Tomorrow night, Kentucky wall take on Duke in a primetime battle of the sport’s bluest bloods. It will be the 21st meeting between the two programs, a rivalry steeped in classic moments, the most famous of which we’re forced to relive every March. “The Shot” has been called the greatest moment in college basketball, but none of the players who will take the floor tomorrow were alive when it happened. Not even
Miles Mason Marshall Plumlee, who is approximately 400 years old.
Imagining a world without “The Shot” is like imagining Oscar Combs with a British accent; it’s unfathomable. The moment that ball dropped into the net, I found out what it really meant to be a Kentucky fan. Seven years old on the floor of my parents’ den, heartache and hatred bloomed. Duke became Puke, Laettner became the devil, and every subsequent meeting between the two teams became an opportunity for revenge. “The Shot” shaped my fandom, which is why it’s so surreal that there are Kentucky fans and players alive who can’t say the same.
So, in order to educate our younger fans and the players who will take the floor in Chicago tomorrow night, here’s a refresher course in why we hate Duke.
Before we move on from ’92, the other big moment from that game needs to be addressed: The Stomp. Minutes before Laettner spun, shot, and slayed, he stomped on Aminu Timberlake’s chest, an act that would most certainly get him thrown out of the game today. The stomp was poor sportsmanship at its best, perfectly encapsulating Laettner, the sport’s ultimate villain. When UK fans say they still hate Laettner, it’s mostly for the shot, but the stomp is ten times more offensive. After the “30 for 30” on Laettner was released last spring, he apologized to Timberlake on social media and Timberlake accepted, but no matter how gamely Laettner sucks up to the Big Blue Nation, resentment will always smolder.
The court slapping
Is there anything more Duke than a 6-foot white guard slapping the floor? No. It’s not like Duke invented the act, but they’ve sure run it into the ground. In the book “Tales from the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood” (don’t everyone rush to buy it at once), former Dukie Mark Alarie gave some background on the iconic gesture:
“It was Coach K’s way of showing us that if we did what he said we would own the defensive floor, that no one would get by us.”
Gag. Court slapping is so Duke that opponents are now mocking them with it:
Duke flops so often they make Italian soccer players look tough. During halftime of the 2012 showdown between Kentucky and Duke, John Calipari totally called them on it too.
“They’re flopping all over the place,” Calipari said. “In the NBA, they’d all be suspended. So we got to get to where we’re getting the ball by guys, and knowing that they’re going to take charges.”
During his career at Duke, Greg Paulus had more flops than Eddie Murphy.
The media bias
It’s probably a shock to those of you who read this site, but the sports media is supposed to be objective; however, over the years, Duke has earned a reputation as a media darling, especially when it comes to announcers like Dick Vitale (“You mean DUKE Vitale?!?! Amirite?!”). A few years back, The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen actually went through and listened to five Duke games Vitale called to prove Dickie V was biased. Now, Dick’s heaped plenty of praise on Kentucky the past few years, so I don’t think that’s exactly fair, but the media’s lapping of Coach K and Duke over the years is pretty obnoxious.
Remember Billy Packer’s freakout when Jamal Magloire and Wojo got tangled up?
“What is he doing here? What is Magloire doing?!?!”
(Note: this bit of acting by Wojo could also be filed under flopping)
Look, every fans thinks the officials are out to get their team, but every fan outside of Durham also thinks that Duke gets ALL the calls. Somehow, when refs step into Cameron Indoor Stadium, they’re sprinkled with fancy nerd dust and all the calls magically go in Duke’s favor. Coach K must carry that fancy nerd dust (pencil shavings?) around with him because they get more than their fair share of calls on the road too. And when they don’t, Coach K whines like Shannon the Dude during a Star Wars marathon.
As Kentucky fans, we know what it’s like to have people hate us cause they ain’t us. In the modern era, Kentucky and Duke have been the two most successful teams in college basketball, which, as you might imagine, makes people pretty jealous. And like it or not, Duke’s had Kentucky’s number lately. The Cats are 1-7 against the Dukies since 1978:
|11/17/2015||Kentucky vs. Duke||–||–||Champions Classic (at Chicago, IL)|
|11/13/2012||(#3) Kentucky vs. (#9) Duke||L||68 – 75||Champions Classic (at Atlanta, GA)|
|12/18/2001||(#7) Kentucky vs. (#1) Duke||L||92 – 95 OT||Jimmy V Classic (at East Rutherford, NJ)|
|12/22/1998||(#3) Kentucky vs. (#2) Duke||L||60 – 71||Jimmy V Classic (at East Rutherford, NJ)|
|3/22/1998||(#5) Kentucky vs. (#3) Duke||W||86 – 84||NCAA South Regional Finals (at St. Petersburg, FL)|
|3/28/1992||(#6) Kentucky vs. (#1) Duke||L||103 – 104 OT||NCAA East Regional Finals (at Philadelphia, PA)|
|11/19/1988||Kentucky vs. (#1) Duke||L||55 – 80||Tip-off Classic (at Springfield, MA)|
|3/13/1980||(#4) Kentucky vs. (#14) Duke||L||54 – 55||NCAA Mideast Regional Semifinals (at Lexington, KY)|
|11/17/1979||(#2) Kentucky vs. (#3) Duke||L||76 – 82 OT||Tip-off Classic (at Springfield, MA)|
That one win was glorious, but, after seventeen years, Kentucky is due for another. So is Calipari, who is 0-2 vs. Coach K in his career.
There’s also the fact that Duke won what should have been Kentucky’s ninth national championship in April. The blame for that lies on Kentucky falling apart in the final four minutes vs. Wisconsin, but the fact that it was Duke up there in the blue and white confetti makes it all especially cruel. What should have been Kentucky’s crowning moment was another step forward for Duke, who’s been surging the past few years.
The double standards
Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to accepting thousands of dollars from his summer-league coach Myron Piggie, which one would think would make him ineligible and force the NCAA to vacate Duke’s 1999 Final Four appearance and runner-up status? Well, they didn’t, a fact I’m sure sits well with Calipari, whose 2008 Final Four appearance was stripped because of Derek Rose’s SAT scandal. The same goes for the Lance Thomas jewelry fiasco a few years back. Thomas was sued by a jeweler for defaulting on $70,000 of merchandise in 2009, the season Duke went on to win the national title. What college senior has that kind of money to throw down on jewelry?! When the scandal broke in 2013, it had “ruh roh” written all over it, but mysteriously, a week later, the lawsuit was settled and Thomas and Duke never received any punishment from the NCAA.
Okay, so the media’s hypocrisy regarding Coach K and Calipari isn’t Duke’s fault, but it doesn’t mean I don’t resent them a little bit for it. When Cal took the job at Kentucky in 2009, he took the one-and-done system mainstream. Even though the media painted Cal’s system as an evil NBA factory, it was one of the most fun seasons in Kentucky basketball history. (So fun our friend Aaron Torres wrote a book about it that you should buy!) When Kentucky won the national championship in 2012, the narrative became ‘sure, you can win with freshman, but only if you have veterans, too’. So, imagine our surprise when Coach K and Duke won the national championship with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow — all freshman who went to the NBA after one season — and the media praised Coach K for bravely “adapting” to the “harsh reality” of the one-and-done rule.
But wait, doesn’t that make Calipari a trail blazer? Haha. Like he would ever get that kind of credit. Instead, Cal’s haters said Coach K was beating Calipari at his own game, conveniently leaving out the fact that three years earlier, Kentucky won the title with three one-and-dones. But hey, don’t let that get in the way of an agenda, right?
With four Final Fours in his six years at Kentucky, I think you can say John Calipari is doing alright; however, after their national championship and huge recruiting coups the last few years, the pendulum is swinging back towards the Blue Devils. A lot of this is due to Coach K’s status as head coach of Team USA. Calipari is a recruiting master, but Coach K gets access to the best recruits earlier than anyone, forming relationships that have brought Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles to Durham. A win tomorrow night wouldn’t reverse that momentum, but it would be a nice, very public reminder of Kentucky’s stature.