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POINTING TO PAST PRESSURES POINT GUARD SEAN DOCKERY RECALLS TOUGH SITUATIONS FROM HIS NATIVE CHICAGO, WHERE DUKE PLAYS TODAY.

POINTING TO PAST PRESSURES POINT GUARD SEAN DOCKERY RECALLS TOUGH SITUATIONS FROM HIS NATIVE CHICAGO, WHERE DUKE PLAYS TODAY.

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To this day, Sean Dockery still isn't sure exactly why it happened. Maybe it was mistaken identity. Or maybe one of his friends had his hat tilted the wrong way.

Dockery and his buddies were driving away from a party, a day after Dockery had played in the McDonald's All-America basketball game.Suddenly, a gunman opened fire on their car. Bullets whizzed past Dockery, but one of his best friends was struck four times. It was a classic drive-by.

And you think Dockery feels stress playing point guard for Duke?

"Where I'm from, I dealt with pressure every single day," he said. "I dealt with pressure in my neighborhood, walking up and down the street. I don't think there's pressure playing basketball. At all."

Where Dockery is from is Chicago, where Duke will play Valparaiso today (2 p.m., ESPN2), at the United Center. But where the junior point guard is really from is a rough-and-tumble section on the city's South Side.

Before he played in hostile arenas such as Maryland's Comcast Center, Dockery was leading his Julian High School Jaguars into gyms like the one at Hyde Park High School.

"It was crazy," he said. "You had people running on the court, stopping the game. I remember one time I was inbounding the ball and this guy was right in my ear, talking to me. It was kind of scary."

When Dockery wasn't playing indoors, he was proving himself on the blacktops of the South Side, at Ada Park or Blackwelder Park. Or, as Dockery and his friends dubbed it, "Hackwelder Park."

"Guys up there just hack," he said. "If you're playing up there you know you'll come back with some cuts and bruises."

Hard fouls and scraped skin were benign compared with what awaited Dockery in the places between the basketball courts in his neighborhood.

One block was lorded over by the Gangster Disciples. The next was the domain of the Four Corner Hustlers. Yet Dockery managed to gain safe passage, thanks to his basketball skills.

"They knew I was positive and they wanted to see me do good," Dockery said. "Nobody ever forced me into a gang."

For a talented basketball player in the Chicago Public League, doing good meant getting out. And getting out usually meant a scholarship to De Paul or Illinois or maybe some other big state school in the Midwest. But Duke?

"I have no idea why, I was just a Duke fan all my life," Dockery said. "There wasn't a day I'd miss a Duke game. And if I did, I'd tape it and watch it later."

Equally unlikely was the interest Duke showed in Dockery. Until the jet-quick guard from 112th Street and Homewood Avenue came to Durham, the Blue Devils had never signed a player from a major city public league during Mike Krzyzewski's tenure as coach. But Krzyzewski and Dockery's primary recruiter, assistant coach Chris Collins, saw something in Dockery that made them think the match might work.

"It was almost all based on his character, and his family," Collins said. "Every team he was on, people always gravitated toward him."

That character would be tested when Dockery traded the concrete jungle of Chicago for the quiet beauty of Duke University. It was a full-blown case of culture shock.

"I could definitely sense that," said J.J. Redick, a fellow junior guard who roomed with Dockery during their freshman year. "From what I understand, there weren't a lot of white people at his high school. And at Duke there certainly are a lot of white people. "

Academically, it was more culture shock. Dockery estimated that 800-900 students were in his class when he entered Julian, and about 250 were left when he graduated. Just getting his diploma and a qualifying score on the ACT, significant achievements back home, weren't going to cut it in Duke's classrooms.

"I think it really knocked him back initially his freshman year," Collins said. "He's had to work incredibly hard to be successful."

Even the game was different. The city game in which Dockery thrived - taking on Georgia Tech's Will Bynum and Oklahoma State's Tony Allen from Crane Tech and the occasional suburban interlopers such as Dee and Shannon Brown from Proviso East - was one of nonstop fast breaks.

"You wouldn't need a shot clock," Krzyzewski said. "There are a lot of possessions, and each possession isn't what it nearly should be worth. So Sean's had to change his game to play at this level."

There were times, Dockery admits, when it all seemed too much. Many of his so-called friends from Chicago questioned why he had the nerve to think he could make it at Duke. Sometimes, Dockery thought they were right. That's when he turned to his parents, Steve and Sherry. They reminded him of all he had already made it through just to get to Duke. They told him to stay strong. And Dockery remembered what his mother told him that night, after the shooting.

"I can't wait for you to leave to go to school," Sherry Dockery said.

Sometimes, though, he goes back - in a way. Like on Tuesday, when he nearly came to blows with Michigan State's Alan Anderson over a loose ball. Dockery showed an on-court ferocity that seemed so at odds with his smiling, sweet disposition off it. It was as if he was back on the blacktop on the South Side, maybe at Hackwelder, fighting just to stay on the court for one more game.

But in reality, he has already made it out. It's that knowledge that keeps a smile on Dockery's face every day he is at Duke.

"I'm just blessed that I'm here," he said. "And I'm thankful that basketball got me here."

\ Contact Jim Young at 373-7016 or jyoung@news-record.com

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