Courtesy of Doug Haller
Question: During your three Final Fours at Duke, the lowest-seeded team to make it was No. 6 Michigan and that was the “Fab Five.” Now, it seems there’s a higher seeded team each year. Why?
Answer: When I was in school – 1993-94 was when my eligibility was up – that was the time when players really started to leave school early. As I like to say, that’s when the mass exodus began, and so now you have an environment in college basketball where a lot of the elite players leave early. Devin Booker, who just scored 70 points for the Suns, would be a junior at Kentucky. Karl-Anthony Towns would be a junior, as well. As a result, you have a lot of teams that aren’t your traditional sort of blue blood, like South Carolina, a team that is well coached and has experienced guys, guys who are tough. And that’s important. So, you see Gonzaga – I don’t even know if you can really consider them a mid-major anymore – they’ve been consistently excellent for quite some time. They have guys who are battle-tested. Even North Carolina. They got to the championship last year, and they felt that pain and that heartbreak and they used that as motivation for this season. You still need experience collectively to win a championship. A majority of these teams we see now are experienced teams.
Q: What story lines from this group interest you?
A: Gonzaga’s Mark Few, a coach who’s had some great teams, but unable to get to the Final Four. Getting here now and ultimately winning would really validate him as one of the great coaches. Will this be the year? North Carolina, about redemption and getting back to this moment after having their heart broken last year. South Carolina, a team nobody picked. I’m not even sure their own fans picked them at the start of the tournament to get to the final and so here they are.
Q: How has the Final Four changed since you played?
A: It’s bigger. People are more in-tuned. You can watch every game now because of the CBS/Turner Sports merger. Bracketology has become like a science. You end up watching or pulling for teams you know little about. It was great and it was big before, but I think now with social media, all it does is enhance the magnitude of it all. Even to the point of the venues. All the venues are now in football stadiums. It’s interesting. When I played, we were kind of shielded from it. Coach K would have us focused each week on four teams. The team we were playing on that Thursday or Friday and then possibly the next opponent that Saturday or Sunday. And we would look at it as three four-game tournaments each weekend. Back then, you didn’t have all the games on television. You didn’t have social media. We stayed busy. We weren’t in our rooms. We had meetings. We would go see a movie. We had practice so we weren’t just laying around our room watching the games. We weren’t really keeping up with all that was happening. We were just focusing on that two-game tournament that weekend. Now, it’s harder to minimize all the distractions and what’s happening because it’s all right there in front of you.
Q: You’ve been a part of two memorable NCAA Tournament plays. The incredible alley-oop dunk in the 1991 championship game against Kansas. And the pass to Christian Laettner that beat Kentucky in the 1992 East regional final. Which are you more proud of?
A: They’re both really cool plays. The dunk, as great as that was, it was early in the game. As much as I’d like to say, “Oh, it set the tone for what was to come,” it was so early that after the game, I had forgotten all about it. It wasn’t until we were on the trophy stand and watching One Shining Moment that I remembered it. The timing and what was at stake on the Laettner play, that right there was an iconic moment in college basketball, and really in all sports. I think with what was on the line and what led up to that play, both teams having the games of their lives and great moments, that by far is the better of the two. As much as my ego would like to say the Kansas dunk, I got to give props to Laettner.
Q: How was Bobby Hurley as a teammate?
A: He was fearless. I mean, just absolutely fearless. He was a joy to play with for three years. I was 18 or 19 years old, so maybe it was hard to have this perspective, but just knowing what he was about and knowing the stock he came from with his father, it was a no-brainer that he’d be a coach. I didn’t necessarily understand all that at the time, but he was just the ultimate competitor, and it was really a lot of fun to play with him.