The Duke basketball players experienced both highs and lows this season, but the thing to pity the most is their never getting the chance to fulfill their dreams.
When I originally wrote this article, it was right after the Duke basketball team lost at Clemson. I did a redraft after the shocking loss at Wake Forest and before the lackluster performance at Virginia. The title is original to the first draft, but unfortunately, this has now taken on new meaning with the cancellation of the remainder of the college basketball season.
While Duke’s year was successful with its win in the Champion’s Classic over a Kansas squad that has had the Blue Devils’ number recently, the 2K Empire Classic title, and a good run in the ACC, this season will go down with a giant what-if. The Devils had just as good a shot as any of the suspected top seeds in bringing home an NCAA championship.
Duke was the only team with three wins over opponents inside the top 10 of the final ranking. The Blue Devils are also the only team with wins over three different power-five regular-season champions. Yeah, these wins are one in the same, but it sounds good when listing both accomplishments, and now’s not the time to be parsing the successes.
They also had two wins over UNC, including the actual tearing out of the Tar Heels’ heart which, if you slow down the frame and squint really hard, you can see Wendell Moore stomp on after putting up the game-winning bucket. As gruesome as this sounds, watching our rivals lose, and especially at the hands of Duke, gives me such a great pleasure and satisfaction that is seldom seen outside of the bonds of my marriage.
The Duke basketball careers of Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, and Justin Robinson have come to an end in such an abrupt way that it is easy to forget the ride they have been on and given to the fans. While the Final Fours they were hoping for eluded them, reaching No. 1 in the polls in every season was their own distinction. Robinson was a late-blooming revelation, and it seemed like he was primed to bring some unexpected magic and energy to the Devils’ postseason tournaments.
Vernon Carey Jr. likely is gone without ever getting to experience a thing he has probably dreamed about since childhood, and we are deprived of watching him dominate again as he had so often on his way to ACC Rookie of the Year. Tre Jones will probably go down as one of the more sympathetic figures to ever don the Duke basketball blue and white, while never getting that championship banner in the rafters that he so desperately wanted.
It still seems improbable that they didn’t win No. 6 last year, led by Zion Williamson, whose trail of basketball destruction has continued on into the NBA after laying waste to the NCAA landscape and Duke’s four wins over three of the NCAA’s final four, including two over eventual champion Virginia. With their memorable play and the constant attention they received, the Blue Devils were the people’s champions if not the NCAA’s. That really is a thing, right?
After Jones’ heroics at Chapel Hill and his knack for hitting big shot after big shot, he seemed primed for some postseason magic as well. But unlike Robinson, we all would have expected nothing less from a Jones brother. We got to see his leadership and bravado with a lot of unknowns and inconsistent play among the Devils this season, outside of Carey.
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Alas, it was all for naught, and even though they did not lose to Mercer or Lehigh, the fact that they never even got the chance seems almost as unsatisfying. Remember what the players who are finishing up their Devil careers have meant to this season and the years they represented the Brotherhood on the court.
They deserved better, but we cannot control or change the circumstances that have made it so. If any Devil team has truly earned some pity, it’s this one, but not for the way they played, but for the reality of it being over too soon and the chance of what might have been.
That being said, I present to you the original, outdated, and obsolete article that explores the hardships of being a Duke Blue Devil player. Enjoy, or don’t. It doesn’t matter because I’m as dead inside as Roy Williams’ sense of style and taste when selecting his sports coats for the evening (seriously, please enjoy though)…