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Young Duke standout getting the hang of leadership role

With the high school accolades Josh McRoberts brought to Durham, N.C., as well as the lofty pro expectations that follow him wherever he goes, he realizes he lives under a microscope.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published February 25, 2007


With the high school accolades Josh McRoberts brought to Durham, N.C., as well as the lofty pro expectations that follow him wherever he goes, he realizes he lives under a microscope.

Add the title co-captain, and McRoberts knows Duke fans are watching and waiting, expecting one day soon the sophomore will morph into the next Christian Laettner or Shane Battier, the type of players they are used to seeing emerge and carry their team to postseason glory.

He is the natural choice, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward gifted with the ball-handling ability and court vision of a point guard. But his inadequacies also are natural: the emotional and mental lapses expected of a 19-year-old.

"Leadership is not an easy thing," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Just because you name a kid captain doesn't mean that kid's going to be a leader, especially when he's a sophomore. But Josh's game lends itself, he's a really good defender, he doesn't have to get a lot of points, to be more like a team guy. He's our best player, but he's also a team guy and that helps him in the leadership position because he's one of the boys all the time."

The No. 18 Blue Devils 21-7, 8-6 ACC field their youngest team since World War II, with a starting group that includes two sophomores and two freshmen. According to the RPI, or ratings percentage index, Duke plays the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation, which has tested the mettle of the young group.

But if the Blue Devils are going to make a run in next month's conference tournament in Tampa and the NCAA Tournament, a leader must emerge.

"As long as we keep winning games, I don't care if I'm the star," McRoberts said after a Jan. 20 win at N.C. State. "I don't think we need one star player. As long as we win games, I'll be happy. ...

"Everybody has to step up and play well for us to win. That's the part that's fun. As we're winning, we're growing up as a team."

The Carmel, Ind., native ranks in the conference's top 10 in rebounds, blocks, minutes, field-goal percentage and defensive rebounds and is No. 21 in scoring at 13.4 a game.

"I saw him in high school and know what kind of player he was," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "What he did last year, he just fit into a role they needed and this year, they needed him to do more and he's very capable of it: a player with his size, his flexibility, his ability to pass the ball, his ability to make the perimeter shot, make post moves. They didn't need all of that last year. Now this team needs more than that from him and he's stepping up."

After last season, which ended in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the past five seasons and saw McRoberts playing fewer minutes behind Shelden Williams, he tested the NBA draft but decided to return because he wanted to help Duke to a national title.

Less than two years ago, McRoberts was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game and the winner of the prestigious Morgan Wootten Award for the nation's best high school player. He was a Parade All-American. Even then, there were whispers the NBA wasn't far away.

"I know that last year I was in a different role, where if I didn't come out and have my best game, then someone else off the bench would come in and try to pick me up," McRoberts, who turns 20 Wednesday, said.

"This year I know that everybody's counting on me, maybe just to score points or do all these things in the game, but I know everybody's counting on me to give my best every night."