- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

Duke is the college basketball team that everyone loves to hate, however misguided the hate is.

The Blue Devils are said to be too pristine, too privileged, too much a reflection of their sanctimonious coach.

They have no street urchin in them, no dirt underneath their fingernails, no rap sheet.

They do not come from the despair of America’s urban jungles. They come from Medford, Ore. Or they come from Merion, Pa.

That is the spiel often directed against the Duke basketball team. It is the same spiel that was held against the Duke lacrosse team during the hoax rape fallout.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski does things the right way at Duke, and somehow that is a negative.

That is symptomatic of the upside-down logic that permeates America today. It is the kind of class warfare that politicians employ to exploit the American electorate. Bad is good, and good is bad in this environment. Reward the unsuccessful. Penalize the successful.

Krzyzewski lures a certain type of student-athlete to Duke. There is no denying that. You could call Gerald Henderson his latter-day version of Grant Hill in at least one respect. Henderson is the son of a former NBA player, Hill the son of a former NFL great.

Krzyzewski does not recruit athletes so much as he recruits basketball players. It just so happened that Hill was both a wonderful athlete and a skilled practitioner with a high basketball IQ.

This Duke team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006, is neither athletic nor imposing. These Blue Devils do not outmuscle opponents. They do not outrun opponents. And their interior defense is sometimes nonexistent.

So this is what they do: They play a scrappy sort of defense. They are more pugnacious under the backboards than they look. They also spread the floor on offense.

Their spacing on offense is usually impeccable, which stretches the best defensive teams. This is why they generate so many open 3-point looks in each game. This is why they take more than 20 3-pointers a game.

The Blue Devils are not necessarily a great perimeter shooting team, although they converted seven of 14 3-point attempts against Texas. But they are a confident shooting team partly because of Krzyzewski’s ability not to micromanage every possession.

He identifies who his lead players are each season and grants them the freedom to play through their mistakes, with the belief that it creates a more psychologically beneficial environment.

A player who is always looking to the bench after a poor decision is one who has been set up to fail.

In this regard, Krzyzewski maximizes the capacities of his lead players, no matter their physical and athletic deficiencies.

Kyle Singler, the No. 2 talent on the team behind Henderson, is not explosive or strong. And he is a much better spot-up shooter than a dribble-pop one. Yet in Krzyzewski’s system, his pluses have been maximized, his minuses masked.

Singler is reflective of the team. It is not a great team. It is a team that maximizes what it has and is able to overcome a tough stretch in a game.

The play that toppled Texas was not a shot or rebound or steal. It was a loose ball in the waning seconds that Jon Scheyer raced down and, without looking, hurled it to the other end of the floor. Elliot Williams drew a foul in pursuit of the ball, which resulted in two missed free throws, a rebound by Henderson and two free throws to settle the issue.

There was no statistic to quantify that savvy play, only the praise of a coach who recognized the value of it. Those kinds of plays have come to define the Duke team.

It is not a team that prompts superlatives in the sense of Memphis or Pittsburgh. It is a resourceful and resilient team, a team that has overachieved on some level, hardly a team to hate.

That should be taken as a good thing unless good is bad.

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