An hour after Duke’s loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16, Mike Krzyzewski and Grayson Allen were the last ones to leave the locker room. Among the group standing outside waiting for them was Krzyzewski’s wife, Mickie.
When it was finally time to leave the Honda Center, she and the Duke coach walked through a dingy hallway and out of the building with an arm wrapped around each other’s back.
Another season had come to a close.
There is always a funeral-like feel to the end of a season. It is, after all, a sudden end to the way things were, and a reminder that things will never again be the same.
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“It’s like separating a family, at the end of the day, just because of how close we’ve become,” sophomore guard Allen said. “It’s very tough. I’ve loved playing with them.
“It’s been a really fun year. It’s been a lot of fun playing with these guys. We’re a really close group, and just going out there and competing every night has been a lot of fun.”
Some parts of Allen and Duke’s year were decidedly un-fun, including the latest controversy at the end of Thursday night’s 82-68 loss to the Ducks. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks hit a deep, meaningless 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the game and celebrated in the direction of the Duke bench. As the final seconds ticked down, Brooks tried to hug Allen, and Allen brushed him off and walked away.
“I’m never going to blame a guy for showing emotion,” Allen said of Brooks’s 3 and celebration. “He won the game. It would have been different if he was losing. When you’re winning the game, you get to do stuff like that.”
Brooks, a forward who led Oregon with 22 points, exchanged words with Krzyzewski in the handshake line. Brooks said Krzyzewski told him he was “too good of a player to be showing off at the end,” according to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel. And Brooks added, “He’s right.”
Krzyzewski denied it, instead saying he told Brooks, “You’re a terrific player.”
Interest in this latest kerfuffle will outlive Duke’s season, which should be considered a success. This scrappy bunch of Blue Devils that could managed to be one of the last 16 teams standing after starting 4-4 in ACC play. After three straight losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse in January, Krzyzewski talked about his team’s limitations, openly admitting he wasn’t sure their efforts would produce wins at the typical Duke rate. It was hard to imagine a Sweet 16 trip in January. But that’s what awaited Duke in March.
For those reasons, Krzyzewski told his team he was proud of them after the game and they had earned the right to be a Duke team, a mantle that isn’t passed on lightly.
“I’m so proud of this team,” senior captain Marshall Plumlee said. “To say that we were a real Duke team – just because you have the jersey doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a true Duke team – with the culture that there is here at Duke, with the tradition of winning, to say I was a part of a team that exemplified that makes me so proud.”
Plumlee spoke while sitting in front of his locker, still wearing his sweaty blue jersey.
“It makes me not want to take off the jersey, even though I have to now.”
Plumlee did have to remove his Duke jersey one last time. He was the first player to leave the locker room and head for the bus. Freshman Brandon Ingram, who also played his last Duke game before the NBA Draft, was next. The rest filed out until it was just Krzyzewski and Allen, and then they, too, were gone.
A long cross-country flight awaited the Blue Devils. But who would have ever guessed in January they would have had the opportunity to make the trek.