Saturday, March 27, 1999

Duke a royal team and school

Tough to beat on, off court

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It will be spectacular next April 3 at about midnight, when Duke sophomore Corey Maggette cuts down the net at the RCA Dome without using a ladder. He'll just jump and ... levitate. Talk about hang time.

  • Duke (36-1) vs. Michigan State (33-4), 5:42 p.m.
  • Ohio State (27-8) vs. Connecticut (32-2), 30 minutes after first
        Duke will have won its second straight national title. Maggette will have scored 40 points and shattered a backboard with a jam. People who now call him The Next Grant Hill will call him The Next Michael Jordan. He'll need the National Guard to keep the agents away.

        Mike Krzyzewski will have coached in his ninth Final Four and won his fourth championship. College basketball may be watered down and evened out by scholarship reductions and early trips to the NBA. Duke will not be affected. The Blue Devils will be the team of the millennium. Y2(Coach)K.

        Sorry to Michigan State, which plays Duke tonight, in this year's national semifinals, and to either Connecticut or Ohio State, which gets the Blue Devils on Monday night. But this is what we're thinking. Already.

        Somebody asked Michigan State coach Tom Izzo about Duke's “weaknesses.” What do you say to that?

        Too many preppies?

        Too many smart-alecks?

        J. Crew overload?

        Duke has 700 McDonald's All-Americans and 12,000 straight wins and 1,000

        fourth-year seniors, all pre-med. All Duke players arrive at Duke perfectly groomed and impeccably mannered. They score 1601 on their SATs. (They get extra credit for signing their names. In Chinese.)

        Duke days are spent diligently stalking truth in classrooms run by Ph.D'd professors who'd be running the country if Washington had the great weather Durham, N.C., has. Duke nights are spent diligently digesting the truth gained during the day, then visiting tall, white-columned fraternity houses where everybody looks like Otter and Mandy Pepperidge in Animal House. Everybody parties. Nobody gets sick. The next day, 8 a.m. classes are jammed with eager young faces.

        “If you really had to search, search, search, maybe ...” said Izzo, trying to address the Duke weakness issue. Izzo decided the Dookies might be vulnerable in the all-important backup point guard area. “If (William) Avery gets in foul trouble, maybe,” Izzo said.

        Michigan State could win. The Spartans are tough. They have the time-honored, nobody-respects-us chip on their big shoulder. They have nothing to lose. They have Mateen Cleaves. What a winner. If they get ahead early ... if they lead with four or five minutes left ... if they make Duke think that the empire is toppling, who knows?

        It could happen.

        Great chance it won't.

        Duke has great players who stay in school. Not one Blue Devil has departed early for the NBA. Ever. Most places, if you have a senior star on your team, that player better be thinking degree, not NBA.

        At Duke, you have Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Trajan Langdon. You wonder why this is.

        “The campus, the national exposure, the weather,” junior forward Chris Carrawell said. “Academically, athletically and socially, you can't get any better than Duke.”

        Lest we make this a recruit ing brochure, there are other reasons.

        “Those old guys, Hurley, Grant (Hill) and Laettner, wanted to be the man before they took off,” said Avery, a sophomore. “With Laettner here, Hurley wasn't going to be the man. With Hurley here, Grant wasn't going to be the man. Each of them wanted that year for it to be their team.”

        True enough. Laettner graduated in '92, Hurley in '93 and Hill in '94.

        Avery also said the older guard came from better, or at least more prosperous, family situations. Grant Hill didn't need to try the NBA early so he could buy his mother a house. Janet Hill was a high-profile lawyer.

        Maybe so. Regardless, Duke is almost always good. The fact their players stay four years makes the Blue Devils that much better. (Also, the fact that the freshman Maggette would be a top-five NBA pick if he chose to leave this year helps. How good is Duke? Maggette doesn't start.)

        Think how good Kentucky would be now with senior center Nazr Mohammed and senior swingman Ron Mercer. Think of North Carolina with Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.

        Duke hasn't had to think that way.

        “(Ferry) was close to leaving, but he wanted to win a title,” said Duke assistant Quin Snyder, who graduated in '89, with Ferry. “He also enjoyed school. The life. He liked hanging out. There are aspects of the collegiate experience that are hard to value. You can go back and get your degree, but you can't go back and be 19 or 20.”

        Snyder insisted Duke wasn't all that unusual. “Let's revisit this line of questioning in four years,” he said, and he may be right. Duke's best player, sophomore center Elton Brand, is torn between staying and going. Avery is “leaning toward staying unless I hear some crazy news, like going one or two” in the draft.

        Maggette won't go this year. But it's only a matter of time. “He's so talented, college (basketball) gets boring for him,” Carrawell said.

        Meanwhile, Duke has four more McDonald's All-Americans coming in next year, two of them 6-foot-10. “If we take care of business this weekend, people will be talking about this team 10, 20 years down the line,” Avery said.

        Think what they'll say after next year's team repeats.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.