Thursday, March 24, 2011

Duke vs. Arizona - Flashback to the Future

Tomorrow night, Duke's gonna face Arizona in the Sweet 16 about an hour away from me. Unless somebody magically gave me $400 and helped with parking, looks like I'll be watching it from the casa. Earlier this week, former Duke guard and ESPN college analyst Jay Williams tweeted this is the first meeting between the schools since the 2001 national title game.

That game was huge for me as a Duke fan because I remember it like yesterday. Arizona ran through the Pac-10 easily and Duke was No. 1 most of the season. That was the team that helped solidify my fandom as I was debating if I'd apply there besides my first love, UCLA.

(Ironically, UCLA lost to Duke that year in the Sweet 16. For a minute, LA was buzzing about UCLA and USC meeting in the Elite 8. Duke ended up beating both of them.)

Shane Battier was a role model to me being a smart, Black athlete who had a lot of stuff said about him that folks said about me growing up. Jay Will was probably the best college point guard I've seen with his mix of IQ, speed and shooting. Course that didn't keep him from being a dummy in the NBA with that motorcycle (tell Kyrie Irving to be extra smart in vehicles!) And Chris Duhon was deadly as a freshman who made that backcourt one of my faves besides Earl Watson and Baron Davis.

When I used to play NBA Live 2000, I had a play called "Duke" where I'd take the PG and have him pull up for a 3 walking up court. They were heavy on the perimeter and between Jay Will, Duhon, Dunleavy and Battier jacking up 3's, it was bombs away all day. Ask Maryland who faced Duke four times that year and lost all 4, two of them in classic fashion.

Maryland had a 10-pt lead with a minute left in Cole Fieldhouse. Jay Will and Battier erased that and sent it to OT for the win. In the Final 4, Maryland was up 22 in the first half and I thought the game was over. Somehow Duke won by 11. The title game was mere formality.

Future pros in this game? Duke had Duhon, Jay, Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer. Arizona had Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton, Gilbert Arenas. Surprisingly Loren Woods didn't last long in the pros even though he was a tall force in the paint. That's a star studded lineup of upperclassmen and freshmen we may never see again in a college final.

I remember that game because it was when Mike Dunleavy broke out with 18 2nd-half points to push the victory and the Duke jersey I bought was his #34. I was so hyped when they won that I wore my jersey everywhere I could that spring. And the irony is the best pros from that game ended up being 2nd round picks (Arenas - 2001, Boozer - 2002)

10 years later, we got another rematch. But outside of Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving, I'm not a fan of too many guys on this team. Kyle Singler's regressed mightily from last year and despite being rated as highly as OJ Mayo, Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon and Kevin Love as a freshman, he'll barely get drafted. The Plumlee Brothers are nice but average swing men. Seth Curry is good and I'm already thinking he and Austin Rivers (Doc's son and the #1 kid in the country) will be nice next year.

I actually like Arizona more as a team. I covered Solomon Hill and Jordin Mayes closely when they went to high school out here. I saw Derrick Williams (above) play in an All-Star Game and show why he'd be a beast at the next level even though I'm shocked at HOW good he is as a future NBA lottery pick. I think Sean Miller's a great young coach. So it's almost like the tables are somewhat turned even though I'm rooting for Duke.

Here's hoping 10 years later we get a great game. And yes, I'll be wearing my jersey for extra luck.

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