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Fond Farewell

It doesn't seem that long ago that Kyle Singler addressed a gym full of fans, reached under a podium and produced a school's baseball cap.

It was his way of saying, "Hello Duke."

That was in October 2006 in the South Medford High arena where Singler, one of the most sought-after schoolboy basketball players in the country, ended suspense by revealing his college choice.

Tonight, four-plus years and a continent removed from that scene, there will be another gym full of fans waiting, first to be thrilled by his on-court exploits, then to listen as he takes a microphone for a few words.

It'll be his way of saying, "Goodbye."

Singler has evolved into one of the most accomplished players in Duke history and will play his final contest at fabled Cameron Indoor Stadium when the fourth-ranked Blue Devils (26-3) host Clemson (19-9) in their penultimate regular-season game.

He has prepared as best he can for the moment.

"I've always tried to approach my games in Cameron like they were my last because you really don't know when you're playing your last game," the 6-foot-8 All-American forward said Monday during a press conference at the Durham, N.C., school. "But this time really will be the last time, so it's going to be emotional. But I think we're going to be so focused on winning and playing well that I won't be really focused on it being my last game in Cameron."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't so sure it'll be that easy.

In his 31st year with the Blue Devils, he's witnessed more than a few send-offs. In addition to Singler, star guard Nolan Smith will play his final home game, as will reserve Casey Peters, Singler's roommate.

"We're pretty good about it," said Krzyzewski, referring to the coaches, "but it's the young man. It's an emotional thing for them. We've got to be careful those two kids (Singler and Smith) don't get too emotional and that they play their game. We'll talk to them about it and try to help them."

Should Duke win, it will be the 120th victory in Singler's four-year career, and he'd bolster career stats that already place him in the top five in Blue Devil history in, among other categories, games started (first), points (fifth), offensive rebounds (third) and defensive rebounds (fourth).

The Blue Devils are 119-21 with Singler in the fold.

"That kid's a winner," Krzyzewski said Monday during a conference call. "He's averaged 30 wins here. That's a lot of basketball and a lot of winning basketball.

"In my 31 years, he's one of the really great players we've had."

Singler, the most outstanding player of the Final Four last season as Duke won the national championship, is averaging 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season.

He has 2,271 career points and could move into third place behind J.J. Redick (2,769) and Johnny Dawkins (2,556) if the Blue Devils make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Christian Laettner is third (2,460) and Mike Gminski fourth (2,323).

On that autumn day in 2006, Singler talked about how difficult it was to decide between Duke and fellow finalists Arizona and Kansas. Tears welled as he thanked those who helped his development. Then his eyes brightened when he recounted the acceptance phone call he made to Krzyzewski.

"He seemed pretty excited," Singler said then. "It was a good phone call."

Neither knew then what impact he'd have once he arrived in Durham.

"I know I'll have to earn it," Singler said. "I'm just going to go back there, work my butt off and hope for the best."

His hopes appear to have been fulfilled.

Singler was a starter in the first 68 games of his career. The streak ended in December 2008, when Krzyzewski, unhappy with the fourth-ranked Blue Devils' play in an 81-74 loss to Michigan, benched his first-line players in an ensuing game against North Carolina-Asheville.

It was the last time Singler sat.

Along the way, he's earned the respect of teammates and foes alike.

"He's one of the greatest competitors I've ever played with," said Smith, who, like his running mate, is one of 10 finalists for the Oscar Robertson Trophy that goes to the national player of the year, as voted on by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. "He competes on every play. He lays his body on the line for his team, and then, obviously, he's one of the most talented, most versatile players in the country.

"One word to describe him is, he's a 'warrior.'"

Clemson coach Brad Brownell will have a front-row seat tonight as Singler and Smith are recognized.

"They have two great players who will be honored and who should be honored in the highest regard," said Brownell. "They've won a national championship, they're player-of-the-year type guys and are terrific young men."

Singler's parents, Ed and Kris, and sister Katen will be on hand tonight.

For their visits, the parents rent an apartment in the same complex as Kyle and have been to each Senior Night since he started.

"On the one hand, it's sort of a sad time because it's all coming to an end," said Ed Singler. "Yet on the other hand, it's a very exciting time. He's devoted four hard years back there and put in a lot of effort and energy, both academically and basketball-wise. And there are a lot of exciting things ahead.

"It'll be a special moment and an emotional moment for him and for us."

There was speculation Singler's Duke career would end after last year's 61-59 NCAA title win over Butler. The NBA beckoned and he was projected as a potential first-round selection.

But he wasn't ready to turn in his Blue Devil gear.

"I just really wanted to come back and experience my senior year," he said. "I really feel that if I had left, I would have missed out on a whole bunch, and I think that's the same feeling Nolan had. My four years here have been great."

Each year, he said, he learned something new. This year, it was how to be a good senior leader in the mold of those before him.

The responsibility and challenge proved greater than he expected, he said, and he was thankful to have Smith at his side.

Their roles will be celebrated tonight.

Mindful of the tenor that awaits, Ed Singler has avoided discussing the home finale with his son. However, they talked by phone recently — after Kyle and the other seniors had dinner with Krzyzewski and his family — and Kyle brought up tonight's agenda.

The upperclassmen will be recognized before the game. Afterward, the entire team will return to the court and seniors will have a chance to speak.

"I've seen 30-second talks and I've seen 10-minute talks," said Ed Singler. "I did tell him this: When you have that moment, make sure to take your time. That's your moment. Not too many people get the chance to publicly thank others. It's your time."

And that notion has sunk in, said Kyle.

"It's surprising," he said. "I mean, I'm really excited to play the game, but it's surprising how quickly it has come. Looking back on it, there were times where it felt like you had all the time in the world, but right now, it feels like it's just gone by so fast."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Duke's Kyle Singler is the only player in ACC history to record over 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 250 3-point goals in a career. - AP