It's America's darling vs. the team people love to hate (cont.)
And do people REALLY even hate Duke? Sure, some people do. But a lot of people, all over the country, love Duke even though they have no special connection to the school. Duke is generally one of the top 25 sellers of school merchandise despite an enrollment of about 6,000. Duke draws good enough ratings that more than one person suggested that the NCAA gave them the easiest route to the Final Four*.
*Considering that Kansas lost to Northern Iowa, Syracuse lost to Butler, and Kentucky lost to a beat-up West Virginia team, I'm not sure this has turned out to be a particularly viable argument. But the point stands: The fact anyone THINKS that the NCAA and the television networks wants Duke in the Final Four tells you that SOMEBODY must like Duke.
In any case, Krzyzewski has no great answer for those people who continuously ask why his team is despised. On Sunday, he was asked again about it, and he tried a new line:
"I just think it's really easy to talk about not liking us because we're a private school," he said. "We're not a state. We don't have a state press. You know, people wouldn't take the shots at us that they do if we were a state school because the people of that state wouldn't like it, and there would be a filter there. And there's no filter for us, a Notre Dame."
That doesn't really seem to go deep enough -- people despise plenty of state schools. But there is a point here. Duke doesn't really have a big home base. Duke won't set car horns blaring and fireworks spiraling into the air in many places if it wins the game tonight.
Instead, Duke's support is spread around the country among its alumni, the people who want to be a part of their success and those who connect because they believe, they know, that Duke does things the right way.
Q&A with Butler coach Brad Stevens.
Q: Have you allowed yourself a moment to appreciate what you've accomplished?
A: I did go back to my hotel room last night. My wife stayed in there ... she was just kind of staring at the wall when I walked in. She kind of stared at me like, "You guys are playing for the national championship." I said, "Yeah, but we're playing Duke."
Q: Twenty years ago Vegas beat Duke. In that game everybody loved Duke ... do you find it ironic now that people want Duke to lose?
A: What I remember more was for Duke to beat (UNLV) here in Indianapolis the next year. Just like everybody else, I enjoyed the underdog. I was rooting for the underdog.
Q: When you look at Duke ... do you see anything there specifically that you want to be like?
A: Well, everybody wants to be like Duke.
When you think about it, no, it really doesn't make a lot of sense to hate Duke. If you think about how Krzyzewski took a dwindling program, built it up a little bit, built it up some more, took Duke to Final Four after Final Four, coached the Blue Devils to victory over unbeatable UNLV, led them to championships and now has them back in the final in a whole new era ... yes, it's absolutely remarkable.
And, yes, they have graduated their players. And they have had classy players -- Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Danny Ferry, Johnny Dawkins, J.J. Redick, and the players on this team and on and on and on. True, lots of programs have great and classy players, and it's always annoying whenever a basketball coach suggests that somehow his program has a monopoly on them. But, yeah, they do seem to have done a lot of things right at Duke.
Stevens has it right. Every program wants to be like Duke. Every program would love to win all the time and have a great academic record and have fans that everyone considers witty. Everybody program would love to have a coach like Krzyzewski and players like Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
And yet, if you are like Duke for too long ... people will turn. Butler is a wonderful story now because Butler is new. But if Butler would win tonight and then make it back to the Final Four next year, and the year after that, and the year after that ... suddenly the story would lose a lot of its charm for people. Suddenly, you would find a lot of people wearing crude T-shirts ripping Butler. Suddenly, you would hear people muttering about how much they hate Butler.
But nobody really expects that to happen. That's because stories like Butler tend to be fleeting. That's because nobody really expects Butler to be a dominant and sophisticated and academically prominent program for the next 25 years like Duke has been the last 25. It's an almost impossible feat to do what Duke has done, if you really think about it.
And that's why, if you want to follow the script, if you want to despise Duke, if you want to root wildly for Butler to beat the odds, if you want to root wildly for the Blue Devils to taste bitter defeat, hey, knock yourself out. Enjoy it. That's part of the beauty of this matchup. You can hate Duke without guilt. Duke has earned the right to be hated. And that might be just about the best thing you can say about a college basketball team.
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