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They speak of themselves with the familiarity of pro teammates, and indeed they've been a unit longer than some pro teams. Guard Johnny Dawkins and fellow seniors Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas and David Henderson began playing at Duke in the fall of 1982. The Devils were a shaky 11-17 that year, but they've gone 47-18 since. "You know where they want the ball," says Dawkins, speaking of his teammates, "and you know when they want it. When Mark pops off a screen from 17 to 22 feet away, give him the ball. If Jay is calling for it, make sure he gets it. He feels the shot. Henderson has been a super sixth man. He comes in and scores off garbage or shoots off a screen. It's just knowing how to take advantage of the defense."

Junior playmaker Tommy Amaker has started for the Blue Devils since he arrived in Durham, too. Last season, he and Dawkins, a 1984-85 All-America, led Duke to a permanent spot in the Top 10 before injuries to Alarie and Bilas contributed to a sudden exit in the NCAA second round. Now, a very experienced team has added the freshman center everyone wanted—6'10" Danny Ferry—and Alarie and Bilas are healthy.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski isn't talking physical. He's talking metaphysical. "After we were 11-17," he says, "we figured if we improved to 15-13 the next season, that would be good. Last season we were 23-8. So what is good now? The expectations are high. But to be much better, we would have to be head over heels."

Which may be a bit of a problem. Coach K's team has never finished ahead of the Heels—the North Carolina Tar Heels, that is. His Blue Devils have never finished first in the ACC, nor won the conference tournament. "This season is our last chance to do something special," says Alarie.

Let's see. Duke has a forward, Bilas, who played two seasons at center, and recruited a center, Ferry, who can play right away. Sounds easy enough. "The safest thing for us to do," Krzyzewski says, "is to keep Henderson on the bench, introduce Danny into the lineup and let the chips fall where they may. But situations change. We want different lineups, depending on needs. My goal is not to have a sixth man, but a bench."

The 6'8" Alarie did a lot of outside shooting last season. Now he'll have to give more help to his roommate, Bilas, under the basket. Ferry, son of Washington Bullets G.M. Bob, isn't much of a banger at 230 pounds, but he has an upperclassman's head. "He played at DeMatha [in the Washington, D.C. area], the highest level of high school basketball there is," says Krzyzewski. "And being around his dad has given him a great feel for the game."

While Ferry develops, Duke can always go with last season's most effective frontcourt of Alarie, Bilas and Henderson. The 6'8", 225-pound Bilas realizes that his chances for flourishing as a forward are slim. "Coach says, 'Don't think of yourself as a center,' " says Bilas. "But when you have to guard the other team's center all the time, you can't help it." And Krzyzewski can also go with Ferry and Bilas, plus Alarie.

Krzyzewski leaped at the opportunity to play in the new 16-team season-opening Big Apple NIT, the better to test his various lineups. "I hope we win," he says, "but more important, I hope we get to play four games." If the Devils get to play four games following the ACC season and tournament, they will have arrived—in Dallas.





The steadying hands of Dawkins (left) and Alarie have guided the Blue Devils' rise.