Skip to main content
Original Issue

Duke Makes a Statement

The Blue Devils silenced the fast-talking Fab Five of Michigan once again

With its gothic facade and Wood-Paneled interior, Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium looks enough like a university lecture hall that you might have thought the Michigan Wolverines had sauntered in for a class last Saturday night. Only to encounter a team of John Housemans. Without having done the reading.

Mr. King, could you explain the rudiments of stopping Bobby Hurley? Michigan guard Jimmy King had failed to stop Hurley, the Blue Devils' point guard, twice before, first at home in Ann Arbor last Dec. 14 when Duke beat the Wolverines 88-85 and again in last April's NCAA championship game when the Blue Devils triumphed 71-51. Yet even after Hurley's Most Outstanding Player performance at the Final Four, where Duke won its second straight national title, King pronounced Hurley's play "average." With 20 points, five assists and a single turnover in 40 minutes on Saturday, Hurley was superbly "average" once again. He handled the 79-68 victory as if it were in his pocket on a watch fob.

Who, Mr. Rose, is that unlikely fellow who keeps posting you up? He's Thomas (not to be confused with teammate Grant) Hill, who on Saturday literally sprang for 21 points, most of them over Michigan guard Jalen Rose. Speak up, Mr. Rose! "Hurley's not underrated," said Rose after the game. "How can a first-team All-America be underrated? If you want to know who doesn't get enough credit on that team, it's Thomas Hill."

Gentlemen, quiet please. Such—ahem—sophomoric behavior! If you have something to say, please share it with the rest of the class. Michigan's Fabulous Five freshmen of a year ago are indeed sophomores now, and they have never not had something to say. As the two teams crossed paths in a tunnel at the Metrodome in Minneapolis before last spring's NCAA championship game, a number of Wolverines taunted their counterparts from Duke with cries of "It's payback time." Again last week Michigan players Juwan Howard ("I pity Duke," he said), Chris Webber ("Jalen Rose is a better point guard than Bobby Hurley," he said) and Ray Jackson ("Payback," he said once more) sounded the same promissory notes about a Wolverine victory. In the space of a year, however, the Blue Devils have now beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor, in Durham and on a neutral court, as well as both with Christian Laettner and without him. All this talk of "paybacks" is beginning to sound a lot like "the check's in the mail."

Not since 1982, when Ted Turner persuaded Georgetown and Virginia to showcase their respective stars, Patrick Ewing and Ralph Sampson, in front of his WTBS television cameras, had a regular-season game not carried by one of the major networks been quite so anticipated. But Raycom, the Charlotte-based syndicator that owned the rights to this contest, didn't feel it had gotten a strong enough bid from CBS for the game and in May decided instead to telecast it through its own lineup of independent stations. Only one possible glitch arose. In September, Michigan declared Webber, Rose and reserve center Eric Riley ineligible shortly after discovering that they had accepted money for making an appearance in late August at a charity event where they judged a slam-dunk contest. It seemed possible that all three might be suspended for several games at the start of this season, including the date with Duke. That possibility spooked Raycom even more than it did Wolverine coach Steve Fisher; some of the Raycom stations said they would carry the game only if Michigan was at full strength.

As it happened, the NCAA reinstated Webber, Rose and Riley on Nov. 11. Michigan escaped sanctions because its athletic administration had misinterpreted a vaguely worded rule and had erroneously assured the players that the payments were O.K. The NCAA's unusually compassionate ruling—that since the players had made restitution, they were free to play again—meant the hype could begin again. Duke students began camping outside Cameron eight days before the game to lay claim to the approximately 2,500 standing room positions, and by game time more than 200 tents had sprouted, a campus record. (Students were reportedly selling the rights to a spot in a tent for as much as $100 each, proving that while the greedy 1980s may be over elsewhere, they persist at Duke.) All told, the game attracted 220 print and broadcast journalists, 50 photographers, eight NBA scouts and a Raycom network covering every media market from New York to Ottumwa, Iowa. "This game is at the magnitude of Virginia-Georgetown not because of two players," said Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski, "but because of two teams. And that's better."

In the second half of its victory in Minneapolis, Duke had held the Wolverines to 20 points while scoring on its final dozen possessions. And even with Laettner and the redoubtable Brian Davis lost to graduation, this year's Blue Devils still start two seniors and two juniors, which makes them a model of maturity compared to callow Michigan. "But just because you're older doesn't mean you're better," Webber said last Thursday. "I think it's good if a sophomore like David Falk wins the Heisman Trophy." Of course Webber meant Marshall Faulk, the second-year San Diego State running back, and not Michael Jordan's agent, David Falk—but his Freudian slip suggests that not every one of the Wolverines' super sophs will stay around to become a jazzy junior.

The Fab Five figured to push the Blue Devils to the limit, though, even at Duke's arena. But all of Michigan's pregame loquacity seemed only to put more pressure on the Wolverines, while the Blue Devils were slyly deflecting it. "The one thing I like about this game is it's the first time since when we played UNLV in '91 [at the Final Four in Indianapolis] that we're supposed to lose," said Grant Hill beforehand. "They haven't already beaten us twice. We've beaten them twice."

In beating the Fab Five for the third time, the Blue Devils gave hints of how they will go about trying to win a third straight NCAA crown. This season there will be no single offensive focus, no Laettner who can score both inside and out. No, this Duke team will look equally to four sources to score. It can post up such radically different inside players as the sinuous T. Hill, who stands 6'5", or sophomore Cherokee Parks, the 6'11" son of Huntington Beach, Calif., flower children, who's beginning to blossom as the first classic back-to-the-basket center that Krzyzewski has had in Durham. Parks is newly confident after undergoing a sort of hazing process as Laettner's understudy last season. His postgame comments were nearly as caustic as the Wolverines' pregame rap: "There's a difference between confidence and arrogance. That's the stuff that bites you in the butt, right there. They talked a lot of trash before the game. We get to talk it after. Now they just look foolish."

The transcendently talented G. Hill shot a woeful 6 for 15 on Saturday, but he did cheer his coaches by showing none of the reluctance to assert himself that had characterized his game during stretches of last season. As for Hurley, well, who-would have thought three years ago that he might turn out to be a better pro than his then fellow freshman Georgia Tech phenom Kenny Anderson (now with the New Jersey Nets)? So long as Hurley is in the lineup to start the break and the Hills are there to finish it, Duke promises to be the best transition team south of D.C. and cast of Little Rock.

"It doesn't come naturally to me to talk on the court," Hurley said before the game, vowing not to get into trash-talk exchanges with Michigan. "When I have a spare moment, it's usually to take a deep breath." But midway through the first half, after making his second straight three-pointer, Hurley couldn't help himself. "Nobody out here can check me!" he yelled, to no one in particular.

King, who was nearest to Hurley most of the evening, may or may not have heard. But King surely heard the Cameron Crazies when, instructed by the referees and hoisted by teammates, he busily set about disentangling a loop of the net from the rim. "Basket Weaving 101," the Duke students chanted. The Duke players didn't have to waste their breath on trash. "This crowd," said reserve swing-man Marty Clark, "spoke for us."

Largely eclipsed in all of last week's yapping was the relative silence between Krzyzewski and Bob Knight, the Indiana coach and Krzyzewski's professional patron and mentor. Their estrangement has been the subject of much concerned whispering within the sport since last spring. Over the years Krzyzewski had grown weary of assumptions that he routinely reviews his game plans with the man who had coached him at Army, and last season he made a public point of saying that others have had an impact on his career too.

For whatever reason, Knight chose to interpret this pronouncement as a petition for divorce. At last spring's Final Four, where Duke and Indiana played in the semis, a longtime mutual friend delivered a letter from Knight to Krzyzewski that essentially said that if a divorce was what Krzyzewski wanted, a divorce was what he would get. Of course Krzyzewski wanted no such thing. It wasn't until the moments immediately following the Blue Devils' 81-78 win over the Hoosiers, in the aftermath of Knight's well-publicized postgame brush-off of Krzyzewski, that Coach K finally read the letter. Its contents so undid him that he was unable to join his players at the press conference until he had a chance to compose himself.

Then in late October, just before a coaches' seminar in Greensboro, N.C., Knight squeezed in a little golf with his new good buddy, North Carolina coach Dean Smith. He took in the Tar Heels' football game against Georgia Tech from Smith's private box. The coaching fraternity was soon abuzz. In an interview with ESPN's Dick Schaap on Nov. 30, Krzyzewski adroitly dodged a question about the matter. Last weekend he said, "My relationship with Coach Knight is like my relationship with my wife. And I don't talk about my relationship with my wife." But to get a fix on how Krzyzewski must feel watching Knight—the man who had succored Krzyzewski through the death of his father back in 1969—pal around with the coach of one of Duke's strongest challengers for this season's ACC title, imagine how Knight would feel if Krzyzewski, passing through Bloomington, paid a courtesy call at, say, the Puerto Rican consul.

Longtime Knight watchers figure this is just a mind game, probably cadged from Knight's basic text, Sun-tzu's The Art of War, and calculated to throw Krzyzewski off balance. Of course, being on the business end of a Knight psych job is a sort of compliment, and Krzyzewski certainly deserves kudos for being the only former Knight assistant to beat his old boss.

Besides, is any program riding any higher than Duke's right now? The Blue Devils' recruiting is always in order at least a year in advance. (Joey Beard and Greg Newton, both 6'10" and among the top high school seniors, have already committed to Duke for next season.) When the Blue Devils opened their season last week with a 110-62 victory over Canisius, each Golden Griffin starter made a detour to the Duke bench to shake Krzyzewski's hand during the player introductions. Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Calvin Hill, Doug Collins, Bobby Orr and Roger Staubach were among those in the overflow crowd on hand to watch Duke's preseason scrimmage on Nov. 7. (Even if it was Parents' Weekend and all of the aforementioned except Staubach have offspring at the school, that's still pretty impressive.) Loosen up, Coach K; you're looking awfully...Wooden over there on the sideline.

Like the Wizard of Westwood, Krzyzewski has become adept at coping with the drumbeat of questions about the pressure of repeating. All last season he emphasized that the Devils weren't defending a title already won but pursuing another. Now he just makes light of the question when it comes up. "I want to be sure I don't give you guys pat answers," he says. "So how about this: I'm scared. We're never going to be able to handle the pressure."

In fact, he sincerely believes that there is no pressure, because his team is entirely reborn now that Laettner and Davis are gone. "Last year I scheduled us to lose in February [in part, by arranging tough nonleague road games against LSU and UCLA], because I thought we might need a punch in the face before the tournament," he says. "But to schedule like that you need unbelievable confidence in your players. This year's team, I don't know. There are too many new guys."

True to his West Point roots, he likens the coming season to a series of World War II campaigns. "I've got four guys who've been through Africa and Sicily and Italy," he says. "But we've got other guys who just hooked on as we crossed the border for the final assault. It's an old and new team all in one. How we close the gap will determine how good we'll be. Do our old guys bring the new guys up to their level? Or do the new guys bring our old guys down to that level where you're more prone to make mistakes?"

The early indications are promising. And for Michigan, despite a surfeit of talking it—and a conspicuous deficit of walking it—Webber and Rose accepted losing to Duke with more grace than they had last spring. "All I said was I thought Jalen was the best point guard," said Webber. "If you see [Hurley], tell him it was just propaganda to make Jalen play better. Bobby's a great point guard, but I believe in J." And he added, "I like their crowd, to tell you the truth. They're good, and they'll tell you about it. They remind me a little bit of us."

Someone suggested to Hurley that the Wolverines, as they winged their way home, might peddle the same line they had in April, the one that goes, Yeah, we may have lost, but we're still the better players. "Are you kidding?" Hurley said. "Sure they'll think that, with their confidence." Then he broke into a smile—a winner's smile—at the notion.

Hurley could afford to grin, for he had paid up. Talk, on the other hand, is cheap—but even so, the tab the Wolverines are running is getting a mite expensive.



At times Parks (44) looked positively Laettner-like for the Blue Devils.



The pregame hype inspired a record number of Duke students to camp out for tickets.



In his point guard showdown with Rose, Hurley (11) was no talk (almost) and all action in another superbly "average" performance.



[See caption above.]



The Cameron Crazies created a tidal Wave as they tried to distract Howard at the foul line.



With 21 points, Duke's underrated Thomas was king of the Hills, at least for one night.