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Big Wednesday

It was a busy Wednesday. There were all sorts of things going on morning, noon and night to keep us sports junkies occupied. Some of them involved the actually playing of games.

For those of us who prefer watching games to posting on message boards predictions of what might happen in three or four years, there was indeed a doozy. As happens every year with the Super Bowl out of the way, the ‘serious’ basketball season kicked in with the first Duke-Carolina game. It did not disappoint.

As they usually do, the Devils and Heels put on quite a show in the Dean Dome. As always, it matched two of the three ACC resident basketball coaching legends. This one was won by the one with the surname somewhat longer than the ‘Williams’ shared by the other two.

Carolina had won the last three contests with Duke, clearly an unacceptable situation on Methodist Flats. Coach K determined to do something about that and did. After a game last year in which Coach K fouled out every frontcourt player on his roster in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Tyler the Good, the Duke coach determined, correctly, that the Carolina big guy was unstoppable, which he is under any circumstance, including one in which you have no big man whatsoever on your roster.

The solution was to give Tyler the Good his points and concentrate on stopping everybody else. This worked, made a bit easier by the absence of Carolina’s outstanding point guard Tyler Lawson. While the Heel missed Lawson, it is doubtful his participation would have made that much of a difference, as noted by Ol’ Roy in his postgame remarks. On this night, at least, Duke’s superior perimeter players carried the day over Carolina’s magnificent inside warrior.

While a reduced effort was devoted to trying to stop Tyler the Good, there was a concentrated attempt at reducing his outstanding defensive effectiveness at dominating inside. Duke’s Kyle Singler was often deployed on the perimeter at the three-point arc. Since Singler, like everybody else Coach K put on the floor, can drill the bonus shot with accuracy and regularity, Tyler the Good was forced to follow him out and chase him around the arc. A Tyler the Good running around the three-point area is not a Tyler the Good creating defensive havoc in the paint. The lane was open for drives to the basket by guys named Henderson and Nelson, who proved too quick for their Tar Heel defenders.

Carolina did miss Lawson, although Ol’ Roy, to his credit refused to blame the loss on his star point guard not being there, pointing out that “you play with what you have” and that Duke won because they simply were “the better team” that night. This was refreshing compared to what Ol’ Roy’s former boss and mentor Dean would have done, which would have been to open his press conference with “I don’t want to talk about [insert name of missing injured player] costing us the game” and then spend the rest of his time talking about nothing but how not having [insert name of missing injured player] cost the Heels the game. Ol’ Roy is a likeable guy.

Coach K seems to feel the same way. It used to be highly amusing to watch, after Duke-Carolina games, Dean and Coach K walk past each other never making eye contact or in any way acknowledging the other’s existence other than sticking out a hand for a couple of seconds. Had they met at the end of World War II, Hitler and Stalin would have engaged in a warm embrace and mutual well wishes compared to Dean and Coach K. Last night, as always happens after these games and no matter who has won, the two coaches spent a fair amount of time smiling and congratulating each other on the game. The loon elements of both teams’ fan bases could learn from that but won’t.

Aside from the latest basketball game of the ages, there was something else going on last Wednesday. That would be the annual goofiness known as Football Signing Day. High school football wunderkinds give written notice as to where they will spend at least a portion of the next four or five years.

As someone who pays little attention to recruiting other than noticing in the news when a particularly-big fish is reeled in, I always find the zeal at which some approach others deciding on a college a bit curious and more than a little amusing.

Recruiting has become a sport unto itself, with ESPN now beginning to devote almost as much time to it as they do the actual game. Web sites abound, where, for a fee, people who have seen few prospects in person and have virtually no knowledge of what the professional coaches who do this for a living look for, will inform avid readers as to how they rank these prospects and trumpet who ‘won’ the ‘recruiting season.’ Were he still around, rest assured that PT Barnum would be operating a recruiting Web venture.

The purpose of all this silliness seems to be to allow message board loons to either trumpet their team’s success or bemoan the process which unfairly pegged their recruiting as lousy. According to how many stars awarded to a team’s recruits, the loons either immediately began weauxfing about that guaranteed future MNC [‘the Canes are Back this time, by golly’] or griping about the ignorant clods running the sites who either could not recognize the star quality of their coach’s recruits, or downgraded the ranking out of spite and hatred for their team.

We notice that message board recruiting analysis of perceived bad recruiting years greatly resembles the loon elements of all twelve ACC teams [often one in the same], all claiming loudly that ACC officiating exists for no other reason than to ensure that their team loses. They never quite reveal how it is that Little Johnny’s officiating cadre works it out so that every team loses every game, or why it is that the recruiting ‘gurus’ don’t seem to like the recruits of teams that go 3-9 every year.

On the home front, the general consensus is that Frank and his staff did fairly well. He did lock down the state like Attica after the riots. The past performance of Tech teams with in-state recruits would seem indicative of future success, so it can be assumed that things will keep rolling along fairly well for the foreseeable future.

It should also be noted that the big haul from Tidewater just might mean that famed ‘757 attitude’ will continue on, too. Hopefully it will be moderated to the point to eliminate the usage of “He’s a good kid,” first popularized by Frank as a code phrase for, “Geez, what has Marcus done now?”

What will likely be lost in the excitement of what looks to be an impressive haul of talent is how things worked out the last time the recruiting season ended with utterances of ‘best recruiting year ever.’ Such a huge amount of football skill had been amassed at Tech that three years later the coaches were attempting to piece together a patchwork offensive line. What was described as ‘the greatest assemblage of running backs ever’ has turned into the Tech coaches gritting their teeth and overlooking the latest shenanigan of Brandon Ore because they need him on the field while waiting and hoping that the latest ‘greatest assemblage of running backs ever’ develops better than did the last. It really takes years to figure out exactly how good is a recruiting class.

Still, immediate gratification requires that, like the games themselves, recruiting be deemed an immediate zero sum game. Frank being anointed the Winner means there has to be a Loser. The state’s print media seems to be taking great glee in pointing out that identity. For his part, algroh felt compelled to claim his recruiting class was “not that bad,” words certain to excite the Hoo faithful. The Great NFL Legend also again castigated the state’s high school coaches for producing a crop of players entirely too stupid to gain admittance to Mr. Jefferson’s great university. These terms of endearment should serve algroh well the next time boygroh heads into Tidewater asking, “Will you play for me and Daddy?”

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