True Fan: Give the (Blue) Devil Her Due
Recap: I am a Duke graduate and a loyal college (not pro) basketball fan since way back.
However, upon matriculating at 28387 I became the de facto arrogant, fast-talking half-Yankee traitor to the boys with blue tar stuck to the heels of their $200 Nikes. So, I figured, might as well be hung for ram as a lamb. Outrageous columns followed. I boasted. I justified. I goaded and challenged, mostly with big words. Reaction? Withering. I refused to wither. Now, after 11 pre-conference wins ... I’m back.
Of course I view Duke basketball from a different — though no less worthy — perspective. This is family. The players are like grandsons. I know them by the way they walk, grimace, sweat, scratch, shoot. I see both fear and pride in their eyes. I sit, figuratively and enviously, beside their parents in the stands.
Oh, for just one ticket. ...
I wear Duke T-shirts, hoodies and pins. A devil’s head hangs from my rear-view mirror. Could that be why I got a $50 ticket for parking 3 inches over the line in Chapel Hill?
In other words, I’m a grey-haired groupie with a royal-blue heart.
That heart was broken when Duke lost to Lehigh early in the NCAA tournament last March. I felt cheated, betrayed. The boys I had watched every single televised game let me down. I suffered the genteel sneers of Carolina and N.C. State co-workers. Then when one-and-done Austin Rivers followed in the footsteps of Kyrie Irving I almost defected.
Almost — revived only by the pitter-patter of giant feet on hardwood this November. My fidelity was rewarded. Mason Plumlee grew up; his head now communicates with his feet. Summer with LeBron improved his dismal free-throw average. Mason’s no longer a one-trick pony. Amazing, also, what a difference having big brother Miles elsewhere makes.
Quinn Cook found his mojo. Josh Hairston lost his puzzled expression. Somebody installed a bunny battery into Ryan Kelly. Coach K, with another Olympic gold circling his neck, sprouted three gray hairs in the front and lost 12 black ones in the back.
Freshman phenom Rasheed Sulaimon … well, he’s our four-leaf clover. At 6-foot-4 Sulaimon appears smaller because he’s always crouched down, moving like a spider in all directions, fearless, with his eye on the prize. Why this guy never smiles remains a mystery. Maybe he needs cookie. Or a lesson from Seth Curry of the sly grin and deadly accuracy from trifecta range.
Newbies Jefferson and Murphy show real promise and, from his two-minute debut against Cornell, Marshall Plumlee (biggest of the three), once healthy, will contribute brute force.
Plus, next year we’re getting Jabari Parker — the No. 2 ranked high school senior. Parker announced he chose Duke partly for the education!
From an entertainment standpoint, Duke basketball delivers drama. I like that. The squad is known to piddle along for 15 minutes before making a “run.” Take the Elon game. Even the announcers were speculating an upset. Then, just before halftime, shots started falling. Quinn Cook’s successful buzzer-beating Hail Mary from half court brought the worried crowd to their feet. Second half — lights out, Elon.
Best of all, the love lavished on Todd Zafirovski, a hulking senior walk-on, who in three years played 21 scoreless minutes. His job: Get banged up by the Plumlees during defense drills. Then, with Duke 40-some points up on Delaware, coach fielded Big Z. Fans and teammates jumped up screaming. When Z scored, they went ballistic. I almost cried. Same thing when he made a free throw a couple of games later,
But is Duke that good this year ... or are the other teams deficient? Something’s afoot, when Temple defeats Syracuse and Butler beats Indiana. Watch out for Carolina to shake its slump.
Can Duke hang onto No. l ? We’ll know soon. ACC play commences Jan. 5.
Win or lose, they’re my boys. They’re cute, clean-cut — meaning short hair and few tattoos. Most graduate. They may never replace Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer in my heart but nothing lasts forever. Disappointments happen. I’ll survive and, once again, feel the same thrill as freshman week, 1956, when I received my first student ticket book.
We live in a hoops state. Every North Carolinian should adopt a team, alumni or not. Because basketball is a beautiful game, easy to follow, displaying rhythm and grace — almost like a dance integrating jazz with ballet. Think Michael Jackson partnering Mikhail Baryshnikov, choreographed by Mike Krzyzewski to music by Steve Wojciechowski. For the record, despite my Duke diploma, I had to look up those spellings.
OK, the shot clock is running. Come at me.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com
More like this story