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New Duke, same hate

Jon Scheyer, left foreground, and his Duke teammates get ready for practice. The Blue Devils are the only No. 1 seed to reach this year’s Final Four.

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Jon Scheyer, left foreground, and his Duke teammates get ready for practice. The Blue Devils are the only No. 1 seed to reach this year’s Final Four.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jon Scheyer used to hate the Duke Blue Devils. Now he plays for them.

"Rooting against Duke is out of respect of how they win all the time and how good they were," Scheyer said of his teenage flirtation with another school.

Then he added with a grin: "I found my way."

If only it were always that simple to convert the haters for a senior class that never really grew comfortable with the program's position as one of the villains of college basketball.

In a Final Four field full of teams that weren't supposed to make it, one program that's seemingly always in it threatens to overshadow them: The big, bad Blue Devils (33-5) are in the national semifinals for the 11th time under coach Mike Krzyzewski and face West Virginia (31-6) tonight.

"There usually aren't going to be any empty seats when you're playing, and you're going to be watched a lot," Krzyzewski said. "And as a result of being watched a lot, there are going to be people who really want you to win and really want you to lose."

Scheyer jokes that as a junior high student in suburban Chicago, he briefly shed his allegiance to the Blue Devils and pulled for Seton Hall before growing out of that phase.

But it wasn't always a laughing matter for seniors Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek.

In their first NCAA Tournament appearance, a first-round upset in 2007, the biggest cheers seemed to come not because Virginia Commonwealth won but because Duke lost.

"I've never been that hated before," Thomas said. "It really bothered me. … Every team we play is going to try to take our head off — even with the year we had our freshman year, when it was every team's day in the sun when they played us."

For several reasons, these Blue Devils are cuddlier than their predecessors, many of whom seemed to take particular delight in the villain's role.

The Blue Devils claimed three national titles and reached 10 Final Fours from 1986 to 2004. But until this year, the Blue Devils hadn't reached the Elite Eight since.

"People don't stop coming at you just because you lost a couple times," Scheyer said. "Beating Duke is a big thing."

So, when Zoubek is asked about the intense feelings his program always seems to generate, he manages a halfhearted smile.

"I've dealt with that my whole four years here," he said. "Why would I expect it to change at the end of my senior year?"

NOTES: Injured West Virginia point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant shot with his teammates at practice but is still doubtful to play in today's semifinal. Bryant tested his broken right foot as the team practiced for about an hour at Lucas Oil Stadium. … A team led by former Purdue coach Gene Keady defeated one coached by Larry Bird 106-101 in a college all-star game. California's Jerome Randle was named most outstanding player for Keady's team.

New Duke, same hate 04/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 5:31pm]
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