September 2, 2004

He May Be Tall

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Quick, name the top five most storied programs in college basketball history.

I would say it’s safe to assume that 99 percent of you had the Duke Blue Devils in there somewhere. So why is it that the only player ever to win an NBA title who once called Cameron Indoor home is Danny Ferry?

And you thought the Red Sox were cursed.

Yes, the boys from Durham have had their fair share of success during Coach K’s tenure, including three national titles and 10 Final Fours but, once anyone who donned a Duke jersey steps onto an NBA court, all bets are off.

First, let me take you back to when my personal fondness with Duke began back when the Devils won the first of their back-to-back titles in 1991. Yet it wasn’t the team’s shocking win over UNLV in the national semifinal, nor their superstar, Christian Laettner, or even the Cameron Crazies that made me a fan. It was their floor general, Bobby Hurley, who passed his way to the top of the Duke record books, and made me a Blue Devil die-hard to this day. Hurley was an inspiration to all of us short, suburban kids out there and, when the Kings took him with the seventh pick in the 1993 draft, I immediately threw on my Keds and started throwing bounce passes to my brother in the backyard.

Yet my rejoicing was short-lived, as just a few months later, the Curse of the Blue Devil began.

Hurley, driving home from Arco Arena after just his 19th game as a pro, was hit by a station wagon that blew past a red light. Despite many comeback attempts, he just couldn’t overcome a crushed trachea, two collapsed lungs, and a handful of rib fractures suffered that night.

Though Hurley’s story is the most gruesome tale, all the players to follow him to the NBA, and even Laettner, who preceded him, have succumbed to the curse.

Laettner, who was arguably one of the top five best players in college basketball history, experienced some modest years as a pro, even making an All-Star team or two. Yet the journeyman power forward has since fallen into drug problems and is on a steady downward spiral.

The next to fall victim to the curse was Grant Hill, who was drafted third by the Pistons in 1994. Hill, the 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year with Jason Kidd and second coming of Scottie Pippen, averaged 19.9 points-per-game in his first season and over 20 ppg for five more years in Detroit. The problem arose after Hill bolted for Orlando for 93 million dollars, and, since then, he hasn’t played more than 29 games in a season. Who knows, maybe if he hadn’t left for the Magic, Hill could have been the swingman for the Pistons in their championship run instead of Tayshaun Prince.

Sure, there have been plenty more: remember names like Cherokee Parks and Roshown McCleod? Most people don’t.

Now that I’ve got your brains thinking of Dukies to go in the first round, you are probably saying, “but what about Elton Brand and Corey Maggette?” Well, in Elton’s case, yes, he is a great player who has averaged 19.4 points per game and 10.7 rebounds during his career, but I’ll give you two reasons I wouldn’t want to be him. The Bulls (post MJ) and the Clippers. Brand has never been to a postseason and, unless he leaves the hapless Clips, he probably never will. In Maggette’s case, yes, he is a budding NBA superstar, yet if he would have spent a full four years — actually, even a full two years — under Coach K, this guy could be one of the NBA’s best. (That’s advice William Avery, the 14th pick in the 1999 draft, could have used as well.) Not only that, Maggette wouldn’t have spent a year in purgatory, otherwise known as the Clippers bench.

Actually, who knows, maybe I’m wrong. I mean, look at Trajan Langdon, the Alaskan Assassin, Duke’s all-time leader in three pointers made; he stayed all four years and where did it get him?

Shane Battier, who also stayed four years, didn’t fizzle out as badly as Langdon, but the guy who was known for his defense and taking charges found out the hard way that the NBA refs don’t call offensive fouls when guys flop over.

So what’s the best way to avoid the curse, you ask? Become Carlos Boozer. Get drafted in the second round, make people think that you are a good player because LeBron gets you easy buckets, bolt to Utah because they are the first team to offer you big money, and then market yourself even further by playing decently on a sub-par Olympic team.

No wonder Coach K was considering a move to the Lakers.

Chris Mascarois Sun Assistant Sports Editor.He May Be Tallwill appear every other Thursday.

Archived article by Chris Mascaro