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The Courtmaster On Hate

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and rivalry week is upon us. That means one thing. There’s going to be a whole lot of hating going on.

When Duke visits North Carolina Tuesday at 9:00 PM, then travels to Maryland Saturday at 1:00 PM, emotions will be running high. Duke-Carolina, in my opinion, is the best rivalry in sports, while Duke-Maryland is one of the nastiest.

I will never forget the only Duke-Maryland game I have ever attended in person. It was at Comcast Center in January, 2004, and it was one of the most intense atmospheres I have ever been a part of. The arena was full over an hour before the 9:00 tipoff and the energy, bordering on frenzy, of the crowd was amazing.

The game was an ugly, tense defensive struggle that was not decided until the final seconds. Maryland had a chance to tie the game when D. J. Strawberry drove the baseline, only to be stripped by J. J. Redick. Yes, Redick made the DEFENSIVE play of the game.

He was immediately fouled and waked down to the other free throw line to ice the game for the Blue Devils. This was when the infamous “F-You Redick” incident occurred, the student chant that was clearly heard by an ESPN audience and became a national embarrassment for the University of Maryland and alumni like me.

I have done a lot of soul searching since that incident about how deep those feelings of hatred ran, and still run for the fans for that matter. I sense there is more respect given on both sides of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, The title of an upcoming book on that rivalry by Will Blythe, “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever…” does bring the issue of hatred into the discussion, however.

Why? I don’t mean why are Duke and North Carolina hated (I don’t think Duke fans hate Maryland, at least since the Terps are not the threat they were a couple of seasons ago). I’m not seeking specific concerns or grievances with that question; I’m trying to address the big picture.

I plead guilty to participating in hatred of another team. I’ve been know to say about an opponent, “I really, really hate those guys.” This feeling goes way beyond rooting for your team—it involves hoping that bad things, not just losses, happen to the target of your hatred.

This can range from wishing for a sprained ankle for the opponent’s best player to wishing their arena would explode, preferably with the coaches and players inside. Come on, I know at least some of you have wished for that at the Dean Dome, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Comcast Center, or wherever a team you hate plays.

Folks, this is not a healthy thing. It is a way to take anger you may have regarding your spouse, kids, job, or your general lot in life and direct it at people who had nothing at all to do with it. Hating a coach because he’s at the wrong school or players because they wear the wrong uniform doesn’t help anyone.

This emotion does not generally affect the team it is direct at. Redick made both free throws during the infamous chant. Ask Duke players, often targets of opponent’s fans, how vile insults or other harassment affect them, and they will usually say it fires them up and makes them want to win even more and play harder.

There is clearly a trend in our society to try and make ourselves or people we like hold a higher level of esteem by tearing down those that compete against them. It is prevalent in politics and business, and certainly rears its ugly head in sports arenas. What usually happens in any of these fields, but particularly in athletics, is those participating are the ones who get torn down.

Civility and respect for other people is a major problem we deal with on a daily basis. Let’s try to make a concerted effort, especially with big rivalry games coming up, to treat opponents and their fans with some respect. A lot of times the players can shake hands and even hug after a game because of their mutual respect while security is trying to break up fights in the stands.

Let’s just apply the golden rule here. We don’t want anyone calling us a @&%!, so don’t call them one. If everyone just worried about rooting for their team, the games would not lose their intensity, but they would still be an awful lot of fun.

The CourtMaster’s Briefs

Maryland lost two tough games this week, and I’ve become convinced of something that I think has been prevalent for the last two seasons. Gary Williams recruited a bunch of highly regarded, talented players, but they don’t hate to lose. They really enjoy winning, and they don’t like to lose, but they don’t HATE losing.

That’s the type of hatred that can actually be channeled into positive energy. When a game comes down to crunch time, it’s often the depth of that emotion that separates winners from losers. In the ACC, the talent is as balanced as it’s ever been, so a lot of times it comes down to the team with the strongest fire in their bellies to win a close game. Maryland has not had that the last couple of seasons, and Wake Forest doesn’t have it this year. Duke, on the other hand, seems to take defeat as a personal affront. That approach seems to be working pretty well for them, doesn’t it?

Here’s a couple of numbers for you:

4,124: The attendance at Miami Tuesday night when Wake Forest paid a visit. I know the Deacons came in tied for last place, but attracting that small of a crowd for a conference game in an embarrassment. Coach Frank Haith still has a lot of work ahead of him to get the Miami community excited about a good Hurricanes basketball program.

37-13: The free throw advantage Duke enjoyed during their win at Boston College. For a team that focuses on their inside game as much as the Eagles do to have only 1/3 as many attempts from the line as their opponent on their home court boggles the mind. I think it’s safe to say Boston College is now fully indoctrinated about life in ACC basketball.

Despite Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton’s obvious feelings to the contrary, it was not the 42-11 edge that Duke enjoyed at the foul line that led to his team’s overtime loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. More responsibility can be placed on the Seminoles’ lame-brained shot selection toward the end of the game. FSU’s big men were shooting threes and their guards seemed to be trying to get bonus points for degree of difficulty on their shots.

Speaking of the ‘Noles, Al Thornton had another amazing game vs. Duke with 37 points and 14 rebounds. How many big men are going to put up career games vs. the Blue Devils’ Shelden Williams this season? I know some Duke apologists point to Coach K’s defensive strategy of focusing on defending three-point shots, and I am sure that is a factor. However, that doesn’t fully account for NC State’s Cedric Simmons dropping 28 points on Duke and Indiana’s Marco Killingsworth lit them up for 34. Williams is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder, but his man-to-man defense has to be a concern for NBA scouts.

Ryan Harsch, a Duke alum who is currently a law student at Virginia, is a step ahead of me. He read the comment in my last column about the Cavaliers’ Laurynas Mikalauskas needing a nickname and e-mailed me to let me know that his group of friends already has one.

His name, although Mikalauskas is Lithuanian, sounded Greek to them (good thing they’re not linguistics majors) so they started calling him “Larry the Greek.” It sure beats his given name, and if any of you have other ideas you’d like to share, please let me know at thecourtmaster@aol.com.

Speaking of the Cavaliers, they continue to dominate teams in the paint. This strength let them to a near-upset win at NC State and a victory over Wake Forest. Virginia is now 5-4 in the conference and can seriously consider post-season possibilities.

That’s what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail. You can also check out my blog at www.thecourtmaster.net.

Until next week, court is adjourned!