March 29, 2004
DURHAM The tale of how an old story was recycled, dusted off, shined up and presented as breaking news began innocently enough. During the last month of the regular season, a local reporter asked coach Mike Krzyzewski if Duke had replaced North Carolina as the A-B- team, the premise being that the people who used to cheer for Anybody But Carolina now reside in the Anybody But Duke camp. Krzyzewski gave a useful enough answer for the purpose of the story, and the subject was closed until just after the ACC Tournament. At a pre-NCAA Tournament press conference for local reporters, another scribe asked if there had been backlash of disdain for the Blue Devils because of their tremendous success over the past two decades. This time, Krzyzewski went as far as to suggest that Duke had been placed in the toughest region in the NCAA Tournament because some influential people wanted (subconsciously or otherwise) to see the nation's premier program fail. The coach later backed off that remark a bit, but that was all the national media needed as they descended upon Raleigh for the NCAA sub-regional. The storyline emanating from the RBC Center was that the Blue Devils exist solely to satisfy the need for college basketball fans to hate somebody. Continuing the theme, the hate is caused by smugness on the part of the coach and players, the fact that they get all the calls, and the undeniable truth that they win with amazing regularity. Maybe the story's momentum could have been stopped there. Krzyzewski and his players sat at the NCAA podium and described, mostly in vague terms, how opposing fans mistreat the Blue Devils when they go on the road. But in a separate, exclusive interview with friend, author and Washington Post columnist John Feinstein, Krzyzewski fanned the flames again. There's no doubt that at times our success has brought out the very worst in people, Krzyzewski said. I know we're perceived as arrogant by a lot of people because we've been able to win at a school and in a league where you can win and have the kind of program that, most of the time, gets things right off the court, too. I don't think of us as being better than other people, and I don't think our kids think that way, either. But I am competitive, and I think we have a good program. I'm not going to apologize for that. I understand that when you win a lot, people are going to want to see you lose. I've got no problem with that. But this year, it really seems to have gone to a new level. People don't just want us to lose, they seem to want us to get hurt. They take their frustrations with our success out on the kids. We're not judged anymore on what we accomplish but what we don't accomplish. That bothers me. Obviously, if we weren't winning a lot, we wouldn't be facing this. But I've always said I want the experience of playing basketball at Duke to be the same for the kids playing today as it was for the kids who played for me 10 years ago and 20 years ago. Right now that's completely impossible. These kids face a kind of hatred that college kids shouldn't face. It's one thing to root for your team to win, it's another thing to root for a favorite to lose. It's gone way beyond that with us. Krzyzewski also said in the interview that the ACC was wrong to assign official Karl Hess, who had called the coach for a technical foul less than two weeks before, to the Blue Devils' semifinal game against Georgia Tech. That Feinstein presented Krzyzewski's comments at face value, with no discernible context, might be the reason why the Washington Post felt it reasonable to include a tag line stating that the author is a 1977 Duke graduate. After the Post story came out, a prominent columnist in Krzyzewski's hometown of Chicago came to the coach's defense. Another commentator at a competing newspaper took the opposite view and wrote that Duke-hating was justifiable because Krzyzewski is whiny and smug. As the Blue Devils moved on to Atlanta, the questions persisted. The local newspaper did a story interviewing fans at the Blue Devils' open practice who expressed their hatred of all things Duke. Krzyzewski, perhaps sensing that the story was out of control, finally began to put the brakes on it. That's not even a bearing on this game, Krzyzewski said before the regional semifinals. I don't know if that is true. I would rather not talk about it. The problem with the whole fiasco was not that Krzyzewski brought it up in the first place, because he always is looking for new ways to motivate his team. Suggesting that the ACC and NCAA are in cahoots against Duke was absurdly over the top, but the real culprits in explaining the details of this non-story were the media. Yes, the Blue Devil are hated. Maryland fans did direct a vulgar chant at J.J. Redick this season. Indeed, Duke was booed in Atlanta and even in Raleigh, just 25 miles away from its campus. But none of this is news, or at least not new news. Somehow, everybody outside of North Carolina who broadcasts or writes about college basketball developed a case of amnesia. Duke-hating is not a recent phenomenon. Along with Krzyzewski, there have been a long line of Blue Devils over the last 15 years who have engendered negative feelings toward the program. Maybe you've heard of Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, all of whom were the subject of terrible dislike during their playing careers. Redick is not a pioneer, but rather the heir to the throne. If it's true, as Krzyzewski suggested, that dislike for Duke has reached the level of more mean-spirited personal attacks and even celebrating injuries, that's indeed a sad story. Media members, of all people, should have no problem appreciating the concept of fanatics whose passion sometimes approaches mental illness. But only Coach K and perhaps a few others could possibly measure the difference between the anti-Duke sentiment of today and the anti-Duke sentiment of 10 or 15 years ago. He has a team to motivate, and perhaps that was his main intention all along. Barring some significant evidence, however, everyone else didn't have to go along for the ride.
NBA Teams Excited About Deng The story that should have interested Duke fans more than anything out of the NCAA Tournament was the remarkable play of freshman Luol Deng. After going through the regular season as the Blue Devils' second-leading scorer, Deng stepped up with some clutch performances in the postseason. It is generally agreed that Deng will be a lottery pick in the NBA draft as soon as he chooses to take that route, but the issue is when he will make himself available. According to NBA scouts contacted by the Sports Journal, Deng is the only current ACC player who would be a lock to be a top-10 selection if he turned pro this year. Deng repeatedly has said he plans to return to Duke next year. His well-documented childhood and family background suggest that he is not likely to be blinded by the prospect of fame and fortune. At the same time, the new Charlotte Bobcats franchise in the NBA is rumored to be interested in Deng with the fourth pick of the first round, and that would be a difficult situation to turn down. Then again, a lot of things in Deng's life have been difficult. That part of his decision will be nothing new to him, whatever he decides.