Friday, February 22, 2008

Duke's Unselfish Week

Around the country, the mere mention of the word “Duke” inspires hostility for millions of college basketball fans. However, Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils deserve nothing but appreciation this week. Since Sunday, Duke has been a model of unselfishness.

The team’s exemplary behavior began with its trip to Wake Forest on Sunday night. Duke entered the contest at 10-0 in conference play and 22-1 overall. The prevailing wisdom among bracketologists was that the ACC would only place four of its twelve members into the NCAA tournament. Realizing that Wake could enter that discussion with a marquee victory, the Blue Devils went ahead and made that scenario a reality. As the Demon Deacons prevailed 86-73, Duke could take pride in advancing the cause of the conference. The truly unique aspect of the contest was that all five Blue Devils fouled out of the game. The referees even called three fouls on assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski, for flops he committed as a player in 1998.

Besides boosting Wake’s at-large chances, Duke also helped its biggest fan with the defeat. Dick Vitale recently returned to the airwaves after literally being silenced for much of the season after throat surgery. Knowing that Dickie V would be calling the Memphis-Tennessee showdown this coming Saturday, the Blue Devils wanted to give him the privilege of broadcasting a 1-vs.-2 matchup. With Sunday’s setback, Duke relinquished the #2 ranking in favor of the Volunteers. In gratitude, Vitale promised to mention the Cameron Crazies and Coach K as much as possible during the Tigers-Vols showdown, making it just like every other non-Duke game he broadcasts.

Not content to merely assist the ACC and Dickie V, Coach K advanced the cause of college basketball in general during a radio interview after the Wake loss. Noting that guard Nolan Smith had recently been playing through a knee injury, Coach K remarked, “unlike other schools we don’t release our injuries.” Believing that “other schools” was a thinly-veiled reference to North Carolina, UNC coach Roy Williams shot back on his radio show with a message to “coach their own damn team, I’ll coach my team.” While Roger Clemens, the Daytona 500, and the recent NBA trading frenzy still commanded the sports headlines, there’s nothing like a bit of sniping between the sport’s biggest rivals to get some attention for college basketball. If nothing else, it was much more fun and juicy than talking about Kelvin Sampson’s phone bills. Coach K surely knew that this media frenzy would ensue after making his comments. When it comes to slights against his team, Roy’s skin is thinner than a coked-up runway model.

Duke once again showed its conference loyalty in Wednesday’s 96-95 loss at Miami. The Hurricanes entered on the wrong side of the tournament bubble and desperately needed a high-quality win. Joe Lunardi certainly took notice as the Blue Devils accommodated the hosts with a season-high 23 turnovers. Miami’s Dwayne Collins tallied a career-high 26 points, leaving Duke assistant Chris Collins highly impressed. Remarked Chris, “Who would ever expect a guy named Collins to play so well in a Duke game?”

By dropping consecutive games on the road, Duke also brought joy to the opposing fans. ACC crowds always exert extra energy when the Blue Devils or Tar Heels come for a visit. However, until Sunday, Duke was unblemished in conference play, while UNC’s two defeats both came at home. In losing back-to-back contests, the Blue Devils put a stop to this season’s appalling lack of court-stormings by ACC fans.

It is not surprising that a team led by Coach K would be so unselfish these days. Krzyzewski is a devout Roman Catholic, so Lent is an important time for him. Coach K believes that everyone should be willing to sacrifice something. As a prime example, he cited the Duke football program, which gave up winning when Steve Spurrier left for Florida.

After this string of unselfishness, Duke cannot be blamed if it proceeds to blow out St. John’s this Saturday. However, rival fans have to appreciate the Blue Devils’ efforts in recent days. Only one thing would make them happier: seeing those same results in March.