The image of a basketball player brings to mind several characteristics. And Troy Dueker has very few of them.
He is neither tall, lean nor particularly nimble. A hotshot? Not quite. Last season he shot 38.6%. Yet for three seasons Dueker has been a starter in the Cal State Northridge backcourt. A logical question is, why?
The answer becomes apparent after watching him in a few games.
Dueker, a 6-0 point guard, plays basketball as if it was designed as a contact sport.
He dives and slides for loose balls, wrestles for rebounds and sets one of the nastier 175-pound screens in Division II.
Simply stated, he is a working-class player. A faithful plow horse among thoroughbreds.
"You have to watch him every day and every game and see what he does to appreciate him," Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy said. "He's always seeking a little opportunity to help the team. With him, it's always 'What more can I do that's a little bit extra?' "
Dueker's work ethic has made him a coach's favorite. Cassidy makes no effort to conceal his affection for the crew-cut, blond-haired dynamo.
"I don't think I've ever had a player who worked harder to be as good as he could be," said Northridge's coach of 16 years. "When you have a player who works as hard as he has you really relish in their successes. There is a special place for them."
Dueker is the son of a former basketball coach, but he is a coach's player in more than just that sense. "Coaches know the dedication that kids like Troy Dueker give to the game and the team," Cassidy said. "The common man sees the stars. He doesn't see all the little things that a Troy Dueker can do for a team--the things his coaches and his teammates can appreciate."
The average fan might not consider Dueker a delight to watch, but he certainly should be able to relate to him. Dueker is of average size and has average speed and jumping ability.
"I guess you could say he has the average, common man's ability, but he just works so hard, that's probably the reason it shows on the court," said CSUN forward Pat Bolden, a teammate of Dueker's for the past eight years.
And as much as his intangibles are evident on the court, they are equally apparent in the performances of his teammates.
Dueker constantly attacks the defense, dishing off to the open man when the opportunity presents itself. He is the pilot at the controls of Northridge's crisp half-court game.
"I think I've always known that if I was going to do well, I was going to have to do different things," Dueker said. "I would have to be the one who could control the game tempo-wise, be the smart one who knew whatever was going on out there and the one who was willing to get dirty and get the floor burns."
It always has been this way for Dueker, and not only in basketball. He was a three-year, three-sport varsity letterman at L. A. Lutheran High in Mission Hills. He was the quarterback and a safety in football and a catcher and second baseman for the baseball team. He was known as an athlete who got the most out of his ability.
Coached by his father, Bob, in basketball, Dueker led the state in assists as a senior, was most valuable player in the Alpha League and led Lutheran to the Southern Section 1-A Division title.
Dueker said his dedication was his own doing, not forced by his father.
"My dad never pressured me," he said. "I was the one always signing myself up for leagues as a little kid to play ball at the parks. I never had a hoop up in my front yard. It was always, 'If you want to play, you go to the park.' He probably only saw three or four of my games before I got to high school.
"If it was important to him, you couldn't tell. There was never any pressure or questions like 'How many points did you score? How many assists did you have?' "
In high school, Dueker quickly proved he belonged in the starting lineup, although he admits that "it was probably easier since I was the passer. It wasn't like the coach's son was the guy with the green light to shoot."
Dueker had a couple of scholarship offers by the time he left Lutheran, but most of them were for football. Cal Lutheran was among the schools showing interest. His best sport was probably baseball, but he chose to play basketball.
"I think it's the best game in the world," Dueker said. "It's not like football when you have a 30-second huddle and three seconds of playing and in baseball where you go four games without the ball getting hit to you. The best athletes are playing this. I just decided this is the one I wanted to do and if I got the chance to do it then I'd grab it and go play."
Dueker saw limited action as a freshman, playing in only 13 games and attempting eight shots, but he became a starter as a sophomore and shot 46.4% and led the team with 122 assists.
Last season was a struggle, however, and by the time the season ended his playing time had significantly diminished. So had his confidence in his shot.
So he did what any basketball junkie would do--he spent long hours in the gym during the off-season practicing.
The work appears to have paid off. Dueker has made 20 of 32 attempts this season and is 15 of 20 in the past four games. Against UC Davis, he hit a 15-foot jumper with 24 seconds left to give the Matadors a 66-65 victory.
But they'll probably never call him Cool Hand Duke. The play was designed for someone else, but the defense was sagging back--almost daring him to put it up. Such a ploy would have worked last year.
"I'm glad I made it," he said afterward. "It'll make the bus trip home at lot better."
Bolden put it another way: "A heckuva shot by the common man."