Friday, February 19, 2010

Zoubek finally making an impact

DURHAM - Brian Zoubek, Duke's often-criticized 7-foot-1 senior center, said he's in better shape than ever.

He's more mature and playing smarter.

There's no arguing with the results as Zoubek has moved into a key role with No. 6-ranked Duke (22-4, 10-2 ACC) playing host to Virginia Tech (21-4, 8-3) in an important ACC game at 7:45 p.m. Sunday. For the second time in his career, Zoubek has scored at least 10 points in back-to-back games.

He grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds to go with 16 points Feb. 13 against Maryland. At Miami on Wednesday, Zoubek scored 10 points and had a career-high five steals.

"It's the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of pain and a lot of struggle," Zoubek said Friday afternoon during a Duke media availability. "A lot of criticism has been out there, and it's just been amazing to be able to string a couple of really good games together.

"I'm getting to start now, and we're making a really good run at it, and the best thing for me is, we haven't won the regular season [in the ACC] in my four years here, and to have a chance to do that, that's the best thing for me."

For most of Zoubek's career, he hasn't played a significant role. Foot injuries slowed him as a sophomore and junior. Even early in his senior season, he saw his minutes cut short at times because of foul trouble when he was otherwise playing well.

But he has started the last two games, setting a career high with 22 minutes against Maryland and then topping it with 29 minutes at Miami.

"I feel great," Zoubek said. "I think that I'm a lot more poised out there. I'm not rushing to do everything. I'm just playing with a lot of confidence, especially on the offensive end a lot more. I feel really good. I'm just glad to be out there on the court a lot."

Zoubek was the subject of some teasing Wednesday night, when a fan at Miami held up a sign asking him to marry her. Apparently TV cameras captured her holding the sign upside down, and some of Zoubek's friends sent him text messages letting him know about it.

For the record, though, Zoubek already has a girlfriend, whom teammate Kyle Singler said is "hot." Singler sounds like he appreciates Zoubek almost as much as his girlfriend.

"He just does so much for us that goes unnoticed," Singler said.

Finally, though, people are starting to notice. And Zoubek is enjoying every minute.

Ken Tysiac