2010-04-09 / Columns

Who woulda thunk it?

LEDGER COLUMNIST
Joe L. HUGHES II
LEDGER STAFF WRITER

Who knew pleasure could turn to pain so quickly?

In the aftermath of last April’s Final Four, one team – my North Carolina Tar Heels – stood head and shoulders above the rest of the college basketball world as national champions.

The Tar Heels had taken fans like myself on quite a roller coaster during the four-year stretch since the school last won an NCAA title in 2005. As a matter of fact, I can tell you exactly where I was for each of the program’s last four losses during March Madness to the likes of George Mason, Georgetown and Kansas, respectively.

However, looking on as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Detroit last year, all I could do was give a slight pump of the fist, happy at what the team had accomplished but also wary of what could happen the next year.

With the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington making the jump to pro ball, the thought of the uncertainty frightened me.

Little did I know 12 calendar months later my deepest fears in regard to college basketball would come to fruition.

Of course, this year’s band of Tar Heels was not expected to be as good as the national title-winning team preceding it. But who would have known the program would not even make the tournament to defend the crown it worked so hard for less than 365 days before?

Meanwhile, rival Duke was putting together a season for the books, though it was anything but expected. Be truthful, who figured the Blue Devils would be playing in the Final Four as the clock struck midnight, ringing in 2010?

I sure didn’t.

After all, this was the same team that had its toughness questioned following last season’s beatdown at the hands of Big East Conference powerhouse Villanova.

It had been nine years since Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had taken his team back to college basketball’s promised land, led by the likes of future NBA talents Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy and Jay Williams.

The legendary coach had not taken the program past the tournament’s round of 16 since 2004, the year Krzyzewski led the Blue Devils to the Final Four, losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.

No doubt, as the title drought continued, questions began to linger as to how long the coach would remain on the sideline at Durham, constantly rumored to be taking an NBA coaching job.

Instead the man nicknamed “Coach K” stayed; and for that he and his program were rewarded with a championship.

Let’s not get anything twisted; the thought of the Duke Blue Devils makes my stomach turn. But I have always had a measure of respect for Krzyzewski’s abilities as a coach and father figure to his players.

Through the years, no coach has done more with less than “Coach K,” taking teams laden with sub-par talent and turning them into a cohesive unit able to take on all comers. He also was an intricate part of their time at Duke, yielding lessons able to be used later in life.

To me, that’s what a coach is supposed to be. More than X’s and O’s, wins and losses; but someone who cares about what his players give on and off the court.

Without a doubt, I applaud Krzyzewski and his team for the victory, it was definitely well deserved.

I do find it rather hilarious that a great many March Madness enthusiasts (not necessarily college basketball fans) loathe the success of the program.

Sure, fans of Duke’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) rivals get a pass, why would they root for the Blue Devils? But with the school’s success on the hardwood this season, I decided to take a vested interest into why it is one of the most hated in sports.

Is it the fact the school is a perennial power? Possibly. Could it be the fact it is an established institution of higher learning? Maybe. Or could it be the “Cameron Crazies“ that fill Cameron Indoor Stadium for every Blue Devils’ basketball are that annoying?

Two of those are debatable, like the host of other questions I formulated trying to find an answer as to why an estimated (according to me, that is) 95 percent of sports fans loathe Duke. The last question, though “Dookies’ will not agree, is a fact.

A great many of my friends happen to be Duke fans, so I at least wanted to see exactly why people hate them so much. Looks like I have wound up with more questions than concrete answers.

Unfortunately, the Blue Devils took the college basketball world to hell in a hand basket for me with their national title game win. Hopefully, my North Carolina team can restore the universe back to its proper alignment, turning this purgatory I currently feel into a Carolina Blue Heaven.

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