I have a confession to make.
I don’t hate Duke.
In fact, I used to love Duke.
I know. I know. College basketball fans — especially those Arizona Wildcat fans who know the history of the series between the programs and who are hyper-tuned to the frequency of East Coast Bias — are supposed to despise the big, bad Dookies.
It’s like hating the Dallas Cowboys (I do) or the Los Angeles Lakers (I really do) or the New York Yankees (I really, really do).
But Duke? I kind of feel like I was there from the beginning with Mike Krzyzewski.
Let me explain.
The year was 1981 and I was a freshman at Brophy Prep in Phoenix. The dear ol’ Broncos just happened to have a superstar basketball player — senior Mark Alarie.
(At one outdoor rally early in the school year, I ended up standing next to Alarie, who took one look at me, turned to his buddies and commented, “These freshmen are getting shorter every year.” Good one, Mark; how’s the weather up there?).
Basketball was a big deal around the school that season, with Brophy being one of the best teams in the state and Alarie, a 6-8 forward, facing off in some epic battles against 6-11 Brad Lohaus of Greenway High. In my first “journalism” job, I was responsible for calling in the home game box scores to the Arizona Republic.
“Alarie with 32 points … that’s A-l-a-r-i-e. … “
And it certainly was a big deal that Alarie was going to play basketball all the way across the country at a school named Duke. He was part of Krzyzewski’s most important recruiting class, the one that arrived after a 10-17 record in Coach K’s second season and would launch Duke into becoming the hated mega-monster it is today.
That class included Alarie, Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas and David Henderson … and Coach K put them all to work early.
WHY DO YOU HATE DUKE?
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Now, remember, for as overexposed as Duke is today, we we’re all enjoying a bright new spotlight called ESPN back then. The four-letter network debuted in 1979, and one of its early darlings — in addition to Australian Rules Football — was college basketball.
Duke basketball under Krzyzewski, ESPN and Dick Vitale all grew to outrageous proportions at the same time.
But, at the time, it was pure gold for a kid from Phoenix wanting to follow the prospects of his old schoolmate. The then-underdog Blue Devils, adding pieces such as Tommy Amaker and Danny Ferry, went from 11-17 in Alarie’s first season, to 24-10 to 23-8 to 37-3 and playing in the national title game.
They lost to Louisville 72-69.
With Duke, I had a “Before They Were Stars” affection.
While Alarie went on to an injury-plagued NBA career, the Blue Devils marched on to national championships in 1991 and 1992 with the core of Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. Fun teams, fun times, and dispatching UNLV in the 1991 Final Four was classic.
After that, Duke became over-promoted, over-praised, over-everything. And, for much of the past decade, after beating Arizona in the 2001 title game, the Blue Devils became relatively insignificant, advancing past the Sweet 16 once in eight years.
I mostly stopped caring.
But I could never work up a good hatred of Duke, even if Laettner was the most despised college basketball player ever … even if Coach K gets all the calls … even if the Blue Devils are arrogant … even if we get Duke shoved down our throats by ESPN …
So go ahead and hate Duke. I understand. I’ll still have my fond memories.
Looking for a good read on the old days of Arizona-Duke? Read this Curry Kirkpatrick feature from Sports Illustrated from Jan. 1988.