Goldsbor's McDuffie Boys Player of the Year
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 23, 2008 2:05 AM
His smile can light up a room and his floor presence commands the attention of his teammates.
He's 100 percent confident but well short of cocky.
With the late arrival of new head coach Tod Morgan and the loss of several key players, Goldsboro's Keovanta McDuffie knew the 2007-08 season was the time to elevate his game.
The 6-foot-1 junior guard responded by averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds per game to help guide the Cougars (17-12) to a second-place finish in the Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and a berth in the state sectional semifinals.
In his second full season on the varsity level McDuffie's performance earned him 2007-08 News-Argus All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors.
"I just wanted everybody to play hard and everybody come out and give it 110 percent," said McDuffie, an EPC first-team, all-conference pick. "If my teammates will play, it will be all good because I come to play every game."
A multi-faceted scorer with the ability to beat a defender off the dribble or pull up for a mid-range jump shot, McDuffie was one of the toughest defensive assignments in the area.
He proved it at Tarboro.
The Cougars had started EPC play 3-0, but quickly fell into a slump. McDuffie admitted his jumper wasn't there during warm-ups and he didn't feel particularly well prior to tip-off.
One flick of the wrist changed McDuffie's concerns. He drilled the Viking defense for a career-high 46 points, the best single-game effort recorded by an area player this season.
"My mindset that game was play just good enough to win," McDuffie said. "My shots weren't falling during warm-ups. I got comfortable after I made my first shot and I just kept shooting and it kept falling. The defense ... they had no answer."
A relentless defender and a developing verbal leader who picks his moments to speak, McDuffie possess the intangibles his teammates deemed worthy of captain's status.
His willingness to take a charge, rotate to the weak side defensively, feed an open teammate or set a screen allowed him to play with the unselfishness of a role player. McDuffie's abilities caught Morgan's eye in one of the Cougar's first pre-season workouts.
"The thing a lot of people don't realize about Keovanta is he is a high-energy guy on both ends of the floor," Morgan said. "One of the first open gyms we had I saw Keovanta play and he was just all over the place. He draws charges and blocks shots from the weak side.
"The only challenge I thought would be to get him to play within the team concept. But once you get to know him he's not selfish at all."
A willing learner, McDuffie was never one to question a first-year head coach who admits he's not the easiest to play for. McDuffie was the first to encourage his teammates in the midst of demanding practices and never hesitant to apply Morgan's instruction.
"We work hard in practice and sometimes the guys can get tired and start to wear down a little bit," Morgan said. "Keovanta is always there to encourage them and pick them up. I'm not the easiest guy to play for, but Keovanta and I never butted heads.
"With Keovanta you could just put a little bug in his ear and he does the rest."
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