Duke powers up

America's most famous college team is again poised to raise its profile - and the ire of those who've seen it done before

National Men


Today, Tobacco Road.

Tomorrow, the world.

The NCAA championship trophy resides about eight miles down U.S. 15/501 at the Smith Center, so it might be presumptuous to discuss Mike Krzyzewski's takeover of the basketball planet, but everything is in place for him to reclaim that prize next April, then spread the Duke brand to Beijing.

What is cause for celebration elsewhere is bad news for Maryland and the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, where a run by Duke that was both typical and surprising ended in the shadow of a landmark season for North Carolina. Boys in that state dream of playing for the Tar Heels. Kentucky kids want to go to Lexington, but that leaves more than 40 states where Krzyzewski's team is the best known in the college game.

Krzyzewski, 58, is beginning his fourth decade as a head coach with celebrated shooting guard J.J. Redick, dominant big man Shelden Williams, two other proven veterans and a freshman class that includes three McDonald's All-Americans.

The Blue Devils received 61 of 72 first-place votes in the Associated Press preseason poll, not that Krzyzewski was flattered.

"It really doesn't matter how you perceive us," Krzyzewski said. "What really matters is how we perceive us. That's why we've been able to be constant, because we're not waiting for someone to tell us how we should feel about ourselves. The expectations we have are always as high, or higher, than anyone else's."

Last season was the first since 1996-97 that Duke didn't get a No. 1 ranking, but it was the seventh in the past eight that the Blue Devils got one of the top seeds in the NCAA tournament.

A year after saying no to the Los Angeles Lakers, Krzyzewski said yes to his country. A West Point graduate and former Army captain, he was selected by USA Basketball to coach the Olympic team in 2008. After an American debacle in Athens, he'll try to bring the gold medal home from China, but for the next 4 1/2 months, his first priority is returning Duke to the top of the college game.

North Carolina wears the NCAA crown, and Krzyzewski is succeeding Larry Brown, a former Tar Heel, as coach of the Olympic team. After Brown steered the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship and Roy Williams brought North Carolina its fourth national title last April, much was made about Dean Smith disciples controlling the sport, but has any active coach ever wielded more influence than Krzyzewski?

What's despised at Comcast Center is revered as America's Team on network and cable television. The man in last winter's ubiquitous American Express commercials will add NBC, the network of the Olympics, to his media holdings that already include CBS, which carries the NCAA tournament, and ESPN.

The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader's most sober analyst played on the first of Krzyzewski's 10 Final Four teams. Two decades later, Jay Bilas keeps bumping into his 1985-86 teammates. Three of the nine Division I head coaches who played for or assisted Krzyzewski were on that team. Tommy Amaker inherited a bad situation at Michigan. Quin Snyder created one at Missouri. David Henderson coaches Delaware.

Johnny Dawkins, the Blue Devils' star then, is Krzyzewski's top assistant. He recruits the nation's best players. Danny Ferry (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Billy King (Philadelphia 76ers) are executives in the NBA, which robs that college cradle.

In an era when great seniors are passe but veteran leadership is a must, Duke has both. Redick, who could break Dawkins' school scoring record of 2,556 points, has grown from a shooter into a player. Williams was third in the nation in blocked shots and led the ACC in rebounding.

Redick and Williams averaged 37.3 and 33.6 minutes, respectively, last season. They had to produce after top recruit Shaun Livingston and Luol Deng, the ACC Rookie of the Year, didn't last past the seventh pick in the 2004 draft. Duke won its first 15 games last season and entered the NCAA tournament ranked third in the nation but lost to a deeper Michigan State team in the Sweet 16.

Redick was the first person Williams phoned when he decided to return for his senior season. Along with point guard Sean Dockery and 6-foot-6 wing Lee Melchionni, who in far fewer attempts shot nearly as accurately as Redick from three-point range last season, they constitute a class that has unfinished business.

"The reason this guy [Williams] came back, and the reason I didn't even consider the NBA, is that we want to win a national championship," Redick said. "The most vivid moment of my official visit here was talking basketball with Sean [Dockery]. We were talking about winning four national championships. Obviously, we'd be more than satisfied to leave with one."

Sophomore DeMarcus Nelson is the only key player who is not starting his college career or finishing it, so the preseason focus was getting the freshmen to play at the seniors' level.

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