I’m not very proud of it, but I’ve already braced myself for a Duke tournament loss. Rather than looking at the bracket with an eye for Snow Whites or Cinderellas, I find myself frantically scanning the teams, paranoid at not knowing which will beat Duke. This is the first year since the season that shall not be mentioned that I don’t have Duke winning in at least one bracket. Even in 2008, I had Duke taking the title, though we limped into March as a particularly weak 2 seed. (Sound familiar?) I’m tired of having my heart torn from my chest Temple of Doom style, so this year, I’ve decided to try an experiment and embrace any inklings of pessimism by evaluating Duke’s potential opponents by round and determining how acceptable a loss at that point would be. Won’t you join me?
As Duke fans will remember from three weeks ago, the joy of winning a rivalry game is much sweeter when the game is away. On top of the extra satisfaction of overcoming the opponent’s home court advantage, the best part about rivalry road wins are getting to see the priceless expressions of disbelief and disgust on the faces of your enemies. Few fans will ever know what that experience feels like in person, but for one group of UNC students, the dream came true in March 2006. It was, in my estimation, the greatest possible fan experience ever achieved: an unexpected victory on Duke’s senior night, surrounded by 9000 miserable and embarrassed fans.
At that point in the season, Duke had only been ranked only #1 or #2, losing just two games at Georgetown and Florida State. It was almost a storybook season that featured Shelden Williams recording Duke’s first triple double, a much-hyped five man freshmen class, Sean Dockery’s 40-foot buzzer beater against Virginia Tech, and classic lights out 40 point performances from JJ Redick against Texas and Virginia. A month earlier, Duke had beaten UNC at the Smith Center behind 35 points from Redick and a sweet reverse alley-oop from Dockery to McRoberts. On top of all that, it was senior night for fan favorites Dockery and Lee Melchionni (who kissed center-court during introductions), and Duke’s leading career rebounder and mayonnaise sandwich eater (Williams and Redick).
While both Duke and UNC fans may think of themselves as “the Chosen People,” traditionally, that designation has been granted to the Jewish people. With a few notable exceptions, these people have not been well represented in professional or collegiate sports, leaving adolescent young Jews without many athletic role models. This time of year can be especially lonely for those of us who won’t be spending the next two weeks wearing snowflake sweaters, hugging family members by the fireplace and bravely defending the war against Christmas. But don’t fear, sports fans. Did you know that there are a select few sons of David who played at Duke and UNC? (Probably, right?) Just as Adam Sandler offered his list of famous Jews to brighten the spirits of lonely twelve-year-olds, I present my list here for your Hanukkah enjoyment: One Tobacco Road Jew for every candle of the menorah!
Jon Scheyer – G – Duke
Jon Scheyer is perhaps the most obvious candidate for the list, as his basketball and Jewish credentials are impressive and somewhat intertwined. In High School, he led an all Jewish starting five to a state championship, earning him his first induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He earned his second induction after leading Duke to a National Championship in 2010. Today, he plays in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where his Judaism conveniently saves him from counting against the team’s cap on foreign players.
The great Bethlehem Shoals once asked what it would mean for a player to play Jewish (the way that, say, Rudy Fernandez or Jose Calderon play Spanish), and struggled to find a good example in the NBA. I posit that Scheyer’s steady scoring (2,077 career points, good for tenth all-time at Duke), his spastic facial expressions and his, um, carefulness, with handling the ball (~3 A/TO in 2010) make him the best example I can think of.
For what it’s worth, I once saw Scheyer come half an hour late to Yom Kippur services, only to leave like five minutes later, so take from that what you will.
Coming into Tuesday night’s game against Ohio State, Duke fans had a few reasons to be concerned. The team had just finished a particularly exhausting series of five games in nine days, and it was the team’s first game on the road against a very good and very experienced team that had to date swallowed every team in its path. Personally, I found the spectre of facing the ghost of Greg Paulus to be the most frightening thing about facing OSU. After he was shown wearing what looked like his father’s Thursday suit, I had to work quite hard to fight off the nausea.
It looked so wrong to see him on a basketball court again, especially since I thought I had seen the last of him inspiring terrible Duke performances. Would his mere presence mean the team was bound to underwhelm? Would Seth Curry start backing into his defenders after crossing half court? Would we see Austin Rivers throwing himself into Lebron James’ lap in futile pursuit of an errant football style pass from Andre Dawkins? Would we see Jared Sullinger soar from the free-throw line and throw down a sick jam, obstructed only by a pathetically flopping Tyler Thornton? I was mentally preparing myself for a particularly Paulusian performance on all accounts – what I thought to be the worst case scenario.
Of the countless images we were bombarded with in the past few weeks, perhaps none were as disturbing as the one of a young Mike Krzyzewski in his West Point basketball uniform, standing next to his coach, Robert Montgomery Knight. In juxtaposition to the sight of these two men embracing after the Michigan State game, it is quite a powerful image. Forty some years and thousands of basketball games later, these two men have become giants of their profession, and their legacies will be forever intertwined. On its own, however, the image leaves me with a completely different kind of feeling: “yucch.”
The height of my childhood basketball fandom was watching the many epic and emotionally transcendent playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. I was particularly fascinated by the coaching match-up. On the one hand, there was Pat Riley – dapper, well-dressed, and to this day the only sports figure my mother can recognize. He was stylish, seemed very intelligent, and exuded a blend of confidence and athleticism unlike any person I had ever met. On the other hand, there was Jeff Van Gundy – short, un-graceful and sporting a particularly unconvincing and uninspired comb over.
Growing up on Long Island, it was an all too familiar appearance (and one that I myself have begun to approach). It seemed strange to me that these men had the same profession, and I wondered what their backgrounds were. Where were they from? What were their majors in college? How does one become a basketball coach anyway? I was able to guess that they must have played basketball at some point in their youth, and had no trouble picturing Riley as a player. He probably could have torn off his Armani suit, picked up a ball and played a few minutes with his team. Van Gundy was a different story. I couldn’t picture him playing in a middle school church league, let alone as a pro or college basketball player. For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to conceive of such an image. I took these concerns to school the next day. It was then that I learned one of the most meaningful lessons of my childhood. I don’t quite remember who broke it to me, but it came down to this: