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Al Featherston On Duke, Snow, The NCAAs, And More!

By AL FEATHERSTON

CHARLOTTE _ It was snowing in Durham when the Duke basketball team left for
the NCAA first and second round games in Charlotte.

Is that a good sign for the Blue Devils or is the "Snow Omen" a forgotten
episode in Duke basketball?

It doesn't really date back to 1960, even though Duke's first ACC
championship happened to coincide with the heaviest snowfall to ever hit the
Raleigh-Durham area.

No, the myth dates back to 1978, when a young Duke team started its wild
ride to the NCAA title game on a snowy night in Greensboro. The ACC title
game was to be shown on ABC's Wide World of Sports and because the league
didn't want to follow the semifinals on Friday night with a Saturday
afternoon title game, the first two rounds were scheduled Wednesday and
Thursday, while Friday was a day off.

On Thursday night, when Duke beat Maryland to reach the finals for the first
time in 11 years, a three inch snow fell on the Piedmont. The next day, at a
press conference at Duke's hotel, Blue Devil coach Bill Foster joked, "They
always said it would snow in Greensboro in March before Duke got back in the
ACC finals."

It seemed funny at the time. Duke beat Wake Forest to win the 1978 title,
then slipped by Rhode Island in Charlotte to earn a trip to the East
Regionals in Providence, Rhode Island. On the night when Duke landed in
Rhode Island, a major snowfall struck New England. More than a foot of snow
fell in 12 hours.

That was not a problem for the media, which was staying in a hotel across
the street from the Providence Civic Center. It was a major problem for the
Duke party, which was staying more than half an hour away (that's half an
hour in good weather) in Attleboro, Mass.

Foster made a joke of it, suggesting for the first time that snow was his
team's good luck charm.

Indeed, it seemed to work that way in Providence as Duke edged Penn and
routed Villanova to earn a trip to the Final Four in St. Louis. And when, on
the morning of the Devils' semifinal game against Notre Dame, a light
dusting of snow fell on the Gateway City, everybody in the Duke party took
that as a good omen.

It turned out to be a great omen as the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame to reach
the title game. Unfortunately, the snow had long melted before Duke's Monday
night loss to Kentucky.

Still, the "Snow Omen" remained a major part of the Duke myth for the
rest of the Foster era.

The next year, Duke beat No. 9 Louisville in an important, nationally
televised game in Charlotte as a heavy snowfall blanketed the state. And
that same season, Duke was struggling against Virginia in Cameron when the
PA announcer woke up the crowd with the simple declaration: "It's snowing
outside." The Blue Devils immediately rallied and pulled out a 64-63
victory, although the icy snowfall led to one of the worst traffic jams I've
ever seen on campus.

The culmination of the "Snow Omen" was the 1980 ACC title game. Duke,
which
was ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation early in that season, ran into a
rough stretch of injuries and finished 6-8 in the ACC. Seeded sixth in the
ACC Tournament, the Devils upset third-seeded N.C. State and second-seeded
UNC to reach the finals.

The snow started falling late that night and by the time Duke and top-seeded
Maryland tipped it off in the Greensboro Coliseum, the snowfall was so heavy
that just 7,000 fans could get to the game. But the "Snow Omen" worked
for
the Devils again as Vince Taylor hit the go-ahead basket in the final 30
seconds. Albert King had a chance to win at the buzzer, but his 15-foot jump
shot rolled off and Kenny Dennard wiped out Buck Williams under the basket
to prevent a tip-in.

Foster left Duke after a loss to Purdue in the Midwest Regional finals and
was replaced by an unknown guy with an unpronounceable name.

The change worked out pretty well for Duke, but somewhere along the way, the
"Snow Omen" was forgotten.

***

Mike Krzyzewski can reach an important milestone today.

With a victory over Delaware State, Krzyzewski will tie former UNC coach
Dean Smith for the most victories in NCAA play. Smith compiled 65 wins in 27
tournament appearances. Krzyzewski had 64 wins in his first 19 appearances.

Bryan Strickland of the Durham Herald-Sun completely flabbergasted UNC coach
Roy Williams when he asked the Tar Heel coach to comment on the fact that
"another coach in this regional" is about to match Smith's record for
total
NCAA wins.

At first, Williams was too confused to talk.

"I'm baffled," he said. "Really . I'm not trying to be rude."

It was only after Strickland explained what he was talking about that the
UNC coach found his voice.

"I thought you were talking about Pat Summitt," Williams said, probably
remembering that the Tennessee women's coach was nearing Smith's record of
overall coaching wins. When he learned that Strickland was talking about
NCAA Tournament wins, he laughed.

"I though, 'Damn, Mike won 100 games in one week . I'm impressed," Williams
said.

Then he got serious.

"It means he's done a fantastic job for a long time," Williams said, finally
answering Bryan's question. "He's good enough and young enough to set it out
there where nobody can get to it."

Krzyzewski's position as the best NCAA coach now working is unassailable He
not only leads all active coaches in wins (his 64 wins are 21 more than
second-place Bobby Knight), but also leads all active coaches in tournament
winning percentage (.790 . ahead of second-place Tom Izzo at .760).

***

The crowd in Charlotte -- split as it will be between North Carolina fans
and Duke partisans -- is going to be interesting to watch this weekend.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe made a plea for Blue Devil support in today's first
round matchup against top-seeded UNC.

"Maybe if we can get the lead, the Duke fans will help us," he suggested.

Actually, with UNC playing in the afternoon session and Duke in the evening
session, there may not be a lot of overlap today. The real test will come
Sunday, when UNC and Duke, play back-to-back games in the same session.

Early signs are that Carolina will have an edge in crowd support at the
Charlotte Coliseum. Thursday's practice sessions were instructive. The doors
were open free of charge for anyone who wanted to see any of the eight teams
take their 50 minute practice session.

There were about 30 people in the stands at noon when Iowa State took the
first time slot. But by the time UNC took the court at 3 p.m., there were
almost 4,000 people on hand -- cheering David Noel as he led the Tar Heels
on the floor. They stayed to 'ooh' and 'aah' as UNC put on a dunking
exhibition and were chanting cheers as the practice wound down.

The crowd was just as large when Duke appeared two hours later.

But unlike the universal acclaim for the Heels, there was a loud minority of
anti-Duke sentiment when the Blue Devils took the court. The boos were
drowned out by the cheers, but a few pockets of UNC fans made themselves
heard throughout the workout, either shouting insults at Coach K and his
players or chanting UNC cheers.

Many of the Duke fans in attendance -- as well as the majority of the
media -- kept a close eye on Sean Dockery, who went through the full workout
wearing a heavy black brace on his injured right knee. But he appeared to
move well and showed no signs of a limp.

"I feel great," Dockery said. "I'm going to play like before I got
injured."

Apparently, Krzyzewski agrees.

"We are going to start Sean," the Duke coach said. "I don't have
a plan yet
for how much to use him. His return makes us deeper. Hopefully, we'll play
better defense. We can play more pressure."


FLASHBACK I

When UNC's Jawad Williams and Sean May were asked by a Michigan reporter how
much they knew about Oakland University, I suddenly remembered 1983, when
UNC's Sam Perkins told reporters that he knew nothing about Georgia, UNC's
opponent in the East Regional finals.

"I don't even know what conference they're in," Perkins said.

Neither Williams nor May took the bait this time.

"I'm from Cleveland -- I know all about them," Williams said. "I
know a
bunch of their players.

May said he knew Oakland's Rawle Marshall from Nike camp.

Oh, by the way, UNC lost to Georgia in that 1983 matchup.

FLASHBACK II

When Mike Krzyzewski was asked about the pressure of being a No. 1 seed
playing a No. 16 seed, I recalled his first experience in that situation --
in 1986, when No. 16 seed Mississippi Valley State -- led by colorful coach
Lafayette Stribling -- led No. 1 seed Duke most of the way in Greensboro.

Apparently, Krzyzewski remembered it too.

"Johnny actually talked to the team about it -- Dawkins was on the court,"
he said. "We believe they can beat us. In our game, anything can happen. It's
a different sport than football."

So how does Duke avoid the possibility of a monumental upset?

"We have to make sure we play as hard or harder than they do," Coach K
said.
"If we do that, things will work out."

***

It's always a shock to go from covering the ACC Tournament to covering the
NCAA Tournament.

It's like attending a Broadway play one night, then viewing a high school
production the next night.

Brian Morrison, the director of media relations for the ACC, has been
handling the ACC Tournament for more than 20 years and he knows what he's
doing. Writers and broadcasters know that their credentials will be in
order, their hotel reservations will translate into real rooms, the press
room will be large enough and equipped with enough phones and that the
interviews and postgame situations will be handled smoothly and efficiency.

Then we head for the NCAA Tournament and all certainty is lost. Now, some
sites are run as well as Morrison runs the ACC Tournament.

But some are not.

For instance, when the media arrived in Charlotte for this weekend's events,
they found that the press workroom was about half the size of the area
Morrison used to provide when the ACC Tournament was played there. And
technicians were still installing phone lines, even as the first writers
tried to file their stories.

At least the media hotel was expecting us. As I checked in at the
Renaissance Suites, just a short walk from the Coliseum, I found myself in
line behind Brett Friedlander of the Fayetteville Observer. That reminded me
of our hotel problems in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1995.

The media hotel that weekend was the downtown Holiday Inn -- forever known
as the Hotel from Hell.

When we tried to check in the day before the first round games, we
discovered that the hotel had decided that holding the rooms promised to the
media wasn't all that important. They had sold the block of rooms set aside
for us and they seemed to be surprised when we showed up, asking for the
rooms we had reserved through the NCAA.

Considerable pandemonium ensued and some harsh words were offered by members
of the Fourth Estate (including a few from yours truly that would have made
Mike Krzyzewski blush). However, the aforementioned Mr. Friedlander threw a
tantrum that was so over the top that it not only made the front page of the
Tallahassee Democrat, but became legend in ACC media circles.

Among the quotes that made the paper was Friedlander's vow that he'd
personally make sure that Tallahassee was never again granted an NCAA
Tournament game.

As it turned out, most of us were squeezed into the Hotel from Hell,
although we ended up wishing we weren't. The phones didn't work, the beds
weren't made up and the trash wasn't emptied. That proved a problem for one
TV crew that returned to their rooms and found several rats pawing through
their discards.

I should mention -- in the interest of avoiding a lawsuit from the Holiday
Inn corporation -- that the national chain cancelled their connection with
the Hotel from Hell a few months after our nightmare. The next time I was in
Tallahassee, it was under new management.

Friedlander was the lucky one. He was shipped to a La Quinta Inn on the
outskirts of town, where he was treated like a king. The apologetic NCAA
even provided a shuttle van to drive him to the games. Since he was the only
media member in that hotel, he had sole use of the shuttle, going and
coming.

And say what you will about Friedlander's temper tantrum, but it's an
indisputable fact that the NCAA Tournament has not returned to Tallahassee
in the 10 years since.

Coincidence?