Duke Blue Devils Overcome Hate and Doubt to Become Worthy Champions

Mike KlineAnalyst IApril 6, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  (L-R) Jon Scheyer #30 and Nolan Smith of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after they won 61-59 against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski said it best when in Monday night's post-game celebration he stated he couldn't believe his Blue Devils were the National Champions.

I could scarcely believe it myself, but there they were holding up the National Championship Trophy late Monday night.

After months of doubt from ever member of the media who criticized them as not being athletic enough, or tough enough, or just plain not good enough, Duke still managed to take home the ultimate prize.

At the beginning of this year even the most devout Duke fan, myself included, may have been hard pressed to expect a National Title from a team that appeared to have lost so much.

After last year’s demolition at the hands of the Villanova Wildcats, guard Gerald Henderson left for the NBA. Shortly there after another guard, Elliot Williams elected to transfer to Memphis to be closer to his ailing mother.

Duke was definitely down, but as Monday night proved they were clearly not out.

When this season began there were the typical expectations for this crop of Blue Devils. They were slated as preseason co-favorites with rival North Carolina and they were ranked number eight in the polls.

True to recent form, the Blue Devils managed to jump out to a quick start. But many still doubted Duke. I definitely was pleased with their performance but was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I couldn't help myself, the media proclaimed it as an almost certain inevitability, and I too doubted. 

Those that hate Duke were relishing in the opportunity to pounce if they started to fail. Their recent trend of late season failures lead many to believe that another February swoon was destined to happen.

However, it never came, as Duke went undefeated in February, March and now April. The Blue Devils proved to be a steady team all year, never dropping out of the Top 10, never losing two games in a row, and winning in every conceivable fashion.

This team quickly went from the team I pull for to the team I truly loved. They played with the passion and grit Duke fans and haters are accustomed to, but they also had a bit of an underdog feeling to them given their recent trends.

Of course there is a fat chance you'll get anyone else to believe that, but who besides Duke fans would have thought them capable of such heights?

They won the Preseason NIT, tied for the ACC regular season title, won the ACC Tournament Championship, and now they are the National Champions.

The veteran leadership proved to be the X-factor for Duke this season as Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, and even much maligned Brian Zoubek rose to the challenge and refused to allow Duke to loose.

Those players may not go down in Duke lore as the greatest players like Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, or Christian Laettner; however, the current players will be forever some of my favorites. Yes, even Brian Zoubek.

You simply can not say enough about how hard these guys worked. From the time they set foot on campus the weight of past teams' success bore down on them.

When they failed to reach that same level of success the program was said to be in decline. The anti-Duke contingent cheered as Duke lost in the first, second, and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years.

Yet, the three seniors never gave up hope that they would achieve their own success. Monday they did just that and regardless if they aren't as good as the Duke greats of the past they did want many never did.

At the center of it all was Krzyzewski. The much beloved or hated coach, depending on your view point, instilled confidence and demanded the best from his team all at the same time.

This was not his most talented team by his own admission, yet the team everyone doubted never doubted themselves. And that was because of Krzyzewski.

There is no doubt he did his best coaching job ever this season.

Duke fans should relish in this seemingly improbable championship.  I know I am.

It is tough to be a fan of a team widely hated and despised by others, including the media. But through the hate, and through the doubts, the Blue Devils persevered and in the end they are indeed the 2010 National Champions.

What should make it even more rewarding is that they've done it the right way as they always have. Player graduate, rarely if at all is there player misconduct, and not once, Corey Maggette included, has Duke ever been sanctioned or penalized by the NCAA for wrong doing.

There are many that hate Duke, and even some members of the media openly admit to despising Duke for reasons both clear and unclear.

Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils used that as fuel this season more than any DUke team so far. The more criticism, the more hate, the better they seemed to play.

It is oddly ironic that Duke and Butler, two teams from similar schools (private, small, and academically responsible) managed to play for a National Title.

Butler just happened to be the up-and-comer who was playing the most despised team in the country.

It wasn't that long ago when Duke was America's darling, taking down the "evil" UNLV Runnin' Rebels in 1991.

Success has bred the hatred, some understandable and some completely irrational. Duke will never again be the up-and-coming underdog like Butler was Monday and all tournament long.

If Butler keeps winning, it isn't likely they will either.

In the end it was rewarding for players like Scheyer, Thomas and Zoubek who have had to deal with the brunt of the "Duke is in a decline" perception to come out on top.

So love them or hate them, there is no longer a doubt that Duke is back on top. Who knows what next year will bring, but for the next few days, weeks, and months the Blue Devils are Champs so you might as well give them some credit.

Then again, keep doubting them, it sure did wonders for this year's team.

I've witnessed all of Duke's four national Championships and perhaps beside the first in 1991, this season was my favorite.

Perhaps it was the work ethic, perhaps it was the sheer hatred for the team I love, but without a doubt, despite the superstar names of other Duke teams, the 2010 Blue Devils will forever be remember as my favorite.