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Rob On the Women's Banquet

On Friday night, Duke held their annual awards banquet. Coach G noted
that a year ago, the event carried a tinge of sadness because the 2004
fell short of their goals. With the departure of the fabulous senior
class, there was also a sense of uncertainty about the program's future.
However, the 2005 banquet had an air of confidence and optimism, as those
on hand celebrated a job well done with the knowledge that the future was
extremely bright.

It was a well-attended event, and I must say that the fare was the best
I'd ever had at a women's basketball banquet (skewered shrimp and beef
tenderloin, yum!). The emcee was athletics fundraiser Don Fowler, whose
self-deprecating humor made him an ideal choice. He described himself as
"#40 on the list of desired MC's", noting that "Sylvia Hatchell was #39
but she was out of town that day." This became a running joke, as Fowler
introduced athletics director Joe Alleva as "#41 on the list", and Alleva
shot back that Fowler was really #150. Coach G, pleased with how well Don
was doing later in the program, said that he had risen to #25.

Fowler kicked things off by introducing the team, from youngest in class
to oldest. When Monique Currie came on, he thanked her for staying,
earning an extra round of applause from the audience. After dinner, Coach
G gave her "state of the program" speech, talking about how there was so
much doubt surrounding the team at the beginning of the year, considering
that three starters and two key reserves were gone, that there was no
proven point guard, and that there were only three players with
significant ACC experience. She challenged the team to improve as
individuals and to fill in what was missing. Considering the team's
injury difficulties (Coach G noted that the day before the LSU game, Duke
had only five players available for practice!), the fact that they won 31
games was amazing. Fowler had earlier referred to Coach G as a "magician"
for pulling this trick off, but Gail demurred, saying that it was a result
of the team's own passion and the efforts of her support team. Duke
surprised a lot of people in 2005, and Gail noted that they would truly be
a force to be reckoned with in 2006, saying that she was practicing her
chin-ups for another ACC title and a potential national title! Of course,
a Coach G speech wouldn't be complete without her forgetting to thank her
husband, Mark Simons. Gail caught herself just before she got off the
stage and even chastised herself for the omission, saying that her team
knew whom she had just forgotten.

The ever-valuable Shaeeta Williams (whom I must thank for helping direct
me to where I could obtain a ticket to the even) came on to present two
awards. The first was the Academic Award, and the winner once again was
Caitlin Howe. Sha noted that even though Cait's career hadn't worked out
as she had planned, she made the most of her situation, especially in the
classroom. Howe has a cumulative 3.69 average, truly an impressive feat.
The Heart & Hustle award is given to the player who best exemplifies both
of these qualities, giving the most of herself and pumping up the team.
The winner was the ever-emotional Mistie Williams. Sha held up her
sneakers, upon which Mistie had written a number of motivational
phrases...with the logo of next year's Final Four in Boston the most

LaVonda Wagner was next, and she introduced herself by saying, "I'm
LaVonda Wagner, and I'm the head coach of Oregon State University", which
earned a round of applause. Wagner thanked Coach G for the opportunity
that led to her becoming "the head Beaver". Wagner gave out the
rebounding award, a hotly contested honor for a team that was one of the
best boarding squads in the nation. However, the winner was frosh Chante
Black, whose mother beamed at the honors she received on the evening.
Everyone noted that Tay had just started to scratch the surface of her
abilities, just so long as she wore the magic mouthpiece. For those who
haven't heard this story, Black was having a pretty good year with typical
ups and downs until she started wearing a blue mouthpiece. Suddenly, she
started putting up dominant performances. From then on, she was not
permitted to play or practice without it, with Coach G even sending her
home during practice one day to get it! Wagner then gave out best Free
Throw percentage, another closely-contested honor, with the winner being
Mo Currie.

Up next was the ever-witty Gail Valley. Fowler had earlier joked that
she was his favorite assistant, because no one holds up an index card like
"GV"! Gail responded that she has no idea what they mean, she just holds
'em up. GV has stories to tell about everyone. During the season, she
happened to sit next to Laura Kurz during most of the games. In one
particular game, GV said that she was feeling "extra-brilliant" that
night, and kept turning to Laura before the game to impart some bit of
advice..."Hey, Laura!" "Yes, coach?" "Be sure to block out and keep your
hands up!" "OK, coach."...."Hey, Laura!" "Yes, coach?" "That player is
left-handed, make sure to guard that hand and play her tight!" "OK,
coach." Finally, the game was in full swing and GV yet again had some bit
of wisdom to impart..."Hey, Laura!" The reply, in the most exasperated
voice possible was "WHAT!" GV happened to forget that there was a game
going on!

Valley awarded Practice Player of the Year. As opposed to years past,
when Alana Beard ruled this category (in fact, they should name the award
after her), every player was Practice Player of the Day at least once.
But the overall winner was Mistie Williams, which just shows how hard
she's worked to become a good player. The Defensive Player of the Year
was a no-brainer, and it was locked up by Alison Bales. GV early in the
year had a memory of all three of the other coaches driving on Ali, so as
to have her swat the ball away. A more lasting image came against
Tennessee when Ali blocked Shanna Zolman so hard that Zolman flew out of
bounds. GV noted that at first, Ali was her usual stone-face self, but as
she went to the bench, a smile started creeping up on her face that turned
into a full-fledged grin.

The last presenter was new assistant coach Shannon Perry, who proved to
be a delightful and witty speaker. She thanked everyone for the
opportunity to coach here, and especially thanked GV for allowing her to
ask "random questions". Shannon was off recruiting somewhere when she
noticed that her cell phone was on Roam status. So she asked GV, "When
you're out recruiting, do you roam?" GV's mock-shocked reply was
"Shannon, that's none of your business!" Perry noted that it wasn't until
recently that she realized that GV was kidding. The Most Improved player
was yet another close call, but the winner was Chante Black. Again, it
was noted that she had just begun to scratch the surface of her talent.
The last award was for Offensive Player of the Year, and this one was no
contest: Monique Currie. It should be noted that Offensive & Defensive
player, Heart & Hustle and Most Improved are voted on by the players.

Then came Wynter Whitley's senior speech. Wynter pretty much lost it
right away, but she managed to compose herself and give a heartfelt
speech. She especially thanked her teammates for being there with hugs
and concern when her brother died. The thing that she found most valuable
as a player is that she learned to have playing the game again, and noted
that she couldn't imagine having gone to any other school and was proud to
be a Blue Devil. Her senior was extra special because her younger sister
Jordan was a freshman, and they hadn't been in school together since
elementary school days. Everyone was thankful that Wynter came back for
her senior season. Coach G noted that Wynter's preparation and knowledge
of the game enabled her to play inside or out, and that when Jess Foley
went down before the NCAA's, Wynter was ready to step into her starting
guard spot. Wynter's sunny personality will truly be missed, and I'm
just happy that she was able to have such a productive senior year.
Caitlin Howe presented Wynter with her framed jersey and a gift from the
players: a framed photo of her and the team.

After that came the video highlights, which were excellent. Sha
Williams compiled them and they really brought the season to life. Photos
from the banquet can be seen here.