one of us is really struggling for money for our family," Smith said. "That's an issue with some of these players who leave early, but we aren't struggling. Our families are fine.
"[Kyle] knows that next year is going to be a job. The perks are going to be there, but it's an 82-game season. It's long and hard work. I talk to Mike Beasley and a lot of guys in the league. He said, 'It's not a game once you get there. You get money, but it feels like a job.' Kyle and I took that into consideration. We wanted one more year to have fun."
Even though they could be just as good – if not better – than last year's group, the 2010-11 Blue Devils will have a different look than their predecessors.
Although Scheyer is gone from the perimeter, the Blue Devils will actually have more depth at guard with Smith, Liberty transfer Seth Curry and touted signee Kyrie Irving.
A 6-foot-2 point guard, Irving is ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Class of 2010 by Rivals.com. He'll likely slide into a starting role from day one while Curry – the brother of Golden State Warriors standout Stephen Curry – starts at shooting guard.
"He could've played for us last year," Singler said of Curry. "He's going to be kind of like Jon was for us. He can shoot the ball well and he knows the game. It's always fun playing with a guy that really knows the game."
Curry practiced with the team last season. Even though he didn't compete in games, Curry was awarded an NCAA title ring for pushing his teammates so hard in practice.
"He came in and the first thing he told me was, 'I want to win,'" Smith said of Curry. "He was at Liberty averaging 25 or 26 points a game but he really wasn't having fun. I'm excited he's going to be on the court with us."
With Curry and Irving manning the backcourt, Smith might slide over to small forward at times. In that scenario the 6-8 Singler, who played the position last season, would move to power forward, where he could create matchup problems for bigger players who would have trouble defending him away from the basket.
Overall, Duke should be quicker and more athletic than it was last season.
"It's going to be very unpredictable," Smith said. "Last year we worked with what we had and it worked great, obviously. But this year, with all of the bodies we have at the guard position, we can use a lot of different looks.
"We're all just working to be flexible. We're working on our all-around game so we can be ready to do what Coach asks us to do."
Even though the beginning of official workouts is still months away, the Blue Devils are doing everything they can this summer to prepare for their title defense. Singler and Smith were at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week and will be in Las Vegas to scrimmage against the USA National team later this month.
Irving has arrived on campus to go through drills with his new teammates, all of whom continue to use last season's accomplishments as motivation for 2010-11.
"We're training harder so we can be even better than we were last year," Smith said. "Because we know teams are going to be coming after us that much harder."
"As a team, we wouldn't have it any other way," he said. "We'll be gunning for teams just as much as they'll be gunning for us."