DURHAM, N.C. -- As workmen fixed a light above the court and television crews set up their cameras for interviews, Steve Wojciechowski was out early for shooting practice one recent afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Shoot, miss, grimace.
Shoot, miss, grimace.
Finally, the Duke freshman found his stroke, and the ball kept hitting the bottom of the net. Three, four, five times in a row, as a student manager threw it back to Wojciechowski and he worked his way around the three-point arc. Swish.
If only things were that easy for Wojciechowski and the Blue Devils. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound point guard from Baltimore and his team are going through some major adjustments these days. It's hard to say who's having a more difficult time.
Is it Wojciechowski, making the transition to the Atlantic Coast Conference after a storied career at Cardinal Gibbons? Or is it Duke, loser of four straight league games for the first time since 1984 and unranked for the first time since 1986 while playing without its head coach and with three freshmen in the regular rotation?
"The basketball in the ACC is at such a high level," Wojciechowski said last week.
"It's such a huge step from high school. And the people down here are so much more into basketball. It's almost like a religion. It takes time to get used to it. Every day, you learn a new thing about playing on the college level, about what it means playing at Duke."
When practice began last October, Wojciechowski was getting used to competing for playing time against sophomore Jeff Capel, who helped the Blue Devils reach the NCAA championship game last season, as well as against the most highly touted of this season's recruiting class, Trajan Langdon.
After a slow start, Wojciechow- ski eventually pushed Capel to shooting guard and moved ahead of Langdon, too. Inserted in the team's starting lineup after two games, Wojciechowski has averaged 6.3 points and 4.5 assists while playing more than 26 minutes a game.
"It was a gradual process," said Wojciechowski, who as a senior at Gibbons was a McDonald's All-American and The Baltimore Sun's Male Athlete of the Year. "Every day, I got better. Every day, I got more confident to the point where I did a pretty good job of running the team and making the team better when I was on the court."
Wojciechowski had one significant edge on the other Duke guards: He was the team's only natural point guard.
And, after a season when senior All-American Grant Hill took the pressure off Capel by handling much of those responsibilities, the Duke coaches wanted to go back to someone whose main focus was passing.
Said assistant coach Mike Brey: "To have someone with point guard skills, well, he stuck out like a sore thumb, but in a good way. He's the only guy we have right now who can run the team the way we want."
There are some who believe that Wojciechowski has stuck out recently -- and for not all the right reasons.
Defensively, Wojciechowski has been overmatched by two of the ACC's top guards, Travis Best of Georgia Tech and Cory Alexander of Virginia, as well at times by Clemson's Merl Code. Offensively, he's just not that much of a threat.
"I still need to penetrate more and get some guys layups," said Wojciechowski, who's shooting 38 percent from the field overall and 30.4 percent in the ACC. "One of the real important things is for me to get experience in big games."
Then again, the same things were being said about -- and by -- another Duke point guard when he was a freshman.
Back in 1989, many thought that an undersized, seemingly undernourished player from Jersey City, N.J., was overrated and possibly in over his head. But all Bobby Hurley did was lead the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances and help them win back-to-back national championships.
"I think it would be unfair to compare anybody to Bobby," said Brey. "But Stevie is a better shooter than Bobby was at this age, and he plays more under control."
Brey and the other Duke coaches have been quick to compare Wojciechowski's style to that of former N.C. State point guard Chris Corchiani because of their tenacity and penchant for chasing down loose balls without regard for their health.
For his part, Wojciechowski has tried to avoid any comparisons with Hurley. That Hurley has been gone more than a year has helped allow Wojciechowski to become just another freshman, not the immediate successor to one of the best point guards to play in the ACC.
"I don't see myself as a guy replacing Bobby Hurley," said Wojciechowski. "I shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence, because I haven't done anything yet. I don't see myself as Duke's savior or anything. I just want to help the team win, help the team keep its long-standing tradition.
"I'm sure Duke fans will remember Bobby Hurley and what he did for a long time. But I can't worry about the past. I have to think about what's going on now."
What's going on now is the most depressing stretch of games at Duke since coach Mike Krzyzewski took over 15 years ago. With Krzyzewski sidelined indefinitely because of complications from back surgery last October, with the Blue Devils the only team in the ACC not to have won a game (they face N.C. State tomorrow at home), the pressure seems to be mounting rather than easing.
But that's nothing new for Wojciechowski. He's felt it ever since the day he signed at Duke and heard others, including "some opposing ACC coaches," he said, bad-mouth his decision. There was recently a story in a Raleigh, N.C., newspaper laying blame for the Blue Devils' struggles with their backcourt.
"If I had listened to all the people who told me things like that over the years, I would never have gotten this far," said Wojciechowski.
Opponent ....... Pts .. Reb .. Ast
Brown .............. 5 .... 3 .... 4
Northeastern ....... 7 .... 1 .... 7
Connecticut ........ 9 .... 2 .... 3
Illinois ........... 9 .... 3 .... 5
G. Washington ...... 3 .... 2 .... 6
Michigan ........... 4 .... 1 .... 3
N.C. A&T; ........... 7 .... 2 .... 3
Iowa .............. 11 .... 1 .... 3
Boston U. .......... 6 .... 1 .... 5
Georgia Tech ....... 6 .... 1 .... 6
S.C. State ......... 4 .... 3 .... 3
Clemson ........... 12 .... 2 .... 5
Georgia Tech ....... 3 .... 0 .... 4
Wake Forest ........ 0 .... 5 .... 3
Virginia ........... 8 .... 1 .... 7
Totals ........... 6.3 .. 1.9 .. 4.5