Boston has been Coach K's kind of town.
The celebrity coach has played the four local Division 1 basketball teams 22 times since he took over at Duke University in 1980, and he was 21-1 heading into last night's contest at Conte Forum. He was intent on improving that record, and, as usual, the Blue Devils' appearance at The Heights was not just another game, or even another certified Big Game. It was a full-blown Event.
The one loss was an NCAA Tournament game in 1985. BC beat the Blue Devils in Houston by a 74-73 score. A year later, that Duke core group played Louisville for the national championship. Twenty-one years later, Duke had not lost another game to a Boston school, that total including six wins in a local gym.
Well, make that seven, and 22-1, as the Blue Devils held off the Eagles, 83-81, last night.
Mike Krzyzewski's team has been an equal-opportunity abuser of Boston schools. The Blue Devils have won three times at Harvard, twice at BC, and once each at Boston University and Northeastern.
Harvard? Yeah, Harvard, and don't laugh. The closest any Boston team had previously come to defeating Duke on our hallowed soil was Harvard.
Coach K brought his first team here in 1984. He was almost sorry he did. Final score: Duke 89, Harvard 86, and it was a very real scare.
''It's a funny thing," recalls Frank McLaughlin, then the Harvard coach and now executive director of athletics at Fordham. ''We were supposed to play North Carolina. I had been recruited by Dean Smith, and we had a good relationship. We were going to play a home-and-home, but our athletic director, Jack Reardon, said no. He was afraid we'd be humiliated."
Duke was not then the Duke you all know. Krzyzewski was in the process of building his program. He had a stellar bunch of recruits -- Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Mark Alarie, David Henderson, and Jay Bilas -- but they needed time to grow. McLaughlin also knew Coach K, and he approached him about a series. Come to Boston. It won't be a taxing road game. Your kids will get a nice workout, and you'll even be able to play all your subs.
It was fine for Duke until Joe Carrabino started dropping bombs on the Blue Devils. Carrabino was a 6-foot-7-inch kid who could shoot and who was on his way to a 30-point evening. ''If they had the 3-point shot in those days," says McLaughlin, ''he would have gone to Duke or Stanford." It was 45-43, Duke, at the half. The largest crowd in Harvard basketball history was in a frenzy. Duke couldn't shake the Crimson. Harvard led, 52-51. It was 65-65 on a Danny Ferry jumper with 12 minutes left.
Here's how desperate Coach K was. With 4:50 left and Duke leading, 82-80, he went into a four-corners offense (The shot clock was three years away). Henderson made 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch. The Blue Devils had escaped. Barely.
''There were 20,000 people watching basketball in Boston last night," said McLaughlin (the Lakers were also in town). ''But the people at Harvard were the most entertained."
Coach K has run a Who's Who of college basketball through his doors. Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Duhon are among the big names, and then there are the comets such as Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, who have flashed across the Durham sky for a year or so en route to a career in the NBA. All this has resulted in three national championships (1991, 1992, 2001).
Along the way, Coach K has returned on occasion to Boston, defeating Harvard in 1989 (98-59) and 1990 (103-61) and also winning at BU before a record crowd at Walter Brown Arena in 1992 (95-85) and at Northeastern before a record crowd at Matthews Arena in 1995 (87-56).
Four years ago he brought a team to play BC in the second half of a home-and-home series. BC had acquitted itself well in a loss at Durham the year before and hopes were high for an upset in the return match. Interest was enormous. The gym was packed. Yes, it was a wonderful moment.
And then the game started.
Duke hit its first eight shots, three of which were 3-pointers. By the six-minute mark, it was 20-3. ''You can't let them hang around," said Coach K when the game was in the books by the misleading score of 88-78.
That brought us to last evening. For the first time Duke was coming here as a lodge brother. This was an ACC game. It was four years ago to the 10th power.
''The interest is off the charts," reported Chris Cameron, BC's associate athletic director in charge of media relations. All 64 media seats on the floor were filled, with 20 more people to be placed in the hockey press box. He was expecting eight pro scouts. Students began camping out for choice seats around 8 a.m. Tuesday. Tickets were showing up on
Star power? Bob Kraft, Bill Belichick, Doug Flutie, Tim Russert, J.P. Ricciardi, Larry Lucchino, and Brad Faxon all said they'd be there.
No offense to Messrs. Kraft, Flutie, and Russert, but Coach Bill and Coach K in the same room? Wow. All those brains. All those titles. What a mega photo op.
Where was Joe Carrabino when you need him?