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Despite doubters, Boise State’s Nick Duncan thrives

The Broncos senior is motivated by his critics

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

When Nick Duncan steps on the court, he knows what’s coming. It’s only a matter of time until the boos and insults begin.

He looks forward to it.

A student section in any given college basketball arena can be a passionate, nasty, unbridled bunch. Fueled by school spirit, mob mentality and perhaps some liquid courage, student sections harbor screaming insults and ad-hominem hollers meant to get in the heads of the opposing players.

But when Boise State comes to town, fans would be wise to refrain from their usual habits. Duncan welcomes the noise.

“I love it,” said Duncan, the 6’8 senior from Sydney, Australia. “I love the motivation that it gives me and the enthusiasm to go out there and get that win.”

Weighing in at 265 pounds, Duncan’s frame contrasts with that of many of his slender teammates. His build makes him a common target when he steps on the hardwood. Duncan expects the crowd’s jeers.

“I take it, cop it on the chin,” he said. “I know it’s coming and I can’t wait for it.”

“I’m sure a lot of people probably think ‘If he’s out there I could probably go out there and do it too.’ But once I hit some threes or do some good things out there, it probably catches them by surprise a little bit,” Duncan said.

Negative crowd interactions have become commonplace, but Duncan doesn’t mind. He said that he plays better when the crowd treats him negatively. In a near-upset victory over Oregon this year, Duncan drained three triples in a row. That’s when the boos began. The fans would boo every time he touched the ball.

While the jeers motivate him, Duncan is human, and sometimes his emotions can get the best of him. During a game against Utah State, the fans were relentless. Duncan told CBS Sports that 10,000 people in the crowd were yelling “Duncan Doughnuts! Duncan Doughnuts!” - a rude acknowledgment of his sturdy frame. Duncan responded with an impolite gesture to the crowd after scoring 18 points in an 83-80 victory.

“I let out too much emotion which was probably the wrong thing to do,” Duncan said.

NCAA Basketball: Boise State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

A world away

If you were to drill a hole in Boise, Idaho, to the center of the earth and out the other side of the world, you would end up in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia. On the southeast coast of this island continent, a world away from the snowy climes of Idaho, sits Sydney, Duncan’s hometown.

In his youth, Duncan lived near the Golden Beach of Sydney, and rather than spending time on the hardwood, he focused on swimming. It wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school that he decided to shift his focus to the sport he plays today. In a country where rugby and cricket are more common, Duncan chose basketball.

“I never looked back,” he said.

Australia touts a strong pedigree of NBA Players: pros like Matthew Dellavedova, Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, and Dante Exum, to name a few. The fraternity of Australian hoopers is strong. And it is due to this bond between countrymen that Duncan found his way across the world.

Since his time playing in Sydney, Duncan was in contact with Boise State assistant coach and fellow Aussie John Rillie. Rillie played at Gonzaga in the 90s, and went on to have a 15-year career in the Australian National Basketball League. When it came time for Duncan to decide where to play in college, Boise State was a clear choice.

“Boise State is just perfect for me,” Duncan said. “Being able to adapt to life over here is just a lot easier than I thought it would be, I just fell in love on my visit.”

Duncan said he recognized the success of previous Broncos from down under like Igor “Iggy” Hadziomerovic and Anthony Drmic, both of whom are still playing professionally today. Duncan has similar aspirations. He plans on playing basketball professionally back home in Australia next year. If he is unable to do so, Duncan, who is pursuing a double major in finance and accounting, hopes to get a job in the finance industry.

On the court

Duncan is impressive in his versatility. He Averages 10.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. While Duncan is perhaps most well-known for his shooting beyond the arc, averaging almost 2.5 threes per game, he is also strong in the post and is a solid passer. Duncan said that he looked up to players like Kevin Love and Marc Gasol, and it’s evident in the way he plays the game.

Exceeding low expectations

Last April, after a 20-12 season in which Duncan said the team “underachieved,” the Boise State men’s basketball team had a meeting to decide goals for the following year. Their goals were three.

  1. Win the conference regular season
  2. Win the conference tournament
  3. Make the Sweet Sixteen

This years’ team is mainly made up of freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of one junior and two seniors. As one of the two seniors, Duncan has stepped into a leadership role, focusing on setting an example for, and motivating the younger players.

“We come in every day with a chip on our shoulder: motivation from everyone thinking that we’re not going to do very well, that it’s going to be a rebuilding year,” Duncan said.

Up against low expectations and a lack of experience, the Broncos have put themselves in the thick of the MWC race. Despite losing the past two games, Boise State is 4-2 in league play and owns an impressive non-conference win over SMU.

Behind Duncan’s leadership and confidence, the Broncos are on the way to meeting their goals. His resilience is representative of the team, and despite the criticism, he and the team power forward.

“I just try to turn it around and make it a positive,” he said. “[I] go out there and just play as hard as I can and prove them wrong.”