The Duke men’s basketball team won this year’s NCAA Championship thanks in large part to 7’1″ senior center Brian Zoubek.
Plagued by foot injuries throughout his college career, the 2009-2010 season greeted the 22-year-old New Jersey native with tepid expectations. A defensive-minded reserve entering the season, Zoubek won a starting role by February because of his effort and work ethic on both ends of the court. Zoubek remained a solid contributor for the Blue Devils during their regular-season stretch run, but reached another level of performance once the NCAA Tournament hit. In the Big Dance, it seems, size truly matters.
Perhaps one of the most self-aware players in all of college basketball, Zoubek was renowned for his ability to grab an offensive rebound and immediately turn and face the three-point arc, looking for a more offensive-minded teammate to pass the ball to. Many big men, talented or not, would prefer to grab a board and look to create their own scoring opportunity. Not Zoubek. He did whatever it took to secure a second chance for his teammates. Any points he provided were a bonus for a Blue Devil ballclub that wasn’t relying on their center to score.
On defense, Zoubek distracted opposing players, deflected shots, cleared space, and grabbed rebounds like a maniac. Relatively mobile for his size, the 7-footer would take his long frame beyond the paint to cover an opposing player, altering a variety of shots from layups to three-pointers.
Though unheralded when the basketball season began, by the end of the year Zoubek was a force to be reckoned with on a championship squad. Fans across the country longed for their own version of this renaissance big man. And now, thanks to Aziz N’Diaye, the Huskies may have found their very own Brian Zoubek.
According to his coach at the College of Southern Idaho, N’Diaye is a skilled defender who has room for improvement on the offensive end of the floor. Sounds a lot like the scouting report on Zoubek.
N’Diaye stands 7’1″ tall and weighs in around 250 pounds. Zoubek, meanwhile, is listed at 7’1″, 260. Pretty close comparison.
Both N’Diaye and Zoubek take their efforts off the floor, as well. N’Diaye is a natural leader, having been named captain of the CSI basketball team as a sophomore. Zoubek, in turn, is a two-time Academic All-ACC selection. A good head on one’s shoulders often translates to the playing surface.
Perhaps the only difference between these twin towers is their conflicting backgrounds. Zoubek was a highly-touted prep player who enjoyed basketball most of his life growing up in the Northeastern United States. N’Diaye, meanwhile, is a late bloomer, having only picked up the game in his native Senegal as a teenager. He developed his playing skills at an Illinois prep school before moving on to the junior college ranks.
Of course, projecting Aziz N’Diaye to be anyone other than Aziz N’Diaye is entirely unfair at this point in time. For someone who has yet to play in a Division I basketball game, we must curb our enthusiasm, at least for the moment.
But in committing to a big man who is willing to do the dirty work it takes to win ballgames, Lorenzo Romar has unearthed exactly the type of player the Huskies need on their current roster.
And perhaps, exactly the type of of player it takes to win a national championship.