Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Future Dukies Shine in No-Defense Situations

It looks like Duke recruits Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly did themselves proud at last night's McDonald's High School All-American festivities.

Kelly, a 6'10" phenom from Raleigh who ESPN describes as having a "European-style game," somehow won the three-point shooting contest. Internet video confirms that he can also dunk, especially against inferior high school talent. However, this little blurb from ESPN can't help but give me pause:

"What a difference a year makes. Once a scrawny, face up four-man who refused to mix it up in the paint..."

I didn't bother reading the rest of that sentence. As Duke fans, we're a little too familiar with interior weakness resurfacing against ACC competition. Whenever I close my eyes, I can still see Shavlik Randolph being forced outside the lane by someone with real, visible biceps, and settling for an awkward half-hook near the baseline.

In the slam-dunk contest, Mason (younger bro of current Duke freshman Miles) Plumlee came in second. I have no idea which dunks he attempted, but it's a fair bet he would have won with this one from his senior season:

The Kelly three-point win is an especially good omen. Check out the list of past Duke-bound winners of the contest: Chris Collins, Trajan Langdon, Nate James, Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, and Redick. Not a bad list, although Nate James sticks out like a sore thumb.

The McDonald's All-Star Game itself goes down on Wednesday.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Welcome to Seth Curry Saves Duke!, the latest useless blog on the internet.*

*By the time you read this, in the interest of accuracy, remove "latest" from the previous sentence.

What to expect: obsessive, vitriolic, bi-polar, one-sided, occasionally insightful, often embarrassing, and negligibly informational rants about Duke basketball, Yankee baseball, and Giants football.

To give you an idea of who I am, let me regale you with a description of my writing quarters. Picture yourself in an office without a window. Picture an uncomfortable swivel chair facing a corner. Picture a computer monitor with a tinted 'privacy filter' to ensure that passing co-workers can't confirm their suspicions that you barely work. Picture the floor's copying machine behind you, smudged tiled floors, a black multi-line telephone that absolutely resists volume control, a shredder, and a fax machine. Picture these elements combining to produce a neverending cacophony of electronic grinding and buzzing, discordant phone bleats, and the maddening, rhythmic clomping of high heels. This is where I spend forty hours every week.

In other words, I'm probably more or less like you.

That being said, I realize my questionable choice in sports teams immediately reduces my potential readership to the 2-3% of Americans who don't hate the Blue Devils and Yankees with unyielding passion (of those left, 60% will not read because they have never heard of either sports, blogs, or the internet, while the daily dose of poor writing should take care of the remainder). My grand hope is that a portion of those 'unfriendly' readers will visit, on occasion, to mock me for my team's failures. And, once they get to know me, perhaps for my personal failures as well.

The name of this blog is inspired by a bit of wonderful news I happened to read before coming in to work this morning.


That's right. Seth Curry, younger brother of the current "Most Exciting Basketball Player in the Universe" Stephen Curry, is transferring from Liberty U. to Duke. He'll be eligible to play as a sophomore in 2010, after current guards Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson have graduated.

This is great news on a number of levels. After winning the title in 2001, it's been an absolutely miserable eight years for Duke basketball. It began in 2002, when Coach K had one of the more talented college teams in recent memory. Think Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, and Daniel Ewing. They amassed a 31-3 record in reaching the sweet 16, and the entire college world thought a championship showdown with Juan Dixon's Maryland was inevitable. Instead, after running up a huge lead against Indiana, and completely outclassing them in the process, Coach K sent us into a mystifying stall offense, Indiana caught fire, Jason Williams missed a foul shot to tie the game with seconds on the clock, and a new era in Duke basketball had begun.

The one positive, though, is that the post-game press conference yielded this classic bit of world-weary stoicism from Coach K:

"I'm not stunned," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team's eight-game NCAA tourney winning streak ended. "I'm 55 and I need a hip replaced. I coach a game where I know we can lose every time we go on the court."

Okay then.

In 2003, J.J. Redick joined the team, and for four years we geared an entire offense around his impressive-but-ultimately-unreliable shooting. Aside from a Final Four appearance in 2004, where the aforementioned stall offense cost us a golden opportunity to defeat eventual champion UConn, Duke was eliminated in the sweet 16 each year. And it was always by the same kind of team; athletic and tall, with quick guards, smothering defense, and slashers who drive and rebound. Teams who absolutely exposed our lack of a true point guard. The opponent changed (Michigan State, Kansas, LSU), but the story didn't. We'd shoot abysmally from three, J.J. would sulk around the court with his arrogant, trademark smirk, and the other team would slowly realize that they were facing a paper tiger.

When J.J. left without a title, we continued to recruit and compose teams who utterly relied on three point shooting. To be fair, there was some bad luck along the way. Kris Humphries was supposed to come to Duke; so was Shaun Livingston. But there was never a plan B. We lived by the three, we died the same way, and it was a choice. In 2007, Virginia Commonwealth embarrassed the Dukies in the first round, and now we've lost two straight years in the sweet 16. The worst part is that in all those tournaments, we never once played to our seed. It was always an upset when Duke went down.

And truthfully, that wasn't the actual worst part. The actual worst part is that as fans, we never expected more. The composition of our teams inspired no confidence that a Final Four run was in the cards. At a certain point (usually the sweet 16), we were like boys playing against men.

Last week, when I read that Seth Curry had decided to transfer, I felt a small tingle of anticipation. Nobody who follows college basketball can forget how Stephen ignited the 2008 tournament with his explosive performances for Davidson. They eventually lost a nailbiter to Kansas in the elite 8, but he'd shown something along the way; a semi-mystic ability to create shots out of nowhere, a deadly touch, a lightning-fast release, and an otherworldly court sense that allowed him to accomplish feats well beyond his size and athleticism. You got the feeling something special was going on in the Curry family, that his father Dell (former NBA sharpshooter) had indoctrinated him from a young age with a form of basketball Sufism. Or something.

Time for an admission: I've never seen Seth Curry play. I know he averaged 20 per game for Liberty as a Freshman, that he shot well from 3, and that he's 6'3". But, unless I'm mistaken, Liberty was never televised this year, and they didn't make the NCAA tournament. So there's that. But after reading the news of his transfer, I sent an e-mail to my stepfather. It had the link and the single word "Duke?" He, one of the biggest Duke fans on the planet, and an even bigger pessimist, wrote back, "don't we have enough short guards?"

Fair point. But he was missing the gist. Seth can't be like the litany of unathletic, hot-and-cold shooting, "hustle" players we've suffered under for the past 7 years. He's a part of the Curry dynasty. We're not talking about Greg Paulus part 2 here (Please, please, don't let us be talking about Greg Paulus Part 2). We're talking about a kid who learned from his dad and his brother growing up, and who, judging by his freshman numbers, must have inherited the family magic. The bottom line: Duke needs a savior, and Seth fits the description.

I'm not naive about most things. I know Seth Curry won't save Duke without the accompaniment of a true point guard and a big man with slightly more to offer than the Greg Zoubeks of the world. Still, there's reason for hope in Dukeland. We finally have an electric player, and that's something we've sorely missed since Jason Williams left.

When I read that he'd decided on Duke this morning, I e-mailed the link to my step-dad again. His response:

"Not going to say I told you so, but won't this make things interesting!"

Well, he didn't tell me so. In fact, he told me 'not so.' But if this gets an eternal cynic with a long memory pumped about the future, I'm on board too. We're your first converts, Seth. You've already inspired the first and what will certainly be the longest ever post in this blog. Now save us!