Duke hosts Stetson Saturday night, the first of three presumed cupcakes, three opportunities for the youngsters to get better individually, while further gelling as a team.
Duke and Stetson don’t often play in the same sandbox. They aren’t in the same state or even adjacent states, they’ve never been in the same conference and Stetson’s next D-1 NCAA Tournament win will be their first.
But Duke and Stetson had a pretty healthy rivalry back in the 1980s, when Duke had a young up-and-comer as head coach and Stetson had a legend.
And back on November 29, 1980, that young Duke coach squared off against that veteran in his first game as Duke’s head coach.
Conventional wisdom is that Bill Foster left Mike Krzyzewski a bare cupboard.
That’s not entirely true. Krzyzewski inherited three upper-class starters who would go on the play in the NBA. Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard were seniors, versatile book-end forwards, both around 6-8, 220 pounds.
Classmate Jim Suddath was a reliable option of the bench.
Vince Taylor was an athletic 6-5 junior. Banks and Taylor were Duke’s first two McDonald’s All-Americans. Banks, Taylor and Dennard would combine for 44 of Duke’s 70 points per game.
The problem was in the underclassmen, where Foster under-achieved in the legendary class of 1979 (Ralph Sampson, Sam Bowie, Isaiah Thomas, Clark Kellogg, James Worthy, Dominque Wilkins, Steve Stipanovich, Byron Scott), signing four complementary players.
Guards Tom Emma and Chip Engelland became solid ACC players. But Krzyzewski did not have a center. Perhaps the presence of four-year starter Mike Gminski impeded the recruitment of prep big men but Krzyzewski was forced to make do with Mike Tissaw and Alan Williams, both 6-8, neither a natural center.
Glenn Wilkes was in his 23rd year of his 36-year tenure at Stetson. Wilkes led that school’s move from NAIA to D-1 and won 551 games there.
He’s in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Duke started Tissaw, Banks, Dennard, Taylor and Emma.
Taylor turned it over on Duke’s first possession and Stetson led 2-0.
But Banks tied it moments later, the first Blue Devil to score a point for Mike Krzyzewski.
Emma had the first fast-break basket, Dennard the first dunk, Engelland became the first reserve.
And Stetson the first victim.
But it wasn’t easy. At least not early.
There were signs of things to come, Duke’s man-to-man defense and some fast-break points. But there was no shot clock in 1980 and the Hatters weren’t especially inclined to run. Most of the game was a half-court slog-fest.
Duke led 26-18 with a couple of minutes left in the half but Stetson closed on a 6-0 run and the half ended 26-24.
Stetson never got any closer. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes after intermission until Duke’s defense began shutting down Stetson’s offense. Duke bumped the lead to 38-31, with 14 minutes left, 44-35 with 10 minutes left, 56-41 with five minutes left.
The final was 67-49.
Emma led Duke with 19 points, including 7-7 from the foul line, in his first career start. Banks and Taylor added 13 points, Banks with seven rebounds. Duke held Stetson to 33 percent from the field.
Banks and Dennard graduated after that season and Duke replaced them with a quartet of middling recruits, only one of whom, Dan Meagher, developed into an ACC-caliber player. Duke’s 1982 team may have been the worst in modern Duke history, finishing 10-17 and being outscored by six points per game.
One of those losses was 88-81 to Stetson, on the road. The most notable part of that game was the four technical fouls assessed on Duke, two on their fiery young coach.
Duke and Stetson played eight more times, through the 1990 season. Duke won all eight, several blow-outs but a 62-59 game in 1987 and 81-78 in 1988 among them.
The Wilkes magic is long gone and Stetson comes into Durham off a 20-loss season, not really competitive in the Atlantic Sun conference. But there actually is some tradition between Duke and Stetson and that includes Mike Krzyzewski’s debut at Duke.