For as long as he can remember, it's been Kyle Singler's dream to play in the NBA.
Nothing has changed from the days he was dominating the junior circuits here in Medford and later starring at a national level, except for the fact that his lifelong ambition now comes with an asterisk.
WHO: A 6-foot-9, 235-pound sophomore forward on the Duke University men's basketball team.
Singler doesn't want to go to the next level until he's ready. It's precisely why he has yet to dangle his feet in the NBA draft waters like so many peers before him.
"I want to be able to step in right away and play because they know I'm ready to help," said the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward. "A lot of the draft is drafting on potential. I feel once I am drafted, I'll make an impact on the (NBA) team that I'm on."
Playing at an elite level at Duke University, Singler's productivity has increased each of his first two seasons, and he's determined to keep that trend going. You can see it in his eyes as he talks about his future in basketball, and in the tennis ball that he's carrying around as a means to work on his ballhandling skills.
With the prospect of junior teammate Gerald Henderson jumping to the NBA after putting his name in the early-entry list, Singler is well aware what that may mean for him next season.
"When 'G' leaves, I'll be playing mostly on the perimeter, so my ballhandling will have to be better," he said, adding that he hopes Henderson opts to return for his senior season.
Singler became just the sixth Blue Devil to top the 1,000-point plateau as a sophomore this past season and played an integral role in leading Duke to a 30-7 record and its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in three years. Singler tied Henderson for team-high honors in scoring with 16.5 points per game and also ranked first in rebounds (7.7 per game) and blocked shots (38). His 57 steals were one shy of Jon Scheyer for the team lead, and his 2.4 assists per game were third best for the Blue Devils.
For his efforts, Singler was a second-team All-ACC selection and an honorable mention All-American. At the recent team banquet, Singler, Henderson and Scheyer shared MVP honors.
In many ways, it's been a whirlwind for the former South Medford High standout and Oregon co-player of the year in 2007.
"It's crazy to think half my career's done in college," said Singler, "but I think I'm a better player than when I came in, and I'm proud of that."
"I really had no expectations going in about when I would be ready to leave or if I would leave early, and I think that helps," he added. "If you come in with a pace and you're going slower than you think you should, sometimes that can hurt you. I think I'm growing well enough to where I could possibly leave next year."
That possibility, as well as what could be a loaded Duke squad in the 2009-10 season, has Singler excited about his upcoming junior campaign.
"We're going to be good, regardless, but we'd be better with 'G' in my opinion," he said. "We'll have a big team this coming year, so I'm excited for that, and we might get (prized 2009 recruit) John Wall. Plus, John and G's class is good with Lance (Thomas) and Brian (Zoubek), and having seniors is important. We should be fine."
Should Henderson remain a Blue Devil — he has until June 15 to withdraw his name from the NBA draft — Duke would return its top five scorers and likely be considered one of the NCAA title favorites after advancing to the Sweet 16 this past March.
The return of Thomas, Zoubek and freshman Miles Plumlee, as well as the presence of Plumlee's 6-10 younger brother, Mason, could allow Singler more time on the perimeter regardless of Henderson's decision. Another 6-10 incoming freshman, Ryan Kelly, also figures to be in the mix as Duke boasts one of its tallest lineups in quite some time.
"As long as they can rebound and play defense and be big bodies, we should be OK," Singler said of the incoming freshmen. "We have guys in Jon and Nolan (Smith) and Elliot (Williams) who can score, we just need a couple big guys that can rebound and play defense."
Having Wall potentially run things at point guard would also give Duke a dynamic option and allow Scheyer and Smith to play more natural roles off the ball. The Blue Devils will also get a boost in the 2010-11 season when Seth Curry, the nation's highest-scoring freshman at 20.2 points per game, becomes eligible after sitting out a year following his transfer from Liberty.
In the short term, Singler is going to continue to dribble a tennis ball around and make 500-600 shots per day in hopes of being all he can be for the Blue Devils — and whomever might want him after that.
He'll remain in town through May before heading off to France for his only real vacation of the summer.
"I'm really looking forward to that," he said of the trip. "It's going to be fun because I've never been out of the country before."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com