It's a semisweet reunion for many of players today

Both semifinals match former prep teammates, as cousins eye Monday

Duhon and Tech's Jack related

Deng `not going to let' buddy Villanueva shoot

Final Four

April 03, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO - Their connections can be found on family trees and high school rosters. In one case, they have the same 94-year-old great-grandfather and in another shared the same prep school dorm room.

This year's NCAA Final Four is being played here at the Alamodome, but it could have easily been held in another part of the state, possibly at Reunion Arena in Dallas or the playgrounds of Houston.

When Georgia Tech (27-9) and Oklahoma State (31-3) meet in the first semifinal tonight, and Duke (31-5) plays Connecticut (31-6) in the second, the family ties will be temporarily dissolved and the friendships put aside.

"It'll be business," said Duke guard Daniel Ewing.

There are many players on the four teams left in this year's NCAA tournament whose lives and playing careers have been intertwined.

Duke freshman Luol Deng and Connecticut freshman Charlie Villanueva were roommates for one year and teammates for two seasons at Blair Academy, usually playing head-to-head in practice.

"I wish Charlie all the best, but I'm not going to let him shoot," Deng said yesterday in the Duke locker room. "You've just got to go out there and block out the memories and go and play. He's my friend, but he's not my teammate."

Villanueva left a ticket for Deng to the Connecticut-North Carolina game in Chapel Hill in January, but the Duke-Wake Forest game that afternoon went a bit long and Deng never got to see his friend play.

That's not to say they didn't see each other on television, or talk on the phone.

"Charlie calls all the time," said Duke freshman Patrick Davidson, who played with Villanueva and Deng in prep school and now rooms with Deng. "I don't think they've talked this week since the game is so important."

Said Villanueva: "It's like going up against my brother, but it has been like that for three years. It's nothing new for me. It's going to be like another day at Blair."

It's actually going to be like the day during their junior year when both were considering going to Indiana after taking a visit to Bloomington. One day, during that season's NCAA Final Four, they were playing pickup and made believe they were playing for the championship.

"I was Indiana," said Villanueva, "and he was Maryland."

Like Deng and Villanueva, Georgia Tech's Will Bynum and Oklahoma State's Tony Allen talk all the time. They have been best friends since the seventh grade in Chicago, and played together at Crane High School.

Bynum went first to Arizona, then transferred the middle of last season. There was a time when Allen thought that Bynum might end up in Stillwater.

"The last I heard, he was coming," said Allen, who is Oklahoma State's leading scorer this season. "Instead of making that right, he went straight."

Said Bynum, who has provided Georgia Tech with a lift off the bench, "It's a dream to play against him in a game of this magnitude."

The other on-court reunion tonight is between former high school rivals. When Connecticut's Emeka Okafor was a senior at Houston's Bellaire High School, his team lost to Missouri City's Willowridge High and Duke's Ewing.

"It was my last high school game, so I'll try to return the favor," said Okafor, who was also a teammate of Oklahoma State's John Lucas III in high school.

"Our team went on to win the state championship," said Ewing, who was also a high school teammate of Oklahoma State's Ivan McFarlin.

While the Deng-Villanueva, Allen-Bynam reunions will take place in the semifinals, there are a few more that could take place in the final.

One that could be a little emotional is between Okafor and Lucas. Okafor credits Lucas' father, John Jr., with teaching him about the importance of off-season workouts and weight training.

Lucas III is thankful for the calls he received from Okafor after the shooting death of his former Baylor teammate, Patrick Dennehy, last summer.

Asked yesterday about having a former high school teammate playing in the same Final Four, Okafor said, "We shared a lot of high school experiences. Now we can have this great college experience. It makes it that much more special, being that it's in a Final Four. It's not common."

But here, it's not uncommon.

The younger Lucas also played on the same Maryland-based summer AAU team as Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack, who's from Fort Washington, Md. The team played most of its games around Durham, N.C., where Lucas' father grew up before heading off to Maryland.

"I knew of his father," Jack said of the younger Lucas, who often spent summers in Durham with his grandparents. "Our team won the Boo Williams tournament that summer."

Said Lucas III: "Jack was the point guard and I liked to score, so I had no problem playing the 2 [shooting guard]."

That was one of the reasons Duke's Chris Duhon didn't try to help recruit Jack out of high school despite the fact that the two are second cousins. Duhon's mother and Jack's father have the same grandfather, Chris Jacobson, after whom Duhon was named.

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