CHAPTER ONE: THE BIG FOUR
It was just after one o'clock in the afternoon and already the temperature was soaring inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Outside on this last day of February, it was sunny and mild. But inside the stone edifice -- one of those rare structures that possesses a soul according to Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team -- the heat was on, literally and figuratively. Coach Krzyzewski saw to that. Legend has it that Coach K always turns up the thermostat when someone special comes to visit. It is a charge he has denied, but there seems to be something to it.
Despite the familiar heat, the legendary Cameron Crazies -- student fans who are either clever, rude, creative, or obnoxious depending on one's point of view -- jostled for position close to the court and began their pregame ritual. Someone very special was about to walk onto the court.
"Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell!
"Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell!"
These words, familiar to anyone who follows basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference, would be repeated hundreds of times before the day was done. Sweat began dripping off the Crazies' chins almost as quickly as they settled into the rhythm of their favorite chant, yet that was hardly a concern. Even the bare -- chested ones could not possibly stay cool on such an afternoon, nor would they want to. It felt a little like hell must, and that is exactly how they wanted it.
But in reality the heat was on Krzyzewski and the Duke basketball team as much as it was on North Carolina or anyone else. That is usually the case when these two schools get together not so much to play a basketball game but to wage a war with everything they can muster. As the temperature continued to rise inside the arena, the tension level rose to match it.
It was a special day for Duke. It was Senior Day at Cameron, perhaps the most revered day at what is surely the most hallowed court in college basketball. At precisely two o'clock, four senior players on Duke's team would be honored before tipping it off against their most hated rival, the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina. Aside from everything else, that is what made this game -- or any game when Duke and Carolina clashed -- different from all others during the basketball season.
It isn't a long trip up Tobacco Road from North Carolina to Duke, or vice versa. But it usually is a difficult and grueling one. Just ask former Carolina forward Mike O'Koren, who after one hard-fought battle at Cameron collapsed from heat exhaustion in front of his locker stall. This was after the Crazies commemorated O'Koren's obvious and sensitive skin problem by brandishing signs that referred to him as the "OXY-1000 Poster Child." Or ask former Duke forward Art Heyman, who once nearly incited a riot by brawling not only with several of Carolina's players but also with one of their cheerleaders. The latter transgression was witnessed by a Durham lawyer who happened to have graduated from North Carolina; he swore out an arrest warrant on Heyman for the alleged assault. Everywhere else in America former North Carolina star Michael Jordan was hailed as daring and stylish for his high-flying moves to the basket with his tongue wagging out in front of him; at Cameron they threw tongue depressors at him in disgust.
There is no place in America like Tobacco Road when it comes to college basketball. And there is no place on Tobacco Road like Cameron Indoor Stadium on a steamy afternoon when Duke is playing host to Carolina.
At twenty minutes to two, the last holdouts from an overflow press corps filtered into Cameron and attempted to wedge themselves into seats on both sides of the court. Mark Crow, a former Duke player, sat next to the media contingent located directly behind the scorer's table near midcourt, shaded just a bit toward the seat occupied by Coach Bill Guthridge on the North Carolina bench. Crow had traveled all the way from Italy, where he now lived, to attend this annual event.
Guthridge had been coming to Cameron for these games for more than thirty years, but this was his first visit as a head coach, having taken over for Dean Smith prior to the 1997-98 season. Smith, college basketball's winningest coach, retired somewhat abruptly the previous October but still talked with Guthridge at least twice a week about strategy and team chemistry. But on this occasion -- which also happened to be Smith's sixty-seventh birthday -- Dean wasn't in sight. That really didn't seem to matter, though. There wasn't much the Dean could tell Guthridge about the pitfalls of playing Duke in this building that the current North Carolina coach didn't already know, or at least suspect.
Guthridge, a gray-haired, bespectacled gentleman sixty years of age, outwardly wears the image of an easygoing, good-hearted grandfather. He usually displays a calm that seems too serene to be real, even in the heat of the most intense battle. But on this day, he seemed unusually nervous as he paced the sideline in front of his bench.
Shortly before two o'clock, Cameron regular Frances Redding sang the national anthem. This was another Duke tradition that fed the Crazies' insatiable appetite. As she sang the last few bars, they went crazy -- there was just no other word for it.
Then, one by one, the Duke seniors were introduced. Todd Singleton -- a walk-on who rarely played but was a fan favorite -- went first. Roshown McLeod followed. Two years earlier McLeod was an unknown transfer from St. John's who had yet to play a single minute for the Blue Devils. Now, he was an undisputed star. The crowd roared as McLeod made his way to center court, waved, and then motioned toward someone in the stands. He jogged back over to retrieve his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Anthony, and held him high for everyone to see.
Next up was Ricky Price. Two years earlier he had been a star, averaging 14.2 points and earning third team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. Now, he was a forgotten backup, his career basically wrecked by his failure to take care of business academically. Krzyzewski had used him only sparingly since his return to the squad in December from an academic suspension.
Finally, it was Wojo's turn. This was the moment the Crazies had been waiting for. As Steve Wojciechowski's name was announced, it seemed as if the old building would burst at the rafters from the noise. The place exploded, or at least it sounded like it had. Wojo, as he was known to teammates and Crazies alike, hugged coaches, players, and managers as he made his way to center court. He would have hugged every Duke fan in the building if he could have. Tears streamed from his eyes as he turned and waved to each crevice and corner that made up this haven called Cameron. It was probably the only college basketball court in the country where Wojo was loved not loathed.
The cheers were deafening. The four Duke seniors embraced at center court.
Guthridge continued to pace.
As Wojo walked from center court, he tried to wipe the tears from his eyes.
"Stop crying, you baby," he thought. "It's time to stop crying and start playing basketball."
But at this moment, he wasn't in control of himself. He was bawling. Mark Crow leaned to a reporter and shouted that this scene was not good for Duke -- too much emotion, too many tears.
"It's too close to tip-off for that," Crow warned.
Guthridge sauntered over to the scorer's table.
"When are we gonna start this thing?" he asked.
"Thirty seconds," answered Steve Kirschner, the North Carolina director of media relations who was monitoring the television timeout leading up to the tipoff.
Guthridge turned and walked back to the bench, only to return about sixty seconds later.
"This is some thirty seconds. When are we gonna get going here?" Guthridge asked again, nervously.
Kirschner could only shrug this time. It was out of his control.
Finally, Kirschner gave the signal to the coaches and officials that the TV folks, including bombastic announcer Dick Vitale, were ready.
"What a surprise! Vitale wouldn't shut up," Kirschner announced with a laugh as play at last was set to begin.
It was two o'clock, and no one had yet scored any baskets. But the day's pace already was exhausting.
Precisely 10.6 miles of U.S. Route 15-501 separate the offices of Krzyzewski at Duke and Guthridge at North Carolina. Nowhere else in America are two schools with such rich basketball history and tradition located so close to one another. The proximity of two other ACC rivals -- North Carolina State and Wake Forest -- makes the situation even more interesting. In a state where college basketball is a serious religion, these four programs are known as the Big Four.
Born layups apart chronologically and geographically, these four schools have endeared themselves to an entire nation through the years. But while legions across the country follow each thundering dunk, every sweet jump shot, and all the gritty defensive stands, it is their local fans and loyal alumni who vicariously experience victory or defeat.
The schools grew up within a 34-mile radius of one another. To this day, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Duke remain situated a half-hour's drive apart. Wake Forest College, which had been located 19 miles west of Durham and 16 miles north of Raleigh in the tiny town of Wake Forest, received a large sum of tobacco money from R.J. Reynolds Company to move to Winston-Salem, a distance of only 110 miles due west, in the summer of 1956. Wake moved (and upgraded its name to Wake Forest University), but its fiercest basketball rivalries had already been set.
"There isn't another place in the country where four schools located so close to each other are the forces in college basketball that these teams are," said Terry Oberle, sports editor at the Winston-Salem Journal. "But it isn't just that these teams are close to each other or that they're usually very good every season. It's the way the fans embrace them -- and hate the other three schools.
"Either you're for Duke or you're not. If you're not, you hate them. Either you're for North Carolina or you're not. If you're not, you hate them. Same with N.C. State and Wake. The only other place in the United States that I can think of that might be similar is in Philadelphia, where you have Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joseph's, and Rutgers. But even there, fans aren't as passionate about those teams. They never have been. Part of it might be the pull of professional sports in that area. They've had pro baseball, football, and hockey for years, and even the New York teams aren't far away. Down here, there were only the colleges until Charlotte recently got pro basketball and football. And the only sport anyone gave a damn about for years was basketball."
Those who move to the area feel the force of the Big Four immediately. Krzyzewski, a Chicago native who arrived in Durham to coach Duke in 1980, certainly did.
"There is no other area like this in the United States," Krzyzewski said. "It produces situations and feelings that you really can't accurately express to other people on the outside -- because they have no understanding of it. They say they understand it, but they don't. You have to be around here all the time.
"So many times it's like Carolina's got this and Duke's got that. Or State's got this and Wake's got that. We should have gotten this and they should have gotten that. Those comments come from people all the time -- and from all the schools. That creates rivalries that are uncommon in sports and there's no way that people who haven't lived here could realize that."
Those who do live in the area understand that Duke fans wear blue, but not the Carolina blue the Tar Heels wear. State fans wear red. And Wake fans, who recently were awakened from a three-decade slumber to relive past glory, wear gold and black or whatever they can find that pays homage to Coach Dave Odom and Time Duncan, their program's two saviors.
Jim Valvano, a native New Yorker who coached at North Carolina State from 1980 to 1990, once told Barry Jacobs of The New York Times: "When I first got here I thought it was unusual...that colors could evoke such unbridled joy or wrath in people. I understand it now. I don't think I'll ever cease to be amazed by it."
Each of the Big Four schools and their basketball programs are unique, yet each one strives for the same ultimate goal. A championship in the highly competitive ACC is always near the top of the list. And so is winning a national championship. North Carolina, N.C. State, and Duke have combined to win seven national championships since 1957. Wake reached the Final Four in 1962 and the Final Eight in 1996, but has yet to capture that final prize.
Woody Durham, long-time radio broadcaster of North Carolina games and a native of the state, once explained it this way to Jacobs: "You live with the rivalries every day. We force you to choose sides. That's just the way we do it, and that's why we've got the tremendous interest we do."
In Chapel Hill, which the Fiske Guide to Colleges refers to as "the Southern part of heaven," the University of North Carolina occupies a 730-acre campus dotted with trees, manicured lawns, and thirty miles of brick-paved walkways. The campus was recently ranked among the top twenty in the nation for beauty by Thomas Gaines in his book The Campus as a Work of Art. The basketball team plays in the Dean Dome, named after Coach Dean Smith, and there is little doubt about their most feared and hated rivals.
"A game with Duke makes any Carolina fan's heart beat faster," the Fiske Guide says. "But N.C. State takes the prize as the most hated rival of all."
Duke fans might take exception to that observation based on their heated games with North Carolina during the 1997-98 season when both teams were for a time ranked number one nationally. While UNC is located on one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, both Duke and State have more of an urban feel about them. Duke's campus is still pretty -- buffeted by the 8,300-acre Duke Forest and anchored by the majestic Duke Chapel -- but it is located in Durham, where crime is a real-life, day-to-day problem. This could be why only 14 percent of the student population actually hails from North Carolina, with a large portion of the rest migrating from the northeastern states of New York and New Jersey. (At UNC, on the other hand, 82 percent of the student body comes from within the state.) Duke's basketball fans seem to reflect the rougher edge, earning a national reputation as one of the rowdiest, most innovative crowds anywhere in the college game. They enjoy poking fun at Carolina's supposed arrogance and N.C. State's reputation as a party school soft on academics. The feeling at Duke is that students there have the best of both worlds -- they know how to study and have a good time, too, and they don't look down their noses at anybody (except, of course, for the students and fans from UNC, State, and Wake Forest).
As for N.C. State, the school continued to fight the renegade image it first earned during shocking scandals in 1957 and again in the early 1960s. The scandal-ridden coaching stints of Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano did nothing to dispel that reputation. it has been a long, uphill fight for the Wolfpack. And as Les Robinson found out, you had better win while you're working on graduating student-athletes, or you'll be gone very quickly. Robinson improved on the academics after Valvano was forced out, but didn't win enough and eventually was asked to step down as coach. Ironically, he now serves as the school's athletics director as it continues to attempt to rediscover the magic that led to national championships in 1974 and 1983. In recent years, Wake Forest has rekindled memories of the 1950s and 1960s when it was a national basketball power. In the days of Bones McKinney, Len Chappell, and Billy Packer, and before that in the days of Murray Greason, they were as feared and as despised as the other three teams who comprise the Big Four. Their recent return to basketball prominence under Dave Odom and center Tim Duncan, a two-time college Player of the Year who went on to become the first player chosen in the 1997 NBA draft, have served to stoke the fires again.
And while the Fisk Guide to Colleges makes a point of inferring that North Carolina State is North Carolina's biggest rival, Wake Forest coach Dave Odom makes it clear that there is absolutely no question about which school is the biggest rival of the other three Big Four schools: North Carolina. And that is why perhaps the only group more prominent in the state of North Carolina than UNC alumni may be the ABC gang -- Anybody But Carolina.
"I grew up in North Carolina, and the University of North Carolina is not one of those vanilla schools," Odom said. "Whether you take them or leave them, they're there. And you're either for them or you're against them. There's no in-between on them."
Long before Krzyzewski and Wojo or even Dean Smith, the Big Four scene was inhabited by hoops pioneers like Everett Case, Frank McGuire, Bones McKinney, and Vic Bubas. Magical seasons were forged by players such as Lennie Rosenbluth, Art Heyman, David Thompson, and Michael Jordan.
As coach of Wake Forest and a native of North Carolina who has at various times in his life been touched by all of the Big Four programs, Odom knew how to put this phenomenon into perspective.
"People ask me all the time, 'What's the most difficult thing about your job?' That's typically the question I get, and I always say the same thing. The best and the worst is the same. It's the ACC. It's the best because it's the highest-caliber basketball in the country year in and year out. It is a basketball league. It gets the most publicity. It's the most analyzed, the most important, the most intense.
"When you're recruiting, you can knock on any door in the country and at least get in. You may not get the kid, but you can at least get in. I don't think there's another conference in the country where you can say that. We can go anywhere and get in the door. They will listen. So that's part of being the best. Plus the games are the best. The arenas are the best. And the ACC Tournament is absolutely the best.
"But the ACC is also the worst because everything you do, right or wrong, is microscopically analyzed. It's analyzed and rehashed and retalked about. It's the most unforgiving league in the country. When you make a mistake, everyone knows about it and everyone talks about it the next day at the water cooler. There's nowhere to hide. So it's the best and the worst all at one time."
But would Odom consider coaching anywhere else?
He smiled at the question.
"There's nothing like it in this country," he said. "I'm always amused when I'm out recruiting and I hear some of the things coaches outside our league say to paint the picture that going to their school would be better than coming to one of ours. But in the back of my mind, I know that nine times out of ten, those coaches would switch places with us right away."
On this fine day in February, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Big Four stage solely belonged to the Big Two and their very different basketball teams. This February meeting was the two hundredth in the history of the Carolina-Duke rivalry. And it was shaping up to be one of the best.
When the teams had met three weeks earlier in Chapel Hill, some mischievous Duke students stoked the rivalry's home fires by swiping a retired North Carolina Michael Jordan jersey from the rafters at the Smith Center. The Jordan jersey was later discovered hanging outside Cameron Indoor Stadium on the day of the two hundredth showdown in the storied series.
Not to be outdone, North Carolina students responded by stealing not only a Grant Hill jersey from the rafters at Cameron, but also a signed poster of the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team," valued at twenty thousand dollars, from Coach Krzyzewski's office. Krzyzewski had been one of head coach Chuck Daly's assistants on that team and he was more than a little steamed about it getting stolen. Three weeks later, it was recovered after an anonymous tip led police to a garbage bag outside the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
This wasn't the first time such high jinks had preceded a Duke-Carolina showdown. In fact, this kind of behavior occurred between the Big Four schools every day. Once, before a Carolina-N.C. State game, a national championship banner was taken from Carolina's building and draped in disrespect over a nearby highway overpass. Ed Hardin, a columnist for the Greensboro News and Record, laughed as he assessed the latest antics just prior to the Duke-Carolina tip-off.
After all, the two buildings where these teams played their home games were about as different as the fans who followed them. The Dean Dome was a modern, antiseptic, imposing structure where fans usually sat in relative calm while they watched the action unfold in front of them on the court. Cameron was old, dusty, small, and cramped, and looked to the naked eye from the outside nothing like a basketball arena at all.
"What's great about all this is that you know the Duke students probably had to come up with some elaborate scheme just to get into the Smith Center and take the Jordan jersey I can just imagine them scaling walls and all sorts of stuff," Hardin said. "Then here at Cameron, all the Carolina folks had to do was break a window. Then they probably walked right in and took whatever they wanted."
Duke entered this game ranked number one in the nation, a distinction it also held earlier in the year when North Carolina, then ranked number two, had run roughshod over the Blue Devils in meeting number 199 in Chapel Hill. As a result, Carolina took the number-one ranking until they suffered an upset loss at home to another Big Four rival, North Carolina State, just sixteen days later. When Duke hammered UCLA the very next afternoon at Cameron, they laid claim to the top spot in the nation's polls.
Carolina's loss to State had dropped them to number three in the polls, but Guthridge's squad did not look like the number three team in the nation at the start of this game. And Duke certainly didn't look like they were number one. Indeed, it seemed as if the two teams had swapped positions once again. Carolina jumped to a quick 25-9 lead before Duke even called their first time out. Carolina was dominating, and it appeared the Cameron Crazies were heading for a long, painful afternoon.
With 12:49 left in the first half, Krzyzewski sent in Wojciechowski, McLeod, and freshman Shane Battier, to check in for Chris Burgess, Elton Brand, and Trajan Langdon.
Carolina assistant Pat Sullivan, who was in charge of keeping track of the opposing team's substitutions, made his way to the scorer's table and sought out Kirschner.
"Who's coming in for them?" Sullivan asked.
Kirschner wasn't sure.
"There's so many of them, it doesn't make any difference," Sullivan joked.
Indeed, Duke had supposedly gained an advantage in depth and endurance on Carolina earlier in the year by developing a bench while Guthridge ignored his. The Blue Devils ran ten-deep some games, sometimes substituting five-for-five at a time. Guthridge usually stuck to six or seven players. His "starting six," as he called them, consisted of leading scorer and rebounder Antawn Jamison, Shammond Williams, Vince Carter, point guard Ed Cota, and his interchangeable big men Makhtar Ndiaye and Ademola Okulaja. Guthridge's starting lineup changed each game; he had one of his six starters come off the bench in an unusual alphabetical rotation.
Jamison, who had burnt the Blue Devils for 35 points and 11 rebounds in the first game between the two teams, was on his way to another big afternoon. But with roughly nine minutes, thirty seconds left in the first half, Jamison was called for his first personal foul. He complained about it, and the Crazies finally had some spontaneous ammunition.
They began to chant: "Whine-y bitch! Whine-y bitch!
Jamison just smiled.
But he wasn't smiling a moment later, when Cota dribbled away half the thirty-five-second shot clock and then missed a field-goal attempt without even thinking about getting the ball down low on the block to Jamison. As they ran back down to the other end of the court, Jamison gestured to Cota and angrily yelled, "Give me the damn ball, man!"
Cota nodded. He knew Jamison was right.
When the halftime buzzer rang, Carolina had a comfortable 42-30 lead.
Krzyzewski stormed off the court and into the locker room, where he immediately ripped off his sport coat, his shirt, and his tie. Everything was drenched with sweat. He angrily discarded his shirt and tie. In the other locker room, Guthridge stayed dressed and calmly told his team that all they had to do was maintain their composure and victory, along with the number-one ranking in college basketball, would be theirs some time shortly after four o'clock.
Krzyzewski addressed his team with his upper body covered only by a simple white T-shirt. It fit his approach. He wanted his guys to get back to the basics, the pure fundamentals of basketball, that helped them win 26 of their first 28 games.
"We're too tentative. We're getting beat to rebounds and loose balls. We're not playing like ourselves," Coach K fumed. "We play differently against these guys and it doesn't make sense. Just be yourselves out there. Do all the things we've been doing for the last month and a half and we'll be fine.
"We've played sixty minutes of basketball against this team this year -- three halves. And we haven't played with the kind of passion or energy we need."
To his assistant coaches, Krzyzewski wondered aloud as he donned a white golf shirt and grabbed his blazer before heading back out: "Why is it that we always seem to play a different game against North Carolina?"
No one could answer him.
After intermission, Mark Crow returned to his seat in the stands and mentioned again that the Duke seniors had much on their shoulders. Perhaps too much.
"It's Senior Day and you're defending the number-one ranking -- and it's Carolina," Crow said. "One of those alone, especially just playing Carolina, would be enough. You have to be an awful mature man to carry all that weight. There is such a thing as having too much adrenaline.
"I remember my Senior Day. I shot about three for fifteen. I got a lot of rebounds, but I couldn't hit a shot. I was too wound up and I didn't have all this going on."
Crow looked at Guthridge, who had just returned to the court from the locker room. He shook his head.
"There's the real story in college basketball this season, if you ask me," said the Duke man. "The job he's done following Dean is remarkable. Following a legend in anything is never easy. Sometimes it's impossible. And look at him. Everybody else in here is sweating their asses off, and he looks like he just got a cup of tea and he's getting ready to read the morning newspaper."
Guthridge wouldn't look like that in an hour.
As Guthridge sat down with not a bead of perspiration in sight, Krzyzewski marched past to his spot on the Duke bench. With his fresh white golf shirt, Krzyzewski looked like a new man. He hoped his team would look rejuvenated, too.
It didn't happen right away, but it did happen. After falling behind 64-47 with 11:39 left, Duke rallied furiously.
Freshman Elton Brand hit a jump hook, drawing a foul from Ndiaye in the process. Though ten minutes were still left to be played, the 6-11 Ndiaye had just collected his fifth foul. As Ndiaye walked slowly to the bench, the Crazies tried to time their chant with the precise moment he would sit down, humming slowly until they reached a certain decibel level then shouting in unison: "See ya!"
Ndiaye faked them out. He feigned like he was going to sit down, but remained standing, smiling at the student section across from the Carolina bench.
The chants grew louder.
"Sit! Sit! Sit!"
Ndiaye wouldn't play along. He kept standing and smiling.
Finally, Guthridge tugged at Ndiaye's jersey and told him to sit. For the first time all day, it looked as if there might be some sweat glistening on the forehead of the now-agitated coach.
Ndiaye was done, but Brand was just getting started.
The freshman hit a layup, then another jump hook after grabbing his own rebound off a missed free throw.
Trajan Langdon, the classy junior who had been struggling with his shooting, drilled an outside shot.
The crowd erupted, and the Carolina lead was under 10.
Brand took a feed from Wojciechowski and hit another jump hook. With Ndiaye out of the middle, no one could stop him. He had scored a remarkable 11 points in just over three minutes.
Guthridge began to sweat profusely. He called a twenty-second time-out.
Crow leaned over to shout to the reporters standing next to him, but he could barely be heard above the din.
"Is there any place louder?" he asked to heads that quickly shook no.
The last 6:55 of the contest was a blur.
Wojo hit one of two foul shots to cut it to 72-69 with 4:42 left. McLeod hit two jumpers, and suddenly it was 75-73 with 2:35 to go. The seniors had come alive.
"I think I'm going to have a heart attack," Crow joked.
A few plays later, Okulaja made a bad pass that was stolen by McLeod. Chris Carrawell made a driving basket that tied the game at 75.
The place was rocking.
"Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell!"
Some Crazies held up a sign, heretofore tucked away in embarrassment, that read: "Welcome to Hell, Carolina."
For Carolina it really must have felt like Hell.
After Carolina committed their 18th turnover, McLeod hit a layup to give Duke its first lead of the day at 77-75.
Crow shouted that it wasn't over yet. He pointed to a spot on the floor where more than two decades earlier Carolina's Bobby Jones had stolen an in-bounds pass in the final seconds, and then dribbled the length of the floor to stun Duke with a game-winning layup at the final buzzer. He gestured to another area on the court, some thirty feet from the basket, and mentioned that former Tar Heel Walter Davis once banked in a shot from about that distance to complete a remarkable Carolina comeback from 8 points down in the final seventeen seconds of regulation to force overtime. Although that game was played at old Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill, Crow and his Duke teammates were beaten that time by Carolina as well.
"We must have played Carolina ten times during my career, and it seemed like they were always doing that stuff to us. I think we beat them once when I played," Crow said.
These were exactly the kinds of games Carolina somehow pulled out. The Heels were usually the team that came from 17 down to win. Not Duke.
But this day was different.
Neither team scored again.
Cota, usually one of Carolina's most reliable free-throw shooters, missed two foul shots with 3.8 seconds left -- missing the second on purpose. Carolina's Brendan Haywood grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Brand with 1.2 ticks remaining. Haywood had no chance. A below-average foul shooter, he was a freshman playing in Cameron for the first time. He missed the first, then had to attempt the same intentional misfire that Cota had on his second attempt. This time Carolina didn't get the rebound.
Final score: Duke 77, North Carolina 75.
Seasoned veterans of Cameron are conditioned to ask the students sitting behind them, "Are you coming over?" If the answer is yes, then those in front had better get the hell out of the way. It means the students are going to do whatever they can to climb over the crowd, the press tables, and the scorer's table to get onto the court at the final buzzer.
For a game like this one, the question didn't even need to be asked. Everyone was coming over.
As the fans stormed the court and began a wild and lengthy celebration, the North Carolina players tried to make their way off to the locker room through the crowd. A Duke student inadvertently smacked Okulaja in the head. Okulaja retaliated by clearing some space with a forearm that happened to find the student's face.
Blood streamed from the student's nose, running onto his T-shirt that read: "Go to Hell, Carolina."
The noise in Cameron Indoor Stadium didn't die at the final buzzer. If anything, it only got louder. Students remained in the building for another twenty minutes before they finally started filing out. They didn't want to leave; they wanted this moment to last forever.
"Yessssss!" yelled Mark Crow. "This is why I came all the way from Italy! "
Kenny Dennard, whose playing career at Duke began one year after Crow's ended, stopped by to say hello. He pounded his chest.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack!" Dennard shouted to Crow above the din.
As the the two former Blue Devils turned to walk out of the building, their hearts pounded fiercely. They were not alone.
Afterward, Krzyzewski couldn't stop smiling or heaping praise on his team. He was especially pleased with the play of Wojciechowski. Despite Wojo's slow start and a box score stat line that revealed little to the naked eye, in Krzyzewski's mind, Wojo was the key to this game.
"I'll take my point guard through any alley, any dark street." Krzyzewski said. "I'm not saying he's the most talented or whatever, but he was remarkable today. Not good. Steve Wojciecbowski was remarkable. He wouldn't let us lose.
"Wojo's played pretty well here. It was Senior Day today. Everything was on the table, everything was at stake. For him to get eleven assists and one turnover and play great D, it was one of the great performances here."
Then Krzyzewski paused before asking, "Did he have any points?"
"One," came the answer from the press corps.
"One," repeated Krzyzewski, eyeing Wojo's line again. "It's one of the great one-point performances in the history of the game. You know what? My daughter, Jamie, is a sophomore point guard for Durham Academy. I always tell her she's too concerned with her shot. I'm going to take this box score, get it printed up, and highlight what you can do scoring one point."
Then he folded the box score and put it in his pocket.
Someone asked about Krzyzewski's change of clothes at halftime.
"[My shirt] was all wet, and I was so mad because we were playing so poorly. Not that I tore anything up. I didn't...I was just all wet, so I decided to go with my cool look -- as cool as you can look at fifty-one," said Krzyzewski, smiling.
And he had every reason to smile. Not only did Coach K beat a very talented North Carolina team, but he also collected his 500th career coaching victory in the process.
For every coaching victory, there must be a loss. Bill Guthridge took loss number three of his career with dignity and aplomb.
"It's hot in here," Guthridge joked as he arrived in the press interview room. "After being in that air-conditioned gym, it seems hot in here."
"It was a tough one to lose, obviously."
Obviously? He could already hear the critics gathering 10.6 miles away down U.S. 15-501: Dean never would have lost this game. See, if you had developed a bench earlier in the year, maybe your boys could have survived in this heat without falling apart. The criticism would be endless.
But Guthridge took the high road. He credited Duke and faulted himself.
In the winning locker room, Wojciechowski admitted this was a perfect way to go out in his final appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"This is a special place to play and we play for a special coach. There isn't a better way to end my career at Cameron than this. There was a lot of emotion going into this one."
The real beauty of this classic confrontation was that if all went as it was supposed to, they would get together to do it again in seven days in the championship game of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. And they would keep doing it over and over long after Guthridge and Krzyzewski were gone, just as they had been doing it for years, long before these two coaches had even arrived.
Twenty-four hours after Duke pulled off its remarkable comeback against Carolina, the other two Big Four schools, Wake and N.C. State, met in Winston-Salem, a short drive down Interstate 40. Wake Forest and North Carolina State weren't playing for the same high stakes Duke and North Carolina were playing for, but there was plenty on the line. Both teams had hopes of making the sixty-four-team NCAA tournament field. Both needed a victory to move one step closer to securing that, and both were jockeying for favorable seeding in the ACC Tournament.
In a game that matched Duke-North Carolina in intensity and emotion, Wake won. Bones McKinney, the legendary old Wake coach, would have been proud. Everett Case, the old N.C. State coach who probably did more than anyone else to make basketball what it is today in North Carolina, probably turned over in his grave. No one doubted that wherever these two deceased gentlemen were resting, they definitely tuned in.
That's the way college basketball is in the Big Four arena. It's larger than life.
Copyright © 1999 by Joe Menzer