Barry Saunders

Watching Duke lose is not as special without K – Saunders

Krzyzewski on when to retire: ‘I’ll know’

Duke basketball coach talks about retirement during a 2016 interview with The News & Observer.
Up Next
Duke basketball coach talks about retirement during a 2016 interview with The News & Observer.

All UNC Tar Heel fans and N.C. State Wolfpack fans join me in wishing a speedy recovery for Coach K, right?

No, seriously.

Although most Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans I know would rather eat a dead cat fried in turpentine than publicly admit any tenderness for anything related to Duke’s basketball program, I’m guessing that deeeeeep in their hearts, they long to see Mike Krzyzewski seething and snarling on the sidelines, in the pink of health, cussing a blue streak. Or a Blue Devil.

Oh, so I’m the only one who misses him?

Will Blythe wrote a book about the UNC-Duke basketball rivalry called “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever.” Great book, great title – but how can one be happy when the real object of your hate is at home recuperating?

Admit it, guys: Hating Duke’s basketball team isn’t the same without K.

Most of the McDonald’s All-Americas on the Blue Devils?

You’d love ’em if they played for your team. (Most, not all.)

It’s not enough that your team wins, the other team’s coach – especially if he’s one with lots of success – must lose.

The same definitely can’t be said about the coaches. If “Ol’ Roy” Williams were to suddenly become coach at Duke and K at UNC, most of the diehard hoops fans at each school would migrate over to Durham Tech to cheer for its basketball team – and Durham Tech doesn’t even have a basketball team.

David Merrick, the late Broadway producer, is credited with saying, “It’s not enough that I should win; others must lose.”

That’s how it is in ACC basketball, especially in the Triangle. It’s not enough that your team wins, the other team’s coach – especially if he’s one with lots of success – must lose. Here’s how important coaches are to the rivalry: There is a tasteless bumper sticker on some cars that says “Coach K 5, Dean Smith 2.”

I won’t explain what that means, although I did want to pull up to one driver and say, “You do know Coach Smith retired 20 years ago, right?”

The Triangle is always a livelier place when UNC, Duke and N.C. State are all good at basketball at the same time. As great as it was seeing the Wolfpack win at Cameron Indoor Stadium last week, something was missing – namely, K giving the fisheye to the ref for not calling that flop a charge.

N.C. State players, few if any of whom were born the last time the Pack won in Durham, doubtless will disagree. To them, a road win against one of the nation’s premier programs is as sweet as it gets.

Just wait, though, until they exit Cameron with a win while K’s post-game rant is still peeling paint in the locker room.

Last-second shot sinks the Blue Devils' rally in the second half as the Jayhawks beat top ranked Duke 77-75.

The N&O last week published a poll by the Public Policy Polling outfit showing that 33 percent of North Carolina residents consider themselves Tar Heel fans, 19 percent Duke fans and 16 percent State fans.

What was most surprising is that 27 percent of the people responding to the poll proclaimed they had no preference among the three schools.

I swear, I thought choosing one was a prerequisite for residency here.

Over the years, I’ve met a score or more of Duke hoopsters, former and contemporary, and not one of them was a jerk. Some of the most impressive human beings I’ve ever known – John Hope Franklin, Bucky Waters, Terry Sanford – were associated with the university.

That doesn’t prevent me from rooting against the school each time the players take the court, though.

Remember on “The Andy Griffith Show” when the sheriff asked two feuding families why they were shooting at each other and had been for generations?

Because he’s a Carter, one patriarch said.

Because he’s a Wakefield, the other one said.

Unless your mama and daddy or you went to one or the other of the schools, there is no logical reason for the depth of the disdain felt toward it by the other. It’s simply “Because he’s a Blue Devil” or “Because he’s a Tar Heel.”

Ah, to hate like this ...

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about doing what he loves and dealing with setbacks along the way during an exclusive interview with The News & Observer in December.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer