EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Gerald Henderson and Brian Zoubek insist they made the right decision to leave the area and rest their basketball fortunes with Duke University.
Now juniors, both departed the area as high school hotshots with high hopes for college success. But neither has reached his expected level, mostly because of injuries.
Fortunately for the pair, they are regaining their health and confidence and are looking to step up their game to the level they displayed when they were dominant figures on the Philadelphia area scholastic scene.
Henderson was a McDonald's all-American from Episcopal Academy. Zoubek led Haddonfield to three consecutive New Jersey state titles and was named to the 2006 Jordan All-America team.
A 6-foot-4 swingman, Henderson is averaging 11.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 23.7 minutes for the 10-1 Blue Devils. The 7-1 Zoubek is averaging 7.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14.1 minutes. He has started nine games; Henderson, 10.
One game neither started was a 99-56 win over UNC-Asheville on Dec. 17, when coach Mike Krzyzewski used an entirely different starting lineup following Duke's lone loss, an 81-73 defeat at Michigan.
Henderson and Zoubek said they have expected more of themselves, but neither thought that injuries would factor into the situation.
Last February, the righthanded Henderson injured his shooting wrist. After the season, he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament. Despite his ailing wrist, Henderson totaled 39 points in Duke's two NCAA tournament games last season.
"If you get an injury like that, you kind of lose confidence because it's your dominant hand," Henderson said after scoring 19 points in Saturday's 82-64 win over previously unbeaten Xavier at the Izod Center.
Henderson was sidelined about four months after the operation and is still getting his game in sync.
"My feeling is there is still a little bit of transition," Krzyzewski said about Henderson's recovery from the injury.
Krzyzewski said he realizes how important Henderson is to the team. With an explosive first step, Henderson separates himself from the rest of his teammates with his offensive creativity.
"G can get his own shot and is the only guy on our team who can do that," Krzyzewski said, referring to Henderson by his nickname.
Zoubek has a longer injury history. He suffered a broken left foot twice as a sophomore. The first time was in July 2007. It happened again last January, and he missed nine games after that.
After last season, Zoubek had a second operation on the foot in April and wasn't ready to resume basketball until September.
"I'm feeling really good now, still shaking off the rust and getting my confidence back," Zoubek said.
Krzyzewski said the key for Zoubek is to stay healthy for an entire season.
"Last year was the season from hell, so to speak, for him," Krzyzewski said. "He has shown a lot of progress, and, hopefully, he has the chance to stay injury-free the rest of the season."
While the injuries have hindered both players, they insist that choosing Duke was the best decision.
"If I had gone the easy route and gone to a mid-major school, I would have been the man, the guy everybody went to," Zoubek said. "In the end, that isn't the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be part of something, and I am afforded that opportunity here."
Henderson - who regularly keeps up with Wayne Ellington, his old Episcopal Academy teammate now competing down the road at North Carolina - said he couldn't be happier to be a Blue Devil.
"I love the way we play, and it is all I could dream of as a kid and as a high school player," Henderson said. "The fast pace, the intensity we play with, I feel it fits my game in particular, and I love the teammates I have here."
Henderson also enjoys talking X's and O's with his father, Gerald Henderson, the former NBA player best known for his days with the Boston Celtics and now an analyst for Comcast SportsNet.
"He is still very much in the game of basketball and very helpful for me throughout my career," Henderson said of his father.
Both Henderson and Zoubek said the prospect of playing in the pros creeps into their minds but never dominates their thoughts. Returning their games to the previous levels is paramount.
"Obviously, everybody wants to be a pro player after his college career," Henderson said. "What is important is to work on improving, and I'm trying to live in the moment and enjoy the fun I'm having in college."
"I would obviously love to get there, but I'm not really worried about it right now," Zoubek said of a pro career. "I'm worried about developing my game. I know I will have a chance when I come to that point, but I can't be concentrating on that right now."
For now, both players hope the next few months are a springboard to a national championship run. And each is looking to stay on the court and out of the trainer's room.