Kueth Duany emerges as third scoring option

Kueth Duany knew he'd have to contribute more this year. He didn't know it would be quite this much. Duany has emerged as SU's third scoring option, relieving some pressure from Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams. Here's a look at his performance in the preseason NIT.

Forgive Kueth Duany if he's not accustomed to the media circus. Leave the cacophony of microphones and television cameras to Preston Shumpert, the Orangemen's reigning Mr. Interview. It's not Duany's style.

You see, Shumpert provides the same amount of glitz and glamour as the shiny orange Nike's he laces up. Duany provides the same amount of hustle and energy that left traces of blood splattered across his orange uniform.

Which would help explain the perplexed look that grazed the junior's face as he stood in the crowded bowels of Madison Square Garden, still unable to reach the Syracuse locker room more than 30 minutes after SU polished off Michigan State in the Preseason NIT semifinals Wednesday.

His mission: convince a throng of national reporters that he believed he could play all along. His style: quiet and respectful, considering the barrage of questions aimed at his inability to get off the bench. His favorite phrase: hard work, something Duany preached and practiced on his way to 39 points and an NIT All-Tournament honor in two games over the break.

"Sometimes, there's just not enough minutes for guys that can play," Duany said. "You've got to wait your turn, and Coach is always teaching us. Once you step on the campus, Coach is teaching until you leave here. Some guys just blossom later than others. I'm one of the late bloomers.

"I've had some pretty big games, but I guess you can call this a coming out party or whatever."

Duany, like many four-year Syracuse basketball players that came before him, is an anomaly in today's tumultuous college basketball world, where high school players jump straight to the NBA as often as college freshmen and sophomores.

The Syracuse system breeds development as opposed to raw and unlimited talent. Duany, who missed his first year with a torn ACL and spent much of the next two years in SU head coach Jim Boeheim's doghouse, is walking proof.

"He's been trying to convince me for three years that he should be playing," Boeheim said Wednesday. "He's finally convinced me. He finally got through to me. He's effective because he's gotten tougher. I never thought he was tough enough in the beginning. He's hanging in there, banging people, battling people a little bit harder."

Duany's greatest improvement, though, has been his shooting, something he showcased on college basketball's biggest stage last week.

A career 43 percent shooter – who hit only 26.7 percent beyond the three-point arc – Duany works on his shooting everyday, Boeheim said. It showed here, where Duany exploded for 24 points against Michigan State and followed with 15 points in the championship victory over Wake Forest. In total, he hit 15 of 26 shots, including 3 of 7 three-pointers. In addition he grabbed 11 rebounds and six steals in both games, while playing more minutes (the full 80) than any other Orangeman.

Most importantly, though, Duany's emergence as the third scoring option takes pressure off Shumpert and DeShaun Williams. Wake Forest concentrated on all three in the first half Friday, and Hakim Warrick was able to free himself for what he describes as "nine of the easiest points I've ever scored."

"Kueth is just playing tremendous, unbelievable basketball," Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins said. "When those three guys are at their best, our team is very tough to beat. Some people could say he is the third option, but in some of these games he's been the top option."

"The kid Kueth Duany has really had a great start," ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale said. "That'll take them to another level if they have three guys they can count on to score."

Duany played a minimal role in his first season back from injury two years ago. Last season, he emerged as SU's athletic sixth man in a surprising NCAA Tournament run, utilizing nearly freakish speed, quickness and athleticism to average an unpolished 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 34 games.

Expectations dropped even lower for this young Syracuse team, forcing Duany to increase his workout intensity, knowing that if the Orangemen were going to make any type of postseason run, he'd have to be a catalyst within it.

Teammates take notice of Duany's work ethic, leaving backup center Jeremy McNeil to make this earth-shattering –albeit somewhat stretching – revelation.

"I think he's the best player on this team," McNeil said with a straight face. "I'm going to keep it real. All the hard work that he's been doing all his life is finally paying off. It's unbelievable. He's a pro to me. And I'm proud of him."

Duany just laughs when reporters ask him if it's his time now. He substitutes "I'm living up to my potential" with "I just try to play hard." "I played great" becomes "That's my role, so that's all I try to do."

He remembers the last three years, when questions came infrequently at best. He remembers wondering if he'd ever play a significant role at Syracuse. And the laughter, the giggles that bubble up each time Duany has a chance to praise himself, comes from nerves because there's nothing funny about his performance so far this season.

"Coach is never satisfied, but I just try to play hard for him and do all I can," Duany said. "I work in the offseason, and I'm one of those guys, I don't like to take no for an answer. I'm going to keep knocking on the door. If Coach decides to sit me, I'm going to keep knocking. I'm not going to give up. That's the type of attitude I think I have.

"Right now," Duany finally affirms, "it's just the tip of the iceberg."

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