One of the most interesting discussions of the pre-practice basketball media events in North Carolina last season struck at the heart of the sport’s best rivalry, with a huge recruiting battle in the background.
At his preseason news conference, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked about the effect of North Carolina’s 2009 NCAA championship. The Tar Heels have won twice in the last five years.
"First of all, I respect that,” Krzyzewski said. "I’ve respected Carolina’s program from the day I got here. I think overall that’s great for our conference. We’ve won four national championships in this decade from our conference. So as far as our motivation, we don’t need North Carolina or Maryland or anybody to motivate us. We’re motivated by trying to win a championship.”
Krzyzewski also was eager, though, to make sure Duke’s accomplishments are recognized. He has won three NCAA titles with the Blue Devils.
"We’ve had excellence of our own,” he said. “When this decade is done we’ll end up being the winningest program of this decade in college basketball, or of any decade in college basketball.
"People have things to hang their hats on. The thing you’d like to hang your hat on the most is the national championship. Because that’s the ultimate. And they deserve it. So I think they’ve set the bar high.”
The discussion was particularly relevant as highly regarded forward Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa, gets set to visit Duke this weekend. North Carolina and Duke are among the final suitors for Barnes, who’s 6-foot-6 and regarded by many as the top player in the Class of 2010.
Whichever team lands him will take a huge step forward, even if he’s there for just one season. Duke, which hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2004, would instantly be among the NCAA championship favorites in 2011.
If North Carolina lands Barnes, Roy Williams’ train would be likely to just keep rolling and mowing down everybody in its path. If Kansas, Oklahoma or UCLA get him, Duke and North Carolina both will miss out on a big opportunity.
Against that backdrop, Krzyzewski made sure last week that the media didn’t forget Duke’s accomplishments.