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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Duke Just Has to Put Up With It

The Blue Devils have became the target of fans' disaffection, and foul play by some opponents.

March 26, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — They're the New York Yankees of college basketball.

They don't rebuild, they reload. Lose a McDonald's All-American, cruise the drive-through window for another.

Fans either love them or loathe them, mostly the latter. And they hear all about it.

Ladies and gentlemen: the Duke Blue Devils, those former choir boys-turned-wanna-be Boyz in the Hood who are arguably the most-hated team in the country.

Just ask them.

"Other teams throughout the country, they think of us as clean-cut preppy boys, choir-type," said junior Daniel Ewing. "I think our game shows that we're different than that."

Duke, top-seeded in the Atlanta Regional, will display its many images, real and imagined, tonight in a regional semifinal against fifth-seeded Illinois. (Third-seeded Texas plays seventh-seeded Xavier in the other game.) Despite the relative proximity to their Durham (N.C.) campus, the Blue Devils don't expect a cordial reception.

"When people are jealous, they're obviously going to be negative towards you," said sophomore J.J. Redick.

And the Cameron Crazies wonder why their team is so often viewed as smug and sanctimonious.

When did it all change? When did Duke, before which many in both the NCAA and media genuflected, become the Evil Empire?

Maybe around the time the Blue Devils decided to get fashionable and sport black uniforms.

But wasn't it Duke, in winning the first of its three national titles, that won a supposed battle for good over evil by upending Jerry Tarkanian's then-unbeaten Nevada Las Vegas in the 1991 Final Four?

And wasn't it Duke that kept UNLV from winning consecutive titles while starting its own run of two straight?

Duke should be revered, not reviled. Right?

Well, to quote Virginia Coach Pete Gillen, who a few years back summed up his disdain for the Blue Devils through his clam-chowdah-thick New England accent, "Duke is Duke. They're on TV more often than 'Leave it to Beaver' reruns."

Still, what Duke has enjoyed under Coach Mike Krzyzewski -- nine Final Four appearances and championships in 1991, '92 and 2001 -- has made the Blue Devils made-for-television fodder.

Yet even Krzyzewski recently suggested that some teams want to hurt his players.

Redick said, "A lot of it has to do with the amount of success we've had, especially in Coach K's era.

"So I think there's a certain amount of jealousy, a certain amount of envy out there. And also with the way we get portrayed ... as choirboys. People don't like that."

Duke's image, however, has changed somewhat. Consider: Over the last few years, several Blue Devils have had brushes with the law -- Redick (marijuana), Chris Duhon (underage drinking), Reggie Love (DUI) and Casey Sanders (assault). It used to be that to even mention Duke in the same sentence with such "outlaw" schools as UNLV or Fresno State or Miami was tantamount to heresy.

Now, the Blue Devils hear the taunts on the court, and not just in Chapel Hill.

"It's strange but at the same time you learn to love it," said Luol Deng, the freshman from Sudan by way of London. "It's kind of like the Yankees or Manchester United ... if people are hating you that much, then you must be doing something good.

"A lot of comments are about your family or where you're from or your skin color. We heard it all."

How ironic it is, then, that the Blue Devils, 13 years after having been huge fan favorites in their upset of UNLV, are now taking a page from the Rebels' book of "Us Against the World."

"We realize that we're not liked by many but we still want to go out and just play, maybe win people over, maybe not," Duhon said. "The thing is, we do it the right way. We win the right way. And we're just going to continue to win, no matter what people feel about it."

In mentioning "the right way," Duhon was referring to the Blue Devils' hard-scrabble style of play. Still, if Duke is doing it the right way, then why the haters?

"I don't know," Duhon said. "I mean, it's a mystery to us. I guess a lot of people [compare us to] the Detroit Pistons when they were the Bad Boys. You hear all the time that we're too good, like everybody wants to find something wrong."

Said Ewing: "It's never in between. For our team, you're either with us or you're not."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How Sweet It Is

Most consecutive round-of-16 appearances in the NCAA Division I tournament since 1976, the year after UCLA's John Wooden retired after establishing college basketball's ultimate dynasty -- 10 national championships in 12 years:

*--* No. School Coach(es) Years 13 N. Carolina Dean Smith 1981-93 7 Duke Mike Krzyzewski 1998-2004 7 Duke Mike Krzyzewski 1986-92 5 UCLA Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, Larry Brown 1976-80 5 Kansas Roy Williams 1993-97 5 Kentucky Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith 1995-99 5 Notre Dame Digger Phelps 1975-79

*--*

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