The 2010 Duke basketball team relied on its defense -- especially during team meals.
That's when Brian Zoubek, the 7-1, 260-pounder, would eye his teammates' desserts and aggressively covet another helping. If you were sitting next to him, you only had one option.
"Protect your own dessert with your life," former Duke guard Jon Scheyer said. "He had the biggest sweet tooth."
Zoubek decided to fill his craving after a back injury suffered during Nets training camp in the fall of 2010 effectively ended the center's basketball career.
He became the world's tallest pastry shop owner.
"It's even funnier," Scheyer said, "when you see this big guy behind the counter filling this little tiny cream puff, which looks so small in his hand."
The former Duke big man opened Dream PUFFZ, a cream puff shop, in late July. The store is located in his hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey, which is about 10 miles east of Philadelphia.
Returning to his Jersey roots, Zoubek is the only starter from Duke's 2010 NCAA title team not playing professional basketball. (Three of the four play in the NBA; Scheyer plays for Herbalife Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands of Spain.)
Zoubek instead focuses on a very different craft, one on which he works hard.
The hands-on founder and owner is at Dream PUFFZ daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. While overseeing all aspects of his shop, including the menu and kitchen, he has hired and trained five full-time employees.
"As an entrepreneur and a small business owner, you've got like 20 jobs," he said. "I'm doing a little bit of everything."
His basketball career would have been much more limiting, because of a series of back injuries before the 2010-11 NBA season.
"I knew that if I redoubled my efforts and I really concentrated on it, I could get back to playing at a decent level," Zoubek said. "But for me the most frustrating thing was that I knew I would never be able to play at the level that I wanted to … I didn't want to pursue something like that if I could pursue it at 70, 80 percent of my potential."
Zoubek, 24, last played a couple of months ago at a New York playground. He had hoped to become involved in some recreational basketball leagues, but his start-up business has become all-consuming.
"Of course, I miss basketball," he said. "l'll never stop loving basketball."
Dream PUFFZ showcases his basketball career and clearly has a Duke feel. Pictures from the 2010 team and his No. 55 jersey adorn the walls along with his jersey from Haddonfield Memorial High.
They hang as relics from the past.
Ranked as the 24th overall prospect in the 2006 class by Rivals.com, Zoubek was a blue chip prospect, but multiple foot ailments limited his production during his first three years at Duke.
"I had a lot of injuries in college, which were really tough to deal with," he said. "Honestly, I never really felt like I fully recovered from them because I was constantly trying to come back a little too early for Duke."
Bolstered by his healthiest offseason, which allowed him to focus on his strength and conditioning, Zoubek was thrust into the starting lineup in February 2010 by coach Mike Krzyzewski. Zoubek became a forceful inside presence, spurring Duke's title run by recording double digit rebounds in nine of its last 16 games.
That includes his title game performance against Butler when he had eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Zoubek also defended Gordon Hayward on the penultimate play, forcing a missed shot, grabbing the rebound and getting fouled. He then made the game's final point -- the first free throw -- before intentionally missing the second, leading to Hayward's famous half-court heave and ultimately Duke's 61-59 victory.
The Nets signed Zoubek that July after he went undrafted. While with New Jersey, he herniated discs in his back and underwent surgery. He spent six to eight months trying to come back but kept aggravating the injury.
A particular basketball play did not cause Zoubek's disc issues. Instead it was the wear and tear of a lifetime of cramming his 7-1 frame into smaller confines like cars and planes combined with years of battling in the paint.
Although he could have returned to the court, he did not like the potential physical consequences.
"I didn't want to wake up when I was 35 as a seven-footer and just have some serious problems," he said. "I didn't want to live my life like that."
Despite that stance Zoubek still receives offers from all over the world. His former Duke teammates, including Martynas Pocius of Real Madrid, have tried to convince him to play for their respective teams.
A few months ago, the Swiss team BBC Nyon, employed a creative recruiting pitch, telling him one of team's sponsors was an expert pastry chef who could teach him the industry.
Although Zoubek continues to turn down those professional basketball options, he still has close ties to Duke basketball.
Scheyer, who roomed with Zoubek during his freshman and sophomore years, still texts or calls him on an almost daily basis. He visited Dream PUFFZ in August, and Zoubek gave him several samples to try.
Zoubek also plans on providing treats for the Duke team when the Blue Devils face Temple at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on Dec. 8.
Blue Devil coaches and former players responded enthusiastically to his Dream PUFFZ venture when he told them about it at the K Academy, Duke's annual fantasy basketball camp, which Zoubek attends every year.
And every once in a while, he catches a glimpse of his old Duke life when he watches the video of the 2010 title game, which featured Hayward's last-second shot that nearly won the game -- and shifted the college basketball landscape -- before bouncing off the front rim.
"Every single time, my heart drops," he said." Every single time."
Dream PUFFZ -- the last letter is a clever play on Zoubek's nickname -- is his second venture. Zoubek partnered with former Duke classmates for several months in New York City to work on a location-based social networking app.
He did not like staring at a computer screen all day but did enjoy the Big Apple's niche cupcake and dessert places.
That planted the idea in his head for his entrepreneurial project.
It took four months to create a business plan, land the property and present the project to town officials.
His father, Paul, a lawyer; and his mother, Liza, a former Aramark executive; provided business advice and a small loan, but Zoubek used his own resources, including money from his short-lived Nets career, to launch Dream PUFFZ and become the sole owner.
Demonstrated by his ability to start up his own store, Zoubek clearly has business acumen, but despite his love of pastries -- he used to regularly down éclairs, cream puffs and jelly doughnuts -- he is not a baker himself.
"The whole time we were in college together," Scheyer joked, "I never saw him cook anything."
Zoubek, though, certainly knows how to evaluate baked goods and found both of his pastry chefs, including a recent graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, off Craigslist.
"Craigslist may seem like a joke to a lot of other people, but it's basically how my generation finds other people," he said. "I wanted a young pastry chef who was hungry and willing to work."
The chefs make three kinds of shells -- original, chocolate topped and drizzled in colored chocolate. The cream-filled flavors include vanilla bean, strawberry, cookies 'n cream, peanut butter, pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon.
"They were great," Scheyer said. "My favorite was the strawberry with chocolate."
The puffs costs $1.50 each, and you can purchase a dozen for $15, two dozen for $28.50 and three dozen for $42. Dream PUFFZ also features specialty puffs -- chicken salad, buffalo chicken and beer.
Sales are strong, and Zoubek hopes to launch regional baking centers with small retail locations, including one in New York City.
"I'm really happy with how everything's going," Zoubek said. "I loved basketball, and it was great for me and I'll always love it, but I really wanted to get started in business."
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