- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

SYRACUSE, N.Y

Tommy Amaker's Seton Hall team had just finished practice Thursday at the Carrier Dome when Duke took the floor. It was perhaps a moment of passage for Amaker, who starred for the Blue Devils and was an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski for nine season.

"It was scary," said Amaker, whose Pirates are in the Sweet 16 in his third season. "Part of me was saying, 'What the heck am I'm doing here?' It makes you think, 'Boy, we've come a long way with our team and our program.' "

Seton Hall is the darling of the East Region after overtime upsets in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Friday night the 10th-seeded Pirates again will be heavy underdogs when they play No. 3 Oklahoma State in the semifinals. Top-ranked, top-seeded Duke will face No. 5 Florida in the other game.

"Here we are with some of the best ever with [Oklahoma State] Coach [Eddie] Sutton and Coach K the elite programs that have been able to enjoy success all times like Duke," said Amaker, whose first two Seton Hall teams finished 15-15 and played in the NIT. "I feel very proud that I've been a part of that at Duke. I feel even prouder that we're trying to somehow steal a page out of them for this moment in time."

It has been an improbable run for the 22-9 Pirates and their 34-year-old coach, who was raised in Fairfax, Va., and played for legendary high school coach Red Jenkins at W.T. Woodson High School. The Pirates stunned second-seeded Temple in the second round as reserve point guard Ty Shine scored 26 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the extra session.

Starting point guard Shaheen Holloway, the team's best player, did not practice Thursday and is still suffering from a badly sprained ankle suffered in the first half against Temple. The 5-10 senior is questionable for Friday night. Even without Holloway, who had the decisive layup with one second left in the OT win over seventh-seeded Oregon in the first round, the Pirates have persevered to this point.

"I think the job Tommy has done has been remarkable," Krzyzewski said of his disciple. "I thought his first two years were terrific. To have this year with … the promise of what might happen a year from now with all the [heralded] recruits and all that. For them to be able to focus and give his seniors, an opportunity to have such a successful season I think that is one of the best leadership jobs that I have seen."

Next year was supposed to be the year of the Pirates' uprising, but somehow they didn't get the memo. Despite closing the regular season by losing five of its last seven, Seton Hall got one of the final NCAA at-large bids and has made the most of it. The Pirates hit 15 of 30 3-pointers to doom Temple, and suddenly Amaker is one win away from a likely match against mentor Krzyzewski for a trip to the Final Four.

The two coaches spoke following Seton Hall's win over Temple, but Amaker shied away from asking Coach K about strategy for Oklahoma State, which the Blue Devils eliminated from the tournament two seasons ago.

"I didn't dare ask him anything," Amaker said. "I know that his main concern is the Florida Gators. He just called to say congratulations, and maybe that told me that he has confidence that we know what we are doing."

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