Ex-Duke star Greg Paulus demonstrates familiar intensity as Navy assistant basketball coach
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 1:17 AM
Almost like clockwork, the young assistant pokes his head into the Naval Academy head basketball coach's office each day in Ricketts Hall.
"Coach, you need anything?" he asks.
Billy Lange, in his seventh year as head coach of the Navy men's team, surveys his young apprentice and offers the same response every time. "Yeah, can you get another year of eligibility?"
Greg Paulus laughs it off. After four years of playing basketball at Duke and one year of playing football at Syracuse, Paulus's playing days are finished. He is now nearing the end of his first season as an assistant on Lange's staff, a crash-course in the coaching side of college basketball that Paulus says he has long dreamed about.
Only 24 years old, Paulus could likely be earning a paycheck playing basketball overseas. After all, he led the Blue Devils in assists for three straight seasons and helped Duke reach the NCAA tournament all four years he played there. But he always knew that his future was on the sidelines. When college coaches recruited him out of high school, everyone from Mike Krzyzewski to Roy Williams to Jim Boeheim asked him about his plans after school.
"I told everyone that recruited me the same thing," Paulus said. "I knew I wanted to coach. I've known that my whole life."
Paulus played quarterback for the Orangemen in 2010, while he finished his masters degree in communication. Following the season, he attended two minicamps with the New Orleans Saints and interned with foxsports.com. He spent the entire spring, though, working the telephones, letting the college basketball world know that he was looking for a job to kickstart his career.
"I was trying to make an opportunity for myself," Paulus said, "whether it was going to games, practices, communicating with coaches, anything I could do."
Paulus had close friends already at Navy, and he'd previously met Navy assistant Jason Crafton. At last year's men's Final Four in Indianapolis, Crafton introduced Paulus to Lange, and the two - both passionate and excitable - hit it off. Lange invited Paulus to Annapolis to help at a Navy basketball camp.
Last summer, Navy suddenly had a staff opening when an assistant coach, Joe Burke, accepted the head coaching job at Skidmore College. In Paulus, Lange saw the very attributes he tries to instill into his players and made what he felt was an easy hire.
"Greg wasn't blessed with the natural gift and athletic ability that a lot of guys might have," Lange said. "To get to that point, it took hard work, lot of a character, lot of spirit. We don't get a lot of finished products here. We need a guy who understands how hard you have to work to develop into a better basketball player."
Paulus attacked the position with the same intensity with which he's approached everything. At Duke, he not only fought his way into the starting lineup as a freshman; he became one of just four players in ACC history to lead the league in assists as a freshman. Less than four years later, he walked onto the Syracuse campus and learned an offense in just a few weeks that his teammates had spent years studying. So it's probably no surprise that in Annapolis, he's often the one turning on the lights in the morning and flipping them off at night.