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Time For Duke Fans To Show Who They Are

Win or lose, this is our team. Are you in?

Gene Hackman surrounded by young basket players
Gene Hackman, center, as Norman Dale in Hoosiers

Update - here’s Piazza’s post-Louisville column on his Zoom exchange with Krzyzewski after the Louisville game in which we learn that Coach K offered an apology which Piazza accepted. It’s very well written and gracious and unintentionally reinforces a number of points we tried to make here. Only he does it better and without trying.

In the press zoom after the Louisville game, there was some controversy about Coach K’s interaction with Jake Piazza, a student reporter from the Duke Chronicle, with a lot of people slamming him for his response to Piazza’s question.

The question? “I’m just curious about what the next step forward for the team is...”

Coach K clearly didn’t appreciate the question and asked some questions back which a lot of people felt were rude.

So let’s touch on a couple of points here.

First, was this a big deal? No, not really. First, it’s hardly the first time Mike Krzyzewski has been testy with the media. It’s not even the first time he’s been testy with a reporter from the Chronicle.

And secondly, on a scale of 1-10 for rude behavior in a post-game press conference or zoom, it’s about a 1.

It’s not like, say, Roy Williams cursing on national TV or in a presser or various other coaches completely losing it with the media.

He had a point to make and he made it and it’s not like he left a scar. It really wasn’t all that harsh. But because it’s Coach K, people like to take a shot.

And right now, because Duke is struggling, it’s just more fun to take shots at Duke.

We’re not comparing it to 1994-95, but those who lived through that season know the drill.

Kentucky’s getting a bit of that now too. It must be killing BBN that they can’t pile on as well because Kentucky fans are too busy demanding perfection from their own program.

The great thing, from a Duke point of view anyway, is that we’re not Kentucky, or, thank God, UNC.

At least in the case of UNC, the fans aren’t turning on the program and coach quite like they are at Kentucky. However, this would be a good time to mention one of the funniest accounts on Twitter, @ICMeltdown, which chronicles the most over the top fan posts from our friends at Inside Carolina. Check in after a bad loss. It’s amazing.

But even that isn’t as bad as Kentucky fans on, say, Twitter, where John Calipari’s daughters are having to defend their father’s very successful tenure at UK. We’re not big Cal fans or anything, but we’ll say this: his children are highly intelligent, funny and good people. We’re sorry for what they’re going through right now.

We’d like to think there is a difference, that Duke fans can understand the difference between a very rare down year - so far anyway - and a serious problem.

As we’ve pointed out several times, almost every program has been affected by the pandemic, but younger teams have been particularly disrupted.

As Coach K reminds from time to time, Duke’s success didn't happen by accident and it certainly hasn’t been maintained by chance.

It’s a result of hard work and, as Jeff Capel said the other day, a fighting spirit that characterizes the program.

Right now things are not going very well and as we said, it’s not a huge surprise. The same thing is happening to Kentucky, UNC, Kansas (the Jayhawks have lost three straight), NC State, Clemson, Michigan State - we could go on, but you get the point. It’s just really hard to excel in this environment where almost no one has had the chance to develop naturally or even to play consistently.

Our only question of this team is the same question we’d ask any Duke team: are they working hard? Is their effort up to the established standards?

We believe that they are and that the results will ultimately bear that out, if not in wins as much as we’d like, then certainly in character. And we can live with whatever that brings.

If we can agree on that, then let’s move on to the real subject of this piece and that’s us, Duke fans and our character.

As we are now, we have talked often this season about how challenging things are this year and the extraordinary challenges a young Duke team faces.

But that’s us.

We’re pretty sure that when the media is on snooze and practice is under way, Coach K is not saying anything like that. He’s telling his team they have to earn respect and wins, that the only way to get there is through hard work and commitment to what Duke stands for and to each other.

For us fans, we’d hope that everyone would learn from what we’re seeing at Kentucky. You can’t simply demand success. You can’t just damn everyone who isn’t living up to your expectations. That only makes things worse.

Coach K recognized early in his Duke career that there was a special bond between the team and fans. That’s not going anywhere, but success also draws a lot of fans who, well, just like success. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone likes winning and wants to be associated with it.

We can’t put hard work in the same way the team can so what can Duke fans do in this most unsettling season?

What we can do that’s most important is to be positive and loyal. There’s no need to shred players on social media. There’s nothing to be gained by demanding perfection which is never possible anyway.

If we could all be in Cameron, we would help the team maintain Duke standards with passionate support. We’d lift them up. And at some point we’ll be back in that magnificent building doing just that.

Until then, the best way we can help is just to keep the faith. Win or lose, have pride in Duke Basketball. Be positive. It’s a bizarre season in so many ways but we can make it better simply by being what we always have been: great and loyal fans.

Finally, back to Piazza. We hope he didn't take this to heart as much of the rest of the media seems to have. And despite the media narrative, as you’ll see here, he’s supportive and a pretty good writer (minor quibble: with 14 guys on the roster, it’s certainly not “countless”). Like everything else we’ve talked about here, we hope he continues to give his very best efforts and that Duke fans support him, too.