February 2, 2004
DURHAM To paraphrase The Usual Suspects villain Keyser Soze, the greatest trick the Blue Devils ever pulled was convincing the world they didn't exist. On a frigid day in late November, Duke suffered its first defeat of the season, falling to Purdue in the championship of the Great Alaska Shootout. It came as little surprise to anyone who stayed up late enough to watch the Blue Devils sleepwalk through the opening rounds with unimpressive victories over Pacific and Liberty. Their offensive chemistry had all the spark of Ben Affleck and J-Lo in Gigli, a problem even coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged freely.
Fast forward about nine weeks. Duke went into the first North Carolina matchup ranked No. 1 in the nation and riding a 15-game winning streak. The Blue Devils were two games ahead of the field in the ACC before the conference season was even halfway over, looking at least as good as Krzyzewski's 2001 NCAA championship squad.
If you're wondering exactly how good this Duke team might be, consider that it has brought out what little humility Krzyzewski allows himself to exhibit. After the Blue Devils held off a Florida State rally to win a tight defensive battle Jan. 29, the coach grinned at the poise of his players in the face of adverse conditions.
I can do better with them, Krzyzewski said. They're giving me everything.
Before Duke made a quick turnaround to head to Georgia Tech two days later, Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt made the comment that the Blue Devils looked like the class of the ACC in a season that initially held the promise of long-awaited parity at the top.
They're playing better than everybody else, Hewitt said. They're playing more consistent ball. There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but if you judge it by what we've seen, they've passed every test. And they've looked good doing it.
Duke has looked better than good for the most part, winning most of its games by comfortable margins and getting sharper seemingly every day on offense. The team's defense is a given to show up, which gives the Blue Devils the advantage in the ugly games, of which the Florida State contest (56-49) was a prime example. Even though the Devils went scoreless for almost a quarter of a game, they could have stopped scoring with more than nine minutes left and still gone to overtime.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick is making his emergence as a genuine star in the ACC. Although he had a slump early in the season, his near-perfect stroke is back, and he is the frontrunner to be named the league's player of the year in March.
Redick, an open and gregarious person, appears to be enjoying the increased attention, even though not all of it has been good. As the Blue Devils' new frontman, Redick was the object of a vulgar chant at Maryland, as he iced the Terrapins with some late-game free throws. Against Georgia Tech, he tangled with B.J. Elder after a whistle to earn a technical foul. The words Redick uttered at that moment clearly understood by even the most amateur lip-reader watching television replays he must have remembered from College Park.
Other teams' fans are going to dislike players, and I'm one of those guys, Redick said. If I played at their school, I'm sure they wouldn't hate me. I don't take it personally.
He also shouldn't take it personally that Krzyzewski likely will crusade for senior point guard Chris Duhon, not Redick, to win the ACC's top individual honor. The coach did the same thing (successfully) for Chris Carrawell in 2000, even though junior Shane Battier was more deserving on that year's team.
This is not to say that Duhon's renaissance, led by outstanding defense, efficient penetration, strong leadership and clutch shots, is purely a product of Krzyzewski manipulating the media to create a perception. Duhon's contribution to the team is invaluable, but he is not more important than Redick, as the coach would like you to believe.
That's why we've won 17 games and we're 6-0 in the conference, because of that kid, Krzyzewski said of Duhon after the Florida State game. Obviously, the other guys have played real well, but if we didn't have him, forget it. We would win some, but we would not be contenders like we are now.
At this point, the Blue Devils are the only contenders, unless the discussion is about the race for second place in the ACC.
Duke's place in the national landscape also is as good as anyone could dream. The Blue Devils almost certainly will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they have many of the tools that can propel a run to the championship: good defense, good guard play and a Hall of Fame coach.
Such a declaration might have been laughed at early in the season, when Duke looked like a lifeless shell of what it has become. Turns out the Blue Devils were just playing dead.
Roof Finds Match With Galbraith
Duke football coach Ted Roof has a defensive background, but his most significant impact since taking over the program in the middle of last season has come on offense. It came in the form of the hiring of Marty Galbraith as the Blue Devils' offensive coordinator.
Galbraith came to Duke straight from the NFL, where he served as the Arizona Cardinals' tight ends coach last season until head coach Dave McGinnis and his entire staff were fired after putting together a 4-12 record.
Galbraith has had extensive experience and success at the college level, most recently right down the road at N.C. State, where he served as the Wolfpack's offensive coordinator in 2002. Galbraith's schemes are so varied that he has earned the nickname The Mad Scientist. That's a perfect match for Roof, who believes the Devils must be unconventional and unpredictable on offense to have any chance of being successful.
That Roof was able to lure such an attractive candidate (along with other quality assistants) to what has been one of the worst programs in college football is a testament to the respect he commands in the coaching community.
Former starting quarterback Adam Smith has decided to transfer to a Division I-AA school for his final year of eligibility, meaning Galbraith will be working with rising senior Chris Dapolito and rising sophomore Mike Schneider behind center during spring practice.