DURHAM -- Amid the whoops and hollers, and the traditional bonfire bench burnings, longtime basketball observers could not help but notice a distinct shadow falling across Duke's on-campus national championship victory celebration. The celebration, they observed, was less exuberant, less unabridgedly blissful than previous such celebrations as Duke fans, the team and its coaches included, admitted still not having fully recovered from the University of North Carolina team's loss in the National Invitational Tournament final on Thursday night.
"It was a testament to our team's heart that my boys were even able to play tonight's game at all after watching UNC go down on Thursday," said Duke Coach Michael Krzyzewski just after the game. "They were just in a funk, but they fought through it," he said. According to Krzyzewski, "A lot of the tears after the championship game were not for joy, they were out of sadness that the Heels couldn't celebrate with us."
"The first thing I did after I got off the court," said Krzyzewski, "was call Roy (Williams) to make sure he was doing OK. It's hard to put your heart into a celebration when you know your friend is in pain."
"It's difficult to fully enjoy our success while still smarting from the Tar Heels falling just short of their goal," said Final Four MVP Kyle Singler. "To tell the truth, this doesn't feel quite as good as the feeling I had last year when the Tar Heels won it all," the Duke forward added.
According to Duke point guard Jon Scheyer, “One thing that carried me through, that motivated me, was knowing that the whole Tar Heel Nation was behind us, and that maybe our victory would boost them just little out of their doldrums.”
"Maybe later," said Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, "after the Tar Heel team has a chance to appreciate how good their incoming players are and that they still have a chance to win in future, they will cheer up, then our team and fans will be able to fully appreciate our win too."
Duke students were sober as well in their assessment of the championship's meaning given the Tar Heels' falling one step short of unprecedented back-to-back NCAA and NIT titles. Said Duke sophomore Jan Goldstein of Paramus, "I felt so bad watching how the Tar Heel team reacted after losing to Dayton, I almost didn't watch the Butler game, but I am glad I did because I did feel better after Duke won, at least a little bit. But, to tell the truth, I did spend a lot of time during the game thinking about Marcus (Ginyard) and Deon (Thompson) and how much it must hurt to lose your final game as a college player."
Duke senior psychology major Lawrence Runkin from Brooklyn said he had been acting as a volunteer bereavement counselor at UNC's Campus Health Services on all day on Friday and Saturday and had not much time to even think about the Duke and Butler contest until he saw some guys in the dorm lounge watching the game when got home late Saturday. "I guess I am glad we won but the looking at the impact of the Tar Heel loss had on students there had already put sports into some larger perspective for me," Runkin said.
As students and other Duke fans entered the welcoming ceremony for the return of the Duke team in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, they could look across Wallace Wade Stadium at the flag which had been flying at half mast for Carolina since Friday morning, the sight of which had to dampen their spirits. The welcoming ceremony, which did eventually become more lively, began with a brief moment of "silence and meditation for our friends in Chapel Hill" led by Duke Chaplain the Rev. Bernard T. Stubbs.
Gary D. Gaddy has to admit he pulled for Butler -- along with about everybody else not from west Durham or the Tri-State Area.
A version of this story is set to be published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday April 9, 2010.Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy