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Ex-Duke star Greg Paulus demonstrates familiar intensity as Navy assistant basketball coach

Greg Paulus has been a point guard at Duke and a quarterback at Syracuse, but he's always had other aspirations. "I knew I wanted to coach. I've known that my whole life," said Paulus, now an assistant on the Navy men's basketball team.
Greg Paulus has been a point guard at Duke and a quarterback at Syracuse, but he's always had other aspirations. "I knew I wanted to coach. I've known that my whole life," said Paulus, now an assistant on the Navy men's basketball team. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)

"Greg was always a leader and an organizer. Anytime in practices and meetings, he was always a very vocal voice," said Duke associate head coach Chris Collins. "He was always great at getting guys together, organizing drills, organizing our sets. He was very enthusiastic and had a great passion and knowledge for the game.

"So as soon as his playing career was over, I thought he would be a natural for coaching. He loves people; he'll be an excellent recruiter. He'll continue to develop as a coach on the floor, and I think he has a bright future ahead of him."

Working primarily with the guards at Navy, Paulus established an instant rapport with his new players.

"He came here with a lot of credibility," said O.J. Avworo, the Mids' senior point guard. "He's done it. He did it at high level and did it for a hall of fame coach."

While inexperience is rarely something to highlight on a coaching resume, Paulus's young age attracted players to him.

"Greg is still at level where he's a coach but he's barely removed from playing," Avworo said. "I can talk point guard to point guard. He knows what I'm going through out there, and maybe some other coaches are focusing more on the big picture."

Paulus relates his experiences, tells his old war stories and can grab a basketball and quickly illustrate his words. Sitting on the bench was never easy as a player - he had lost his starting position during his senior year at Duke - but he insists that he's at ease on the sidelines now.

"I'm not itching to get in there. I'm itching to find a way for our guys to be successful," Paulus said. "I try to coach the way that I played, with the same type of passion. I'm just doing something different with that passion now."

Playing the point guard position - essentially as Krzyzewski's coach on the floor the three seasons he started at Duke - prepared Paulus for many aspects of his new job. But he's also learned that Xs and Os are only a small part of a coach's job. There are meetings and budgets and film and compliance officers and academics and camps and recruiting. Lange has given Paulus a chance to see every aspect of college coaching.

So after a full day at the academy, Paulus will often head straight to a high school gym - sometimes nearby and other times several hours down the road. He'll watch 17-year-old seniors - prep stars not nearly as highly touted as he was - and then spend days and weeks trying to sell them on Navy. The sales pitch isn't like the one Duke gave him. He must tell players that they'll get a good education and fierce Patriot League competition. And then they'll have to serve their country for five years after graduation.

"I can't tell you the amount I've learned in just a short time," Paulus said.

Despite Paulus's age, Lange sees a mature coach who's experiences at both Duke and Syracuse have prepared him for the coaching ranks. Lange was in the stands for Paulus's last game in a Blue Devils uniform, against Villanova in the Sweet 16 round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.

"The fans were just murdering him, just killing him," Lange said. "Not just Villanova fans either. He handled it with so much class and just stayed focused. What we're developing here, he sets such a perfect example."

Because of the Duke pedigree, Paulus says he still gets heckled when Navy is on the road, but he's spent several years fine-tuning his selective hearing.

"To me, it's about the guys on the floor," he said. "It's about our team. They can say whatever they want to me. I'm so accustomed to playing ACC road games and our non-conference schedule. It's really not a bother to me at all."

Navy finished the regular season 11-19 and enters the Patriot League tournament as a No. 5 seed. The Mids open against fourth-seeded Lehigh on Wednesday night in Bethlehem, Pa., and will need to win the tournament in order to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

"He wants to be a head coach someday and this is great place to learn how to be a leader," Avworo said. "Whether you're a midshipman, a professor, coach, you're leading others in an environment where everything revolves around leadership. So, in that sense, I think he's learning a lot from us and we're definitely learning a lot from him."

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