Duke duo pursues talent off the court

HOUSTON -- The smile still stuck on his face after he had finally gotten to the Final Four, Kyle Singler knew he had another job to do.

Earlier this month, Singler designed a T-shirt for his Duke teammates to commemorate their record 17-0 mark at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The shirt featured a shield covered with various images of his teammates in action, the shield representing the Blue Devils' ability to protect their home court.

And now, with a trip to Indianapolis just days away, Singler needs a rush order.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll have to come up with something else," he said.

If anyone has proved to be good under pressure, it's Singler.

With the weight of expectation and angst on a Duke team that hadn't been to the Final Four in six seasons, Singler delivered this year, averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

Widening his game to the perimeter, where he hits 39 percent of his 3-pointers, Singler has become a more difficult matchup and consequently an even bigger threat for Duke.

Singler's talent isn't stretched only on the hardwood.

He and teammate Lance Thomas are equally creative off it.

The two visual arts majors have found a way to marry their two passions, mixing their penchant for art with their love for basketball.

"It's another side of me, a side people don't know about as much, and I kind of like that," Thomas said.

Both Singler and Thomas grew up interested in the arts from a young age. Singler dabbles in painting, preferring landscapes.

During a summer vacation to France, he ducked into a handful of the country's famous museums, taking in the Cezanne and Picasso exhibits at the Granet Museum and, of course, passing time in the Louvre.

Thomas was one of those kids who bypassed traditional stick figures in elementary school and found a talent early. An avid doodler, he's honed his talents and has become a meticulous sketch artist. One of his designs sits on his right biceps -- a complex tattoo of his home state of New Jersey.

But it is in their major that Singler and Thomas have really blossomed. Mixing traditional art with computer graphics, the two have brought a modern edge to their conventional talents.

For his T-shirt, Singler used Adobe Illustrator to change the contrast of photographs of his teammates. The result: a photo montage that had an almost sepia-tone quality to it.

For his capstone -- a thesis-type project required of all seniors -- Thomas designed custom posters for each of his senior classmates. Using Photoshop, he made each one particular to his classmate -- Scheyer's, for example, showed the Chicago skyline in the background.

On senior night, the posters were displayed on the scoreboard as each senior was introduced.

"They're serious about it, they enjoy it, and they have a talent for it," said the duo's adviser, Merrill Shatzman. "I think in a sense, they're these high-profile people on the basketball court, but this grounds them. I think it's really exciting to see them not only have multiple passions, but be able to explore them."

Indeed, both Singler and Thomas admit to welcoming the escape that their art offers.

"It helps clear my mind," Singler said. "It's good to have when you need a break."

Heaven knows he and his Duke teammates have needed the hoops TO this season. Once the kings of March, the Blue Devils have been the masters of crash and burn for six years, failing to move past the Sweet 16 since '04.

At a lot of schools, that wouldn't be so bad.

Not at Duke, where a Final Four used to come prepackaged with a campus map for incoming freshmen.

The Devils broke through the first wall, beating Purdue to reach the Elite Eight. In that game, Singler carried the load, scoring 24 points, including four 3-pointers, a sign of his growing comfort with his changed role this year.

In his first two seasons at Duke, Singler played more under the basket to help give the undersized Blue Devils some heft in the post. It wasn't what he was used to -- out of high school, he was considered one of the top small forwards in the game -- but it was what he had to do.

This year, with the Plumlee brothers plus Brian Zoubek, Singler has been able to drift out to the perimeter more and has become a matchup problem for many opponents.

"I don't think Kyle's completely there as a perimeter player," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's really good, don't get me wrong. He's playing great basketball. But Kyle's got a chance to become very, very good. He's got to be bigger sometimes when he's dribbling the ball. He's got to remember he's 6-8, and sometimes he's 6-2, you know, when he's handling the ball."

Against Baylor, Singler struggled mightily with his worst shooting night -- 0-for-10 from the floor -- but Thomas was among the players who helped make up the difference. The senior, who contentedly scraps for stats, had seven points and, more important, eight critical offensive rebounds to help hold off an athletic Baylor team and get the monkey off the Blue Devils' back.

"We've had a target on our back for about 25 years, since we went to our first Final Four in '86," Krzyzewski said. "So these kids are accustomed to that. For our guys to come along the way they have is unbelievably gratifying for me. I don't want to say this one's better than another or whatever. This [team] is really good."

Good enough to merit a masterpiece.

Better get on that, Mr. Singler.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.