From the look on his face, Earl Duncan knew what the next question was going to be. Since signing his letter of intent to attend Syracuse next fall, the St. Monica standout point guard has been drowned in a sea of questions concerning his similarities to flashy Orangemen guard Pearl Washington.
This time, Duncan was ready for it. Even before he was asked, Duncan, who was called a "Pearl Washington clone" in Basketball Times magazine, gave his answer. Loud and clear:
"I know when I signed everybody was comparing me to Pearl Washington, but I don't. I don't need that. I think Pearl is a great player and a great person, but I don't see myself as Pearl. I see myself as Earl."
Duncan and Washington may look, act and dribble alike on the basketball court, even have the same nickname.
But Duncan makes it clear they are two different basketball players.
He Can't Wait
Besides, Duncan, St. Monica's most celebrated basketball player since Leon Wood, still has to finish this season with the Mariners.
And he can't wait. The flamboyant Duncan is excited about going to Syracuse, especially about playing in the 30,000-seat Carrier Dome.
"I think it's a great place and a great situation for me to step right in and be a factor," said the 6-3, 195-pound Duncan. "The opportunity for me to step into a program and contribute, while continuing my education, was definitely a factor."
Duncan isn't the only one happy with his decision. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim also "couldn't be happier," he said in a telephone interview. "Earl is an exceptional point guard who can handle and pass the ball. And he can shoot."
There is little doubt about that. Duncan averaged 27 points a game as an All-CIF and All-Westside selection last year. He is averaging 25 this season.
Impressed by His Shooting
"There are a lot of point guards that can handle and pass the ball real well, but to be a good point guard you have to shoot very well," Boeheim said. "So far, we're impressed with the way he shoots."
At Syracuse, Duncan will also play with Steve Thompson of Crenshaw High, a highly respected guard who will attend Syracuse next season.
"I look forward to playing with Steve," Duncan said. "I feel I can complement his game because I can get him the ball in positions where he's effective."
It may be Duncan's natural talents that make him the choice of so many colleges, but it's his self-assured style on the court that makes him a crowd favorite. His charismatic play, from constant head fakes to sparkling ball handling, are products of hard work and a keen eye for inventive styles of play.
"I look at Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, these great point guards, and take a little bit from what they do that are effective in the game and add it to my game," he said.
'Just My Style'
Duncan's play might seem too flashy to some, but to him, it's just natural.
"That's just my style. I've been playing that way ever since I was young. There's no way I can change that now.
"When people say I'm flamboyant or fancy, I don't find myself to be that way. I look at it as though I'm helping the team by doing something that's going to lead to a basket."
Boeheim understands; he has been dealing with Washington's flair for three years.
"Flashiness is sometimes in the eye of the beholder," said Boeheim. "Players like Duncan and Pearl do things that are flashy, but they are done not for the sake of flashiness, they are done to be productive."
This is the first season Duncan has played point guard at St. Monica.
'Total Team Ballplayer'
"Earl has all the attributes of a point guard," said St. Monica Coach Leo Klemm. "He has exceptional quickness, sees the floor well and is very strong. He just a total team ballplayer."
But Duncan wasn't always that way. In the summer before his junior year, Klemm kicked Duncan off the squad for being "a selfish player."
"I kicked him off the team and told him to go to another high school," said Klemm, who is now hesitant to talk about the move. "He wasn't playing a complete game. He needed to make some adjustments in his game to play."
It didn't take long for Duncan to realize his faults. In the fall, he was back on the team.
"I needed that to be thrown in my face," he said."It made me sit down and figure out what I needed to do to change my life. It was eye-opening. It made me open up and see what goes on in the real world."
Duncan is now a changed ballplayer, Klemm said.
'Very Selfless' Now
"I don't like to use too many superlatives, but you won't find too many ballplayers any better," Klemm said. "Now Earl's a very selfless, strong, complete kid. I'm very proud of Earl right now."
As point guard, Duncan's goal this year is to incorporate other players into the Mariner offensive system, instead of trying to do it all himself.
"I like helping other players improve their game. We may have some players that aren't the greatest, but I hope to help them out in any way I can. I want to get everyone involved in the offense."