Carlos Boozer sauntered down Front Street, ducked under a low-hanging sign with his 6-foot-9 inch frame, and mused about life as a big-time college basketball player at Duke University.
``At Duke, you're in a system that's bigger than yourself,'' said Boozer, who begins his sophomore season with the Blue Devils this fall. ``In high school, I was the go-to guy. At Duke, there are four, five, six guys that are the go-to guy.''
Boozer, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who led the Crimson Bears to two Class 4A state basketball titles, is in town this week visiting friends and staying with Juneau coach George Houston. His parents Carlos Sr. and Renee last month moved to Raleigh, N.C. - just 25 minutes from Duke - but Boozer said he'll always have a soft spot for Juneau.
``I'm always going to come back,'' Boozer said. ``This is my home. I'm going to make time to come back. It's beautiful here. There are great people here.''
Boozer was busy last year. His Blue Devils lost in the Sweet 16 to Florida in March, then Boozer began practicing for the U.S. Junior National Team in May. After surviving the first cut, Boozer found out in July that he didn't make the final squad. Boozer said every player goes through challenges that test one's confidence.
``I wasn't in the best of shape, so my first reaction was to get in shape. That's what I've been doing here.''
And he's been relaxing. After a summer of running with the Duke track coach, and lifting weights six times a day with a strength coach, Boozer said it was nice to chill out in Juneau.
``Here it's easy to relax, visit people, get your focus back,'' Boozer said.
That won't last for long. Boozer leaves town soon for the Pete Newell Big Man Camp in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 14-18. Newell is a basketball legend, Houston said, having coached in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Newell, a former general manager with the Los Angeles Lakers, is renowned for his ability to bring the best out of big players.
``He's big on footwork, basic fundamentals,'' Houston said. ``Shaq, Shawn Kemp, Jerome Kersey - they've all been there. I'm really interested to talk to 'Los after that.''
After the camp, pre-season conditioning begins Aug. 28 and school starts Aug. 30.
Houston said expectations will be high for Boozer this year after a standout freshman season.
``This year is going to be tough on him,'' Houston said. ``(Duke is) likely to be ranked in the preseason poll number one or number two.''
Boozer showed flashes last season of the dominance he wowed Southeast crowds with in high school. Boozer played little in Duke's two season-opening losses as he recovered from a broken foot. But after he became the starting center, the Blue Devils won 29 of their next 32 games. He was selected to the Associated Press ACC All-Freshman team and was named Second Team All-ACC Tournament. In 34 games, including 30 starts, Boozer averaged 13 points per game and 6.3 rebounds.
``My role is to be the best player I can be to help my team win,'' Boozer said. ``If they need me to rebound, block shots, be a post presence, whatever, my main objective is winning. In high school my role was to score, but we've got a lot of people who can score. Stats don't mean anything to us, as long as we get the W.''
Boozer was non-committal when asked if he'd thought about entering the NBA Draft before graduating. He indicated that it's been brought up, and the thought has surely crossed his mind, but he said staying in college would benefit him more as a player.
``The longer you stay, the better you'll get,'' Boozer said. ``From that standpoint you'll be the best player you can be if you stay.''
Boozer added he's got a chance to be part of something great.
``Our goal is to win a national championship,'' Boozer said. ``I know players always say that, but this year we've got a chance to be a great team.''