A Duke hater chats with The Scores Report

As we get ready for the Duke/Butler matchup tonight, I thought it would be interesting to get my buddy (and Duke hater) LaRusso on the line to bash the Blue Devils.

John Paulsen: You’re a proud Duke hater, correct?

LaRusso: I am.

JP: What’s the biggest reason you hate Duke?

LR: It seems like, I don’t know if they have a sense of entitlement, but columnists, I guess ESPN, Dick Vitale, just seem to put them up on a pedestal a lot. They’re on TV all the time. They’re a good program — a top of the line program — so they’re going to draw attention. Like me, people hate them or people love them. One way or another they’re going to move the needle. So I think it’s a perceived elitist mentality of how they are so much better than everybody. They seem to get calls, they get more publicity than other schools. So I think that’s the driving factor.

JP: So one article I read listed like five reasons why people hate Duke and a commenter added a few more, so want to list them off and see what you think. So you think that they’re media darlings?

LR: Yes.

JP: They’re often compared to the Yankees, Cowboys and Patriots, and I guess the Lakers in terms of how much attention they get. I don’t like the Yankees comparison because it’s not like Duke can go out and outspend everybody. If anything, Coach K is at a disadvantage when compared with, say, North Carolina, in terms of recruiting because of Duke’s high academic standards.

LR: They do have tougher standards for academics. Some schools make concessions for athletes, I don’t know if Duke does that, it doesn’t seem like it. They always have smart kids. I don’t know if they’re on the same level as the Yankees and Red Sox. That’s all the media talks about. And in football, I’d probably say it’s more Cowboys — I don’t think the Patriots get much love. They’re probably more hated now than loved like they were when Brady first came up and they started winning. It seems to have flipped 180 on them.

JP: Well, we don’t have a local football team in Southern California, and if the Chargers aren’t on. We’re going to get the Cowboys because people either love them or they hate them. But it’s funny to me, because those teams that Duke is compared to — I hate them all. I don’t like the Yankees, or the Patriots or the Cowboys, so the fact that I’ve been a Duke fan since the days of Johnny Dawkins strikes some people as funny. I just gravitated towards the way that Coach K gets his kids to play night in and night out. We’ve talked about this in the past — I really take offense to this whole Yankees argument —

LR: I guess a better way to put it is that Duke is force-fed to us a little too much.

JP: Ok. I get it about Dick Vitale. There were some years there where he was way over the top in his love for Duke, and he was always doing their games, so I know that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It’s sort of how annoying Pat Summerall and John Madden were when they were doing the Cowboys games in the early ’90s. But it’s not like there are a lot of columnists out there now who are just talking about how great Duke is.

LR: They were getting bashed because everyone thought they’d be the first #1 to go out, and they didn’t have any talent. I think that was more people wanting them to lose. I think if people looked at them at the end of the season then they probably were the top team because their big guys got better, so I think it’s just that people hate them as usual. I know that’s why I picked them to lose.

JP: The guy from the Kansas City Star — Jason Whitlock — wrote that CBS wanted Duke to make the Final Four because of the ratings so they put them in the easiest region.

LR: If you look at the next top three seeds in their region, Villanova was playing terrible at the end of the season. Baylor had a good season but they had never been a high seed so we weren’t sure how they’d respond and then Purdue, without Robbie Hummel.

JP: I buy that with Villanova and with Purdue, because West Virginia was the top #2 seed, and K-State and Ohio State were really good too. And those three went to the non-Duke region. But I wonder if it had more to do with geography since Duke was in the South.

LR: They’re supposed to do that S-curve thing, so in theory they were saying that Kentucky was the worst of the four #1 seeds. Which, when you look at the numbers, Duke had the #1 or #2 RPI, and had a really tough strength of schedule, so I think the perception was that they were the last #1, but the numbers didn’t say that.

JP: Yeah, when you look at the metrics, everything I saw had Kansas #1 and Duke #2. I just don’t think there was some master plan to get Duke to the Final Four, but that’s the perception, at least from Jason Whitlock’s point of view. But looking at my list of reasons why people hate Duke, the #1 reason to me is Christian Laettner.

LR: Yes!

JP: He started everything. I don’t really remember people hating Duke when Johnny Dawkins or Danny Ferry were playing, but I was younger at the time.

LR: And plus, they were still underdogs at the time.

JP: And then Laettner, I think it’s safe to say that he was kind of a dick on the court. I think he stepped on somebody’s head or chest or something.

LR: Yeah the “best game ever” tournament game against Kentucky.

JP: He was obviously a great college player, but he really turned a lot of people against Duke, and sort of put the spotlight on them as being the villain.

LR: He looked like the kind of kid that grew up at the country club and I could see him saying things like, “you’re going to valet my car after you graduate.”

JP: Then it seemed like there was a quiet time when there wasn’t really anyone to hate.

LR: I hated Wojciechowski. He was an irritating little gnat. He seemed to do the slapping the floor thing a lot. And that got really old.

JP: Yeah, Duke haters definitely don’t like the slapping of the floor.

LR: It’s cool, just not when Duke does it.

JP: Even though they invented it?

LR: Yeah. Exactly.

JP: Then Greg Paulus came along and people hated him, but I don’t really know that he did anything on the court to deserve that. Like I remember Laettner doing things on the court that would rub people the wrong way, but I don’t remember Greg Paulus walking around like his shit didn’t stink.

LR: Well, don’t forget Redick.

JP: I was going to bring him up too. But I know a lot of people hate Paulus.

LR: I didn’t see anything wrong with him.

JP: So as a Duke hater, you don’t hate Paulus, but Redick you hated?

LR: Actually, it’s funny, I actually liked Redick. I don’t know why. I mean, the way he could shoot, it was unbelievable. And they didn’t show him being cocky and saying stuff. He seemed to have a pretty even demeanor on the court.

JP: What I noticed with him was that he started maybe in his junior or senior year doing some stuff to egg the crowd on, but he took a ton of abuse before that.

LR: I think I liked him because he took a lot more than he gave.

JP: Now people don’t like Coach K — do you have any issue with him?

LR: I was thinking about that when I was watching Michigan State because I don’t like Tom Izzo either. And every coach does this — they expect every call to go their way, and if something doesn’t go exactly the way they want it to they get all upset. I think there’s just too much overexposure with Coach K. He had the American Express commercials, coach of Team USA, and all the NBA players are gushing about him and how great of a coach he is. I mean, I could roll the ball out with those guys and frickin’ win the Olympics.

JP: Larry Brown couldn’t.

LR: Well, he didn’t have the quality of players —

JP: But that was his fault.

LR: Coach K had the players that cared about basketball and knew how to play. He didn’t have the Iversons, the Marburys, and those d-bags. And he sounds really condescending when I see him do interviews, maybe not condescending, but snarky.

JP: I look for that, but I don’t see it. I mean, I spent five years listening to Bo Ryan talk, so that may have something to do with it. I think from the arguing with the refs standpoint, he doesn’t do it any more or any less than anyone else, but since Duke is on TV so much, we’re always going to get a shot of him talking to the officials when a call doesn’t go his way.

LR: I’d agree with that.

JP: Where we wouldn’t see his opponent necessarily doing that if the tables were reversed.

LR: Yeah, it’s a function of Duke being on TV all the time.

JP: A lot of people don’t like the Duke fans. Do you have any issue with them?

LR: It’s hard to say — were they like that when Duke wasn’t that good? I guess I don’t have a problem with them, they usually seem pretty creative, but they don’t seem as creative as they used to be. It seems like they’ve fallen into a rut and they’re doing the same things over and over. They don’t come up with the funny chants they used to, or maybe we just don’t hear them.

JP: Well, some people don’t like that the student body is basically all-white, elitist, private school crowd, and they act like they’re above everybody else. I actually went to a game at Cameron and saw Chris Paul when he was with Wake Forest, and they were like #2/#3 in the nation. One of the chants that the crowd did was “can’t go to Duke, go to Wake” and “safety school, safety school.” But I think any student at any school has a rival that they think they’re better than. Look at Ohio State/Michigan. No one is calling Michigan fans elitist if they come up with some chant about Ohio State.

LR: The nice thing that Duke does that a lot of other schools don’t do is that they put their student fans right on the court, closer to the action.

JP: Yeah, they’re actually able to reach out and touch the opponent, which has to be disconcerting.

LR: That’s probably part of it too. Duke fans actually think they’re the sixth man and that they can help the team win. And they probably can.

JP: We talked a little about winning before. I looked it up — at the end of the regular season, Duke has been ranked in the top 10 in 20 of the last 25 seasons. That’s pretty amazing. So even though they haven’t won a title in like nine years, they’re always right there at the end of the regular season.

LR: And like anything, when you’re on the top too long people are going to nitpick you and try to knock you down.

JP: Do you have any issue with this year’s team? Is there anyone you don’t like?

LR: Um… Not really, no. I don’t know if I really dislike Lance Thomas. But like you said before, I play basketball the same way those guys do, so I don’t know why I find it so irritating.

JP: I know you didn’t like Jon Scheyer for a while.

LR: I’m all right with him now. He’s a good player. He doesn’t do anything wrong. He just plays the game, so I can’t really get too upset with him. They were hyping him up a lot more before, but he’s developed each year and has turned into a really good player. So he does deserve the publicity he gets.

JP: People on the thread were complaining about all these different Duke players and what I noticed were that all of them were white. Nobody seems to have a problem with the black Duke players.

LR: No.

JP: Fans just don’t seem to like good white players at Duke. Nobody begrudged Kevin Love at UCLA or Adam Morrison at Gonzaga. It just seems like Duke has a steady stream of good, white players and they always seem to be the target of people’s hatred. That’s just odd to me.

LR: It’s weird — it’s like the perception is that if a black player is a good player then he’s there because he worked hard, and I think the perception is that if a white kid is really good and goes to Duke, then he must have been a country club-type, like he had a shooting coach and didn’t have to work all that hard on his game.

JP: What about flopping?

LR: Oh, god. Yeah, I hate that. And Duke does do it a lot. And the perception is that the refs give a lot more charge calls to Duke.

JP: I think Duke did bring that to the forefront, you know, 15 years ago. They really took advantage of the charge. They were the first team that I remember that took a ton of charges. But it’s hard to blame them. These guys just go charging down the lane, they’re not trying to avoid anybody, and they just run guys over. And then they’re surprised when they’re called for a charge.

LR: I don’t like it, but I agree. Battier was the first guy I remember who took a lot of charges.

JP: And I’ve talked to refs about this before — if you don’t sell the call by falling down, you’re not going to get the call. I mean, if a guy charges into you and you maybe get knocked back but keep your feet, you’re not going to get the call. You have to sell it. I think they need to go with the NBA rule where there’s a semicircle below the basket and if you’re inside that area, it’s automatically a block.

LR: Yeah.

JP: Finally, to wrap this up, who are you rooting for tonight?

LR: Butler. But I think Duke will win. The only reason because by the end of the year, the Plumlees and Zoubek figured out how to play basketball. They were soft in the middle the whole year until about a month left in the season and now, if I would have seen them play like this, I probably would have picked them to go to the Final Four. I can’t believe people don’t let Zoubek, Thomas and the Plumlees try to score 20. They’d probably miss shots wide open. But it’s probably human nature to collapse to the middle and then you leave those three-point shooters open. And you can’t leave those three open.

JP: They get so many three point opportunities on the offensive glass. The shot goes up, and the defense boxes out and then attacks the rebound, but when Duke gets it back, they’re looking to kick it out to Scheyer, Singler or Smith for an wide open three. And it’s tough to keep track of your man after the shot goes up because you’ve been trained to go rebound the ball.

LR: Just block out your guy and stay with your guy. You have to stay with those shooters. Let someone else get the rebound. Let Zoubek shoot the ball. He doesn’t look to shoot when he gets the ball right underneath the basket.

JP: We’ll see tonight if Brad Stevens follows your advice.

LR: I doubt it.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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