You Know What? F- - - It, Good For Greg Paulus
I've always kinda been fascinated by the hatred for Duke. I hate them, I know that. And I know all the common gripes about the Dukies. But I'm not really sure why so many people hate them. With Duke-UNC coming up next week, I plan on writing about the rivalry a bit more, so I won't delve too deep right here, but I read the outstanding book To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, by Will Blythe, and got a much better understanding of the rivalry and realized there was a difference between a UNC fan's hatred and a regular fan's hatred for Duke. And this year, because Duke is such a thrillingly efficient and unique team to watch, I kinda discarded my anger in honor of basketball appreciation.
And that brings me to Greg Paulus. Nobody likes Greg Paulus. If you have ever read my shallow pontifications, you know, basketball appreciation be damned, I hate Greg Paulus. Regardless of my newfound tolerance of Duke, I still hated the guy, probably because he wasn't any good. Amidst the fast-paced, spread the court, drive-and-kick offense and frantic, ball-pressure, we're-getting-every-rebound-even-though-we-are-all-midgets defense, Greg Paulus was still a plodding, turnover-prone, wobbly-ankled bitch. The reality was, though, he hasn't been that bad this season. His turnovers are way down, from over three per game his first two seasons to just 1.5 this year. He shot well from three last year, but is on pace to surpass even that total, while still shooting 42.5 percent. But that got him nothing. People remember him being embarrassed by Eric Maynor in the NCAAs last year (not that particular play), they saw the, ahem, liberal interpretation of a Florida State elbow earlier in the season, they saw this. And, more importantly, they saw that mopey face.
Now, it's no mystery in basketball that a lot of white people like to cheer for white players. I mean, the entire NBA season ticket structure is based on this dynamic. It tends to be more prevalent in middle-aged fans because they came from a time where white players were a lot more common. Or something. I don't know, I have a poster of Allen Iverson on my wall so I'm not really the best source for this. Basically, in most situations, people can relate to a familiar face and as a result, cheer for them. But, when you look at Duke and the hatred for those guys, you realize there's a bit of a twist to that. They might physically look like you, but they aren't a familiar face. Tyler Hansbrough might be. He's the guy down the street always in the driveway working on jump hooks. He could be your friend. JJ Redick is the asshole that dates your sister, cheats on her behind her back and then drops 40 the next day. He's not your friend. And Greg Paulus, well he's the guy you picked on in high school. Look at him. You wouldn't be caught dead hanging out with this guy. Even though he was a star athlete in high school, you didn't know him in high school. No matter what, he looks like the dweeb with asthma that couldn't dribble in gym class and when he steps on the court you treat him like that (it doesn't help that he sometimes plays like the dweeb with asthma that couldn't dribble in gym class). Greg Paulus is the Eli Manning of basketball.
Just like Eli had to follow in Peyton's giant footsteps, look at the Duke point guards of the past. All hated players, by the way. Bobby Hurley; Chris Collins; Steve Wojciechowski; Jeff Capel; Jason Williams; Chris Duhon. All of them either got NBA contracts or great coaching gigs. And as much as they were hated, they didn't back down and succeeded right in their face. It's probably safe to say, Greg Paulus will not be in the NBA and I don't think he'll be a coach. Finally we have someone who we can berate and he'll fail every time! I mean, his back-up, freshman Nolan Smith is even better than him.
That brings us to last night. With Duke down nine at half at home to a miserable NC State team, they needed someone to spark them. It hadn't been Gerald Henderson (who is suddenly really freaking good by the way), it hadn't been DeMarcus Nelson, hadn't been Kyle Singler. Then, out of nowhere, like a scene straight out Revenge of the Nerds, Paulus took over. He found Singler for a three, then hit two of his own back-to-back. A few plays later he knocked down another one, then blew the lid off the place with, perhaps the key play of Greg Paulus' entire career, a fancy, behind-the-head pass to Singler for a dunk. All of a sudden Greg Paulus had swagger (look at that picture above; I swear it's real). He finished with a season-high 22 points, five threes, three steals and six assists with, wait for it... zero turnovers. Duke won by 20. And perhaps most notably, he was jumping around the court, slapping the floor, enjoying the crowd. It was like two and a half years of being hated on and unable to prove the haters wrong had finally ended it one loud, asthmatic exultation. It was a catharsis. After the game the NC State players credited his pressure defense. Gavin Grant said he was trash-talking and throwing elbows! Greg Paulus! He used to ask permission before fouling someone! And like Eli Manning in the playoffs, Paulus showed some confidence. The kind of confidence that makes you think, "Hey, if we keep picking on this kid, he might just succeed in spite of us like all the other guys did." Before, for both of those guys, when fans saw their mopey faces after a turnover or bad play, they saw blood. The pipsqueak is starting to feel the heat. Not anymore.
Paulus is going to feel more heat than he could ever dream of when the Dukies head to Chapel Hill Wednesday. And like I am already, the UNC fans might want to prepare for a world where the Greg Paulus, the nerd, suddenly wants to fight back.