Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Duke teams return to heroes' welcome

Associated Press Writer

        DURHAM, N.C. — Duke fans cheered loudly in welcoming home the men's and women's basketball teams, and made hopeful pleas to the players for autographs.

        The only things missing Tuesday were the national championships both teams desperately wanted to win.

        A crowd of about 3,000 gave the men a vigorous standing ovation as they entered the blue-carpeted stage set up on the arena floor less than 15 hours after a 77-74 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game.

        The loss took some luster off a school record-tying 37 victories, an unprecedented unbeaten run through the Atlantic Coast Conference and the team's fifth Final Four appearance of the decade.

        The ovation was loud, but not to the usual standards of the notoriously rowdy arena.

        “The saddest thing that happens to me is when you can sometimes focus on what has to happen or what doesn't happen or what didn't happen and you lose focus on what did happen,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the crowd. “You're all disappointed about what didn't happen. We're disappointed. But what did happen was unbelievable.”

        Earlier, about 500 fans welcomed home the women's team, which lost to Purdue in the national championship game Sunday.

        The Duke women's team also set a school record for victories (29), captured its second straight ACC title and reached its first Final Four by beating top-ranked Tennessee, the benchmark program of women's basketball.

        “There were not many people who believed we could do it,” coach Gail Goestenkors said. “When we started 1-3, people were shaking their heads. Now a lot of people are still shaking their heads, but they're wondering, "What happened? How'd we make this turnaround?”'

        At the ceremony welcoming home the Duke men's squad, Krzyzewski defended senior guard Trajan Langdon, who made two critical turnovers in the final 30 seconds of Monday's game.

        “Making a big play is terrific, but stepping up to make a big play is even better,” Krzyzewski said. “You're not going to make every big play, but you can always step up to make big plays. It takes courage and Trajan has amazing courage.

        “When we were down by one in the last few seconds, we had a chance to win it. The ball was in his hands and he had the courage to step up.”

        Langdon took a deep breath and raised his shooting arm to the crowd as he stepped to a podium amid enthusiastic cheers that lasted more than a minute.

        “It's been the best year of my life. I'm so honored and blessed to be a part of this program,” he said.

        Langdon finished his career as the No. 9 scorer in Duke history with 1,974 points. His 112 3-pointers this season and 342 for his career are school records.

        Langdon may not be the only player the Blue Devils need to replace next season. Rumors are swirling that center Elton Brand and point guard William Avery, both sophomores, could become the first two Blue Devils to leave school early and enter the NBA draft.

        Asked whether he was staying in school, Brand smiled amid a swarm of autograph-seeking fans and said only, “I'm not sure yet, but hopefully.”

        Avery slipped away before he could be asked about his plans.

        The Blue Devils also could lose reserve center Chris Burgess, who will decide this summer whether he will go on a Mormon mission.

        Even with the potential loss of that trio, the Blue Devils should still be championship contenders next season, thanks to one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

        Duke has signed letters of intent from Mike Dunleavy Jr., a 6-foot-7 forward and the son of Portland coach Mike Dunleavy; Nick Horvath, a 6-10 center from Arden Hills, Minn.; Casey Sanders, a 6-11 shot-blocking specialist from Tampa, Fla.; and Jason Williams, a 6-2 guard from Plainfield, N.J.

        Dunleavy, Sanders and Williams were named to the U.S Junior National Select Team.

        “It's not a time to make idle promises, but we're going to do something next year,” Krzyzewski said.


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- Duke teams return to heroes' welcome