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Five key players who must step up in '02-03

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

July 11
How do elite programs like Duke, Maryland, Cincinnati and Indiana maintain their excellence year after year? One reason: Former role players step up as stars, replacing PTPers who have graduated or left early for the NBA.

Chris Duhon
For Duke to celebrate this season, Chris Duhon (21) must step up his game.
These four schools and Missouri, a program on the rise, each have a representative on my All-Step It Up Team -- also known as the All-Gregory Hines Team. These five players had better dance their best dance if their teams are to get to the winner's circle this season. Members of this group are no longer role players. They will be called upon to excel in every game and to handle pressure with class.

Let's look at five key guys who must step it up if their teams are to enjoy continued success in 2002-03 (listed in alphabetical order, with key '01-02 stats in parentheses):

Guard Chris Duhon, Duke (8.9 ppg, 5.9 apg, 2.3 spg)
Duke needs Duhon to be a star this season.

I can sense people getting nervous at Duke, wondering what will happen to the Blue Devils now that Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. are NBA-bound after leaving school early.

This reminds me of when Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and William Avery left early after the 1998-99 season. That Duke team lost to Connecticut in the '99 championship game, and there were experts who predicted gloom and doom for the following season (or perhaps a mere top-25 finish).

Instead, Williams, Dunleavy and Boozer came in as freshmen to complement Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier, giving coach Mike Krzyzewski a squad that went 15-1 in the ACC (29-5 overall) and held the nation's No. 1 ranking for much of the 1999-2000 season.

Duke will welcome six quality freshmen this season, led by diaper dandy Shavlik Randolph. But the player who must make the biggest jump is Duhon. He will get his chance to star, not only handling the rock and defending but also putting points on the board. Duhon has that kind of talent -- just ask Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has coached him in international competition.

Forward Tahj Holden, Maryland (5.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.9 bpg)
The national champion Terps lost Juan Dixon, their all-time leading scorer, and big man Lonny Baxter to graduation, while super soph Chris Wilcox left early for the NBA. But with Steve Blake at the controls and Holden ready to step up, Maryland can surprise some people.

The Terps' fortunes will depend on Holden. He will have his chance, with loads of playing time as the No. 1 option inside. The versatile Holden has inside-outside ability, and coach Gary Williams needs him to be a consistent performer instead of a hit-and-miss player.

Forward Jason Maxiell, Cincinnati (8.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
Cincinnati coach Bobby Huggins finds a way to get talent out of Texas. He got Kenyon Martin from the Lone Star State, and now Maxiell is ready to step up to a star role.

Martin was special, and Maxiell will be a super soph after posting some special moments as a diaper dandy. He has long arms, shot-blocking ability and explosiveness -- the total package to be a special Bearcat.

Forward Jeff Newton, Indiana (8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
Now that Jared Jeffries has moved on to the NBA, it's time for Newton to step up as a big-time interior threat for Indiana. He must give coach Mike Davis' Hoosiers some offensive firepower and consistent rebounding. It's up to him -- he certainly has the talent. Potential is great early in your career, but the time has come for him to be a warrior day in and day out.

Guard Rickey Paulding, Missouri (11.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Kareem Rush has moved on to the NBA, and Clarence Gilbert has completed his collegiate career at Missouri. Paulding showed some flashes of brilliance during the NCAA Tournament.

It's time for Paulding to show his athletic ability and explosiveness. He can build on the end of last season, taking that momentum one step further.

Paulding needs to show the strut and glide of a star. He has to become a consistent performer night in and night out. Paulding must knock down the trifecta and get out on the fast break in transition while making the big play on defense.

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