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The Daily Tar Heel

Relaxed Forte Glides to Success

Only, he's in no hurry to get there. That much has become apparent to followers of North Carolina the past two seasons, and it will be evident when the Tar Heels play Duke on Thursday at

9 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Nine of the 10 players on the floor will compete at regular speed, moving around the court with frantic intensity and strained facial expressions. The other player will navigate the court at Forte pace, with relaxed and fluid forms of motion reserved for UNC's No. 40.

Forte never rushes on the hardwood, but he manages to get wherever he wants to go, whenever he wants to get there.

"He reminds me of (Wayne) Gretzky on ice," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "He just kind of glides. He flows, and he's graceful. He has a tremendous poise about him. He doesn't play too fast. He's certainly one of the best players in the country."

And Forte has been playing like it in recent games. He has reached the

20-point plateau in nine of his last 13 contests, leading UNC in scoring 11 times during that span.

But he's been even better than that in UNC's last three games. He has averaged 27.3 points (on 54.4-percent shooting) and 7.0 rebounds to help the Tar Heels extend their win streak to 14.

Forte has done a large portion of his damage late in games. He scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half to lead the Tar Heels to a win at Maryland and ran off 14 straight points during a span late in the game to help them hold off Florida State.

He was similarly tough against Virginia, scoring 10 of UNC's final 13 points to thwart a Cavalier comeback.

When UNC's sometimes-deliberate inside-out offense stalls, he's the get-out-of-jail-free card.

"I think the thing that is probably unique is that when the game is at crunch time, that's when he really focuses and seems most relaxed," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "That's unusual for a lot of players."

Not for Forte. He loves to shoot the basketball and will do it whenever he gets the chance. Early. Late. Whenever.

"Why not? I feel as though I can make it," Forte said. "I want to take any shot during the game."

That goes for the entire season, whether he's shooting well or poorly.

One of the early-season stories surrounding UNC was Forte's inability to hit from long range. His pillow-soft intermediate jump shot was falling, but he was just 8-for-32 (25 percent) on 3-pointers during one seven-game stretch.

Forte never blinked. He insisted he would keep shooting as he always had. And with those shots came the results he was used to seeing. Forte enters Thursday night's game having made 17 of his last 42 3-point attempts (40.5 percent).

And just as he was low-key about his shooting slump, he's unconcerned with how the Blue Devils might defend him. Nate James, a wiry 6-foot-6 guard who is Duke's designated stopper, will check Forte much of the time.

Forte dealt with Chris Carrawell, last season's ACC Player of the Year, when he played Duke as a freshman. He responded by averaging 22 points, 4.5 assists and shooting 51.3 percent against the Blue Devils.

Forte said he means no disrespect to James, but he sees no reason for things to be different this season.

"I guess he holds guys down," Forte said. "I'm not familiar with his defensive game. But I don't worry about that. I worry about what I'm doing."

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So is Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"He plays the game, and all the sudden, he'll hit you in flurries," Krzyzewski said. "He comes up with a lot of points in such an efficient manner. I really love the way he plays."

With that last statement comes a scary thought: Forte in a Duke uniform. What type of numbers could he put up in Krzyzewski's anything-goes perimeter offense?

It boggles the mind, but it's a question even Forte himself has considered.

"I think about it, you know?" Forte said with a laugh. "It'd be a lot of freedom, but I'm at a great place. I'm at the right place for me."

That's sweet music to the ears of UNC fans, who hope Forte doesn't take his game to the NBA next season.

But Forte isn't thinking much about professional basketball right now. He's got other business to attend to -- mainly helping his team knock off Duke.

"I try to remain focused and just understand where my team needs me the most," Forte said. "Sometimes I don't have to score that much, or I may score seven points in a row."

Whatever he does, he does it at his own pace.

The Sports Editor can be reached at