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Quite a thrill following one of Medford's finest in Singler

For basketball players, going to a Final Four can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For the average college basketball fan, the trip undoubtedly provides a cherished memory as you soak up many of the best and brightest the sport has to offer.

For Ed and Kris Singler, it's simply a chance to see their middle child do what he loves the most.

Along with daughter Katie and youngest son E.J., the Singlers made the trek from Medford to Indianapolis on Thursday with an eye on providing local support to their son Kyle, who just happens to also be an All-American standout at Duke University.

Ed's father, Bill Singler Sr., and brother Bill also made the trip.

"It's going to be a special thing, I can't wait," Ed Singler said leading up to the excursion.

Even if the family time together may end up being brief.

The Singlers "rolled the dice" and skipped the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Florida before joining the Blue Devils last weekend in Houston, where Duke secured its first trip to the Final Four since 2004.

"We hardly see Kyle, especially in the NCAAs," said Ed Singler. "They pretty much sequester these kids, and as each weekend goes on it tightens up. At Houston, we saw both games and were over there four days and saw him a total of about one hour."

While the cost of yet another trip back to the Midwest certainly isn't easy to swallow, making it to this point is something Kyle Singler had been planning on ever since he donned a Duke cap when committing to the storied program as a senior at South Medford High School.

"That's why he chose Duke, to go to a Final Four and have a chance at a national championship," said Ed Singler. "I think maybe it took him longer than he probably thought it would, but he's learned through these last couple years that there's a lot of basketball players out there and good teams and it's not easy to win a championship."

The top-seeded Blue Devils take on No. 2 seed West Virginia this afternoon in a semifinal that follows a matchup between No. 5 seeds Michigan State and Butler. The winners play Monday night for the national championship.

Kyle Singler has been an integral piece of the puzzle in getting the Blue Devils to this point, ranking second on the team in points per game (17.6), rebounds (6.9) and minutes played (35.7). The former Panther also is a close third behind senior Jon Scheyer and junior Nolan Smith in assists and steals per game for the Atlantic Coast Conference champions.

"You hear Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) talk and its evident he's got trust in Kyle because he doesn't really take him out much," said Ed Singler. "He calls Kyle a warrior, and maybe one of the best ones he's ever had."

The key to this weekend, though, is what the proud father will call the junior standout, and that simply is "son."

"One thing I've learned as a parent through this is you try not to talk a lot of basketball because you know he gets that 24 hours a day," said the elder Singler. "What he wants from us is just support. He's glad when we come and are there supporting him and just enjoying the game. We keep things light because I know he's going to get hit hard by other people. We just try to make sure he stays positive through it all."

That was especially true last weekend, when his oldest son was held without a field goal for the first time in all his years of basketball by Baylor in the Elite Eight. Singler was 0-for-10 from the field, but added five points from the free-throw line and a commendable effort on defense against the athletic Bears.

"After that game, he didn't have to say anything," said Ed Singler. "I knew what he was thinking, and I think he was just so glad that they were going to live another day. Had they lost, I'm not sure how Kyle would've lived with that because the last thing he wants to do is let his team down."

Singler had entered that game as Duke's leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament at around 20 points per game, and it followed a win over Purdue in which he almost single-handedly kept the Blue Devils in the contest until Smith and Scheyer finally heated up in the second half.

He took a nasty fall and landed on his right wrist midway through the second half against Purdue and re-aggravated a nagging injury he sustained earlier in the season during a physical battle with Wake Forest.

"I think it's one of those injuries that's gotten better but every time he gets hit or falls on it, it goes right back to pain or stiffness," said Ed Singler. "He's playing through it, just like a lot of other athletes are doing these days."

He's also making his way through life at one of the more polarizing institutions in college basketball. When it comes to Duke, you either love them or hate them — there's very little middle ground.

"He's in a situation where the Duke program's a target," said Ed Singler. "I know that even though he wouldn't admit it, there's pressure there. He's not only dealing with the pressures of excelling as a team, he's got expectations on him as well."

Beyond his role among the so-called "Big Three" at Duke with Scheyer and Smith, Singler is in line for a career in the NBA. He's currently projected as a late first-round selection or early second-rounder should he apply early for the NBA draft. Singler has long maintained that the most important factor in his decision will be the belief that he's able to step in and compete right away for a franchise.

"It's a challenge for any player whose kind of in a position like that," said Ed Singler of weighing NBA options. "Our advice to him was making the most of this season and that's all you have to worry about. Everything else will take care of itself after that."

Underclassmen seeking early entry into the NBA must make their intentions known by April 25, but now have only until May 8 to decide whether they want to remain draft-eligible. That date to drop out of the draft used to be in mid-June, but a change was made in the offseason to help college coaches gain advance notice of who will be on their roster for the coming season. Players who hire an agent automatically forfeit their college eligibility.

"That shortened time frame makes it very difficult," said Ed Singler of being able to make an informed decision on going pro. "We haven't talked much about it with Kyle, but he's thought more about the NBA this year than anytime in the past, for sure. There's great reasons to go back to Duke and also compelling issues to put your name in the draft. I just want to make sure he understands and considers both before he makes a decision."

Ed Singler said he expects to get Krzyzewski's advice on the matter once the season is complete.

"I've got to believe he'll be honest," he said. "Obviously Coach K has an ear to the ground not only in college but in the pro ranks with his role in the Olympics and all. He's been in the business and been put in this situation so his input will be useful."

This weekend could be particularly important in helping Singler make his decision.

"I think it's important for him to leave a legacy at Duke," said Ed Singler, whose son has helped the Devils to a 91-18 record and two ACC titles during his three years. "He could seriously go down as one of Duke's best of all time. Certainly if he wins a national championship, that's something he can check off and be a big deciding factor possibly for him. He can also get his degree and maybe have a chance at another championship and get his name in the rafters, too. You don't get your name up there unless you graduate, and those are all important things."

Following this semester, Singler had planned to go to summer school and then would need only two credits to officially graduate from Duke as a visual arts major. Any NBA aspirations certainly would cut into that plan, but that's a conversation for another day. Today, the focus is on watching Southern Oregon's first Final Four participant and a local favorite.

"For us, it's been an unbelievable ride to watch this unfold and see Kyle grow as a young man and be able to handle things in a very respectful and professional manner while also staying true to who he is," said Ed Singler. "We just couldn't be happier."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Kyle Singler cuts the net after Duke's win over Baylor last Sunday. - AP