Entering his fourth Final Four, Duke's Koubek knows road well

March 26, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

For all of CBS's talk of the "Road to the Final Four," no one in America knows it any better than Duke's Greg Koubek, because he's traveled it more than anyone else.

Koubek, a 6-foot-6 senior forward from Clifton Park, N.Y., and reserve forward Clay Buckley will appear in their fourth Final Four this weekend when the Blue Devils meet Nevada-Las Vegas in a semifinal rematch of their 1990 title game.

And despite the axiom that familiarity breeds contempt, Koubek says that the view along the trip has never been boring.

"It really hasn't sunk in. It's something that people have talked about all year, about us going to four Final Fours, but I didn't really focus in on it until the tournament started," said Koubek.

"Never do you think that you're going to go four times. When you come out of high school, you dream of one. Four in a row is unbelievable. I feel fortunate to be in this position."

As well he should, for no other player in college basketball history has played in four Final Fours. Buckley did not play in the 1988 semifinal game, and despite the fact that UCLA appeared in 10 straight Final Fours from 1967-76, freshmen only became eligible for varsity play in the 1972-73 season, so no Bruin played in more than three national tournaments during that span.

Koubek says that while he doesn't have "vivid memories" of each Final Four run, he can recall how great it has been generally to get there each time.

"When you're playing, you're trying to block those things out and put most of your energies in performing your task," said Koubek. "But they are great memories."

Unfortunately, those memories come with an unpleasant result: namely that Duke, which has appeared in five of the last six national semifinals, has failed to come away with a championship.

Of particular note for Koubek are the last two appearances. In 1989, the Blue Devils led Seton Hall by 20 points in the semifinal game, before the Pirates made a stunning comeback to win 95-78.

"Danny [Ferry] and Quin [Snyder] were seniors and they were so determined to win," said Koubek. "I thought we were going to win, too, and then Robert [Brickey] got hurt and it slipped away."

Then there was last year, when the Blue Devils were bludgeoned by the Runnin' Rebels 103-73, the worst NCAA championship loss ever.

"I thought we were destined to win when Christian [Laettner] hit that shot against Connecticut [to win the East Regional at the buzzer]. I thought that was a sign," said Koubek. "We just ran into a team that was playing at its very best."

The Blue Devils get the rematch with UNLV Saturday, and Koubek says the prospect doesn't send him or his teammates running for cover.

"I really feel better about our chances. We still feel that we can improve and win," said Koubek. "If we do go in with any fear, we'll lose. That's the biggest mistake. We have to be really prepared and really focused."

Regardless of the outcome, this season has been one of vindication for Koubek, who expected to move into the starting lineup with the departure of three seniors, but instead found himself benched behind sophomores Thomas Hill and Bill McCaffrey and freshman Grant Hill.

By his own reckoning, Koubek did not deal well with the perceived snub.

"I think my biggest problem was that I did come in with that attitude that I should have started," said Koubek. "There were guys who were a lot hungrier than I was.

"It took me to realize that I had to do the work. I was pointing the fingers at the wrong person. I was being a baby. I was being immature."

But Koubek did the work and earned his way into coach Mike Krzyzewski's good graces and starting lineup and Duke is 10-1 in games he has started.

Although only the seventh leading scorer, averaging 6.1 points per game, Koubek is the team's leading three-point shooter by percentage, connecting on 14 of 30 attempts (46.7 percent).

In addition, he has done the little things, such as dive and tap a loose ball at the end of a Georgia Tech game to Hill, who found an open Bobby Hurley for a layup to beat the Yellow Jackets 77-75 in Atlanta.

"Coach has been good to me," said Koubek. "He knew where I was and he told me that I was going to win some games. He knew me better than I knew myself."

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