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Rob On The Jersey Retirement Ceremony

Thought I'd write this apart from the actual game report, because it
really does deserve its own section. When I enrolled at Duke in 1987,
there were just three jerseys hanging in the rafters: Groat, Gminski and
Dawkins. Amazingly, I've seen eight other jerseys go up since then,
including better-late-than-never retirings for Heyman and Mullins. I
remember as a freshman several letters to the Chronicle urging the school
to retire Chris Moreland's number. She was the first great player at Duke
and set countless records. Chris even led the team to its one and only
(at the time) NCAA tournament appearance and was the program's sole ACC
player of the year. Later, I was one of the voices who lobbied hard for
Georgia Schweitzer, a two-time ACC player of the year and Kodak
All-America who had led Duke to unprecedented success. In both cases, the
athletic director essentially sidestepped two very worthy candidates, and
many fans of the women's program wondered what it was going to take.

The answer? An unstoppable ball of energy named Alana Beard, a player
whose unrelenting style of play dropped jaws and attracted thousands of
new fans to the program. I know a number of men who had no interest in
the women's game who became immediate converts once they saw Beard in
action. Happily, she's a player who has always embodied style and
substance. While she can please a crowd with her acrobatics and
hard-nosed defense, Alana at the same time is a coach's dream who loves
practice as much as playing the game. Coach Gail Goestenkors has said
that Alana has dominated the "practice player of the day" award ever since
she stepped onto the practice court. Monique Currie notes that the
toughest player she has ever faced is "Alana Beard in practice". AD Joe
Alleva said that Alana was crying the day before her jersey was
retired--not because of the event, but because she wasn't allowed to
practice due to injury!

The best part is that as good as she is as a player, everyone talks
about how great she is as a person. She's humble despite her talent, completely
team-oriented and simply has a good-natured charisma to her. Children
flock to her and teenaged girls look up to her as a role model. At the
Deep South Classic held in Cameron Indoor Stadium this past spring, Alana
spent much of her time signing autographs and talking to youngsters from
various AAU teams. When playing Elon earlier this year, I heard Elon fans
saying, "I can't root against her, she's my idol!" Her classmate Vicki Krapohl praises her for her "heart of gold".

Before the ceremony, Duke president Nan Keohane praised Alana's
"relentless ambition for her team and caring for her teammates". She
related a story where Coach G asked Nan to meet two recruits named Alana
Beard and Iciss Tillis, and Gail said that these two players had
program-changing potential. Joe Alleva praised her unselfishness, noting
that Alana could score 40 points a game anytime she wanted to, but this
wouldn't make the team better. He also discussed the reasons why this
particular game was chosen. First and foremost, Alana's parents LeRoy and
Marie don't have a chance to travel to many games, and this was the last
time they'd be here before senior day. Secondly, they wanted this to be
done apart from senior day, since the accolades should be spread evenly
for all three players. Finally, this was Duke's last nationally televised
game until the NCAA tournament, and so they wanted this to be a big-game

The setting for the ceremony was electrifying. Even five years ago, it
would have been hard to imagine this kind of setting for a women's
basketball game. Cameron was completely sold out and packed long before
the game began. The student section was jammed, loud and boisterous.
This was a reunion weekend for former Duke women's basketball players &
managers as well, so I got to see many familiar faces. A few that I
could confirm seeing included Rochelle Parent, Tyish Hall, Juanita
Hepburn (a regular at games), Hilary Howard, Kira Orr, Lauren Rice, Janee
Hayes, Peppi Browne and Krista Gingrich (another regular). But there were
many players from the 70's and 80's as well as the more recent teams.

Nan Keohane started the ceremony with Alana and her parents, noting how
personally satisfying it was for her as Duke's first woman president to
retire the first women's basketball jersey. Alleva went over Beard's
accomplishments, calling her the greatest player in Duke history and one
of the best ever in the sport. He also noted that fifty years earlier,
Eddie Cameron retired Dick Groat's jersey, the first for any Duke athlete.
"Now I know what Eddie Cameron feels like," he enthused. Throughout the
speeches, both speakers were frequently stopped by a roaring crowd. As
Alana's parents were introduced, the students chanted the traditional "one
more kid!" to them. When Alana was given a framed jersey and held it high
above her head, she was surrounded by a phalanx of photographers. DBR's
old friend Lobster took a bunch of great photos and should have them ready
soon. The band played the alma mater as she held her jersey aloft,
producing one of those magical moments that one never forgets. After
the game, Alana noted that despite the loss, she still realized how
special the event was. The thing that made her happiest was seeing how much it
meant to her parents, which really says it all about her.