Lasting memories from fourth NCAA championship season in Duke history

Every season and every team produce moments and memories that linger after the final buzzer sounds.  The emotion, the pageantry, the passion — It is why people love college basketball and look forward to March Madness every year.  With a hat tip to Jay Bilas for the idea (he applied it all of college hoops on ESPN.com), here is what I will remember (in no particular order):

*The progression of Nolan Smith from great guard, to one of the ACC’s best guards, to one of the nation’s top guards to NCAA Regional MVP after winning matchups with arguably the best guard in the PAC-10 (Jerome Randle) and then the Big 12 (LaceDarius Dunn) in the South Region.

*The first-ever Countdown to Craziness, including the entertaining videos produced by Duke Improv and the electricity in Cameron with the lights out during player introductions.

*Nolan Smith scoring a career-high 29 points against Baylor, including a late three-pointer, to push Duke to the Final Four after he tweeted earlier in the day he was going to win the game in honor of his late father.

*Staring up at the scoreboard in both Reliant Stadium (under-four timeout with Duke trailing) and Lucas Oil Stadium (up one without the ball with 13 seconds left) feeling confident our veterans would find a way.

*Andre Dawkins giving up his final year of high school to enroll early at Duke.

*Defeating Arkansas-PB to win 30 games for the second straight year.

*Hearing speculation from team doctors after the game at UNC that Lance Thomas could miss several weeks or more, and then seeing him in the starting lineup our next game.

*Winning every possible championship that Duke competed for… NIT Season Tip-Off, ACC regular season, ACC Tournament, NCAA South Regional, NCAA champions!!!!!!

*Turkey Day in NYC… Winning the Preseason NIT over UConn a day after the Thanksgiving Day Parade floated by our hotel.

*Walking into Reliant Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time to observe the massive size and elevated court.

*Nolan Smith revealing the Johhny Dawkins uniform during the CTC dunk contest.

*Kyle Singler playing fearless basketball with reckless abandon, diving all over the court for loose balls and battling constantly.

*The Brian Zoubek “Z” hand gesture, which made its way from Cameron onto a tee-shirt and all the way to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

*Best.  Senior Night.  Ever.

*Miles Plumlee dropping the exclamation mark on Duke/UNC in Cameron with the alley-oop slam and seeing the jubilant reactions of his teammates.

*Coach K, positioned close to Nolan because of the elevated court, imploring the Regional MVP to shoot it after a pass out to the wing after a big offensive board by Lance Thomas against Baylor… And then Nolan burying the 3 with 4:20 left and high-fiving Coach K on his way back down court.

*The Blue Devils around the country who believed (all season and ever since the 2007 season).

*Our players cutting the Cameron nets down after defeating UNC to secure a share of the ACC regular-season title and then high-fiving the Crazies as they left the court.

*Cities of Jacksonville, Houston and Indianapolis (and the police escorts!)

*Coach K sitting alone on his stool at Reliant Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, taking it all in.

*Mike Posner producing a song for our hype video which introduced the team in Cameron before home games.

*Kyle Singler’s 17-0 Cameron shield logo unveiled to the team the night before the UNC game, and then publicly on tee-shirts after the victory.

*Lance Thomas designing graphics for the scoreboard for each of the seniors on Senior Night.

*Answering questions: Will they rely too much on the 3-ball? Duke beat Cal 68-53 despite shooting 3-for-17 from downtown… What happens when they play a really athletic team?  Duke beat one of the most athletic teams in the nation in Baylor…  How will they fare against a hard-nosed and rugged team?  Duke rolled past the Big East’s toughest squad, West Virginia, 78-57.

*Coach K’s sign contest and the many great signs seen in Cameron… And of course the Crazies in general.

*The emergence of “The Firm” — Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler becoming the nation’s highest-scoring and most dangerous trio.

*The poster shoot at Maggiano’s at Southpoint Mall, where it became evident that Brian Zoubek’s beard was officially a go for the season.

*Duke holding #21 Clemson to 12 points in the first half of our ACC opener, before rolling to a 74-53 win.

*Holding 24 of 40 opponents to 60 or fewer points, including five of six NCAA Tournament foes… And remembering how we did it (length, heart, toughness).

*Coach K tossing his jacket aside in the ACC Tournament semifinals against Miami, as the Blue Devils rallied from a three-point halftime deficit to defeat the Canes.

*After struggling at Georgetown in front of President Obama, the team responded with a gaudy 18-1 mark the rest of the way, securing another more intimate opportunity with the President by winning the NCAA title.

*The furious comeback at Miami, when the Devils rallied from 12 points down at the break with a 29-9 run at the start of the second half to win 81-74.

*Coach K locking arms with the team (a theme established for the rest of the season) at Clemson and then winning a big road game 60-47 in an ESPN GameDay showdown.

*The confidence with which Jon Scheyer shot, and made, the game-breaking 3 against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament final to give Duke a four-point lead with 18 seconds left.

*Winning a second straight ACC Tournament and then heading to the U-Club where the team learned it had earned the No. 1 seed in the South.

*Some of the preseason forecasts suggesting Duke didn’t have a true point guard… And then having the most consistent, solid point guard play of any team in the nation (thanks to All-American Jon Scheyer).

*Andre Dawkins winning the national title and attending his high school’s prom within a seven-day period.

*The Blue Devils capitalizing on most every opportunity for redemption including but not limited to the home win over Georgia Tech, the road win at Clemson, the home win over UNC, and the Big Dance victory over West Virginia.

*Jon Scheyer’s Battier-esque plays in the national title game, including his two blocks, his off-balance “and-one” bucket,  and the putback on the Miles Plumlee desperation heave as the shot clock expired.

*Kyle Singler playing his best basketball down the stretch on his way to first-team All-ACC, ACC Tournament MVP and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

*Butler’s last two possessions in the national championship game… And seeing that final shot bounce off the rim.

*Andre Dawkins battling through an extremely difficult family tragedy, ultimately making a huge difference in the ACC championship (seven points in three minutes in a four-point win) and the regional final in Houston (a pair of huge 3′s to quiet a raucous, pro-Baylor crowd in a tight game).

*Hanging out with the team for half a day on a Saturday in the pre-season filming the Countdown to Craziness videos with DUI… And realizing for sure this team had an uncommon unity, friendship and camaraderie.

*Jordan Davidson burying a late three-pointer against WVU and offering a minor jersey pop as he back-pedaled.

*The packed Cameron crowd singing the national anthem aloud during our season-opener against UNC-G.

*Feeling wary that UNC-Charlotte could give our team a tough game and having confidence after a 42-point win that we were among the nation’s best squads.

*Jon Scheyer ending his career as a consensus All-American and national champion.

*Dominating UConn to win the Preseason NIT thanks to an intense physical effort as the team established its identify as a tough-minded, hard-nosed group that plays great defense every possession.

*Duke protecting Coach K Court all year, finishing 17-0 at home with an average home margin of 26.4 PPG (19.9 PPG against the ACC)… With every win by double-digits except for a nine-point victory over St. John’s.

*The big games by the Plumlee brothers (19/14 for Miles, 11/7 for Mason) against Wake Forest as Duke rolled 90-70 with first place in the ACC at stake.

*Jon Scheyer torching Iowa State for 31 points in his homecoming in Chicago as Duke won 86-65 in the United Center.

*Kyle Singler’s 8 3′s against #21 Georgia Tech en route to a career-high 30 points and a 86-67 win over the Yellow Jackets with first place in the league on the line.

*Photographing Coach K and Jim Calhoun in a game that featured the most wins between opposing coaches in NCAA history.

*Duke vs. Maryland in Cameron… Coach K’s 1000th game and birthday, a reunion, and a 77-56 win that left Duke alone in first place in the league.

*Brian Zoubek entering the starting lineup to stay against Maryland, scoring 16 points, hauling in 17 boards, recording a pair of blocks and owning the paint.

*Andre Dawkins’ fearless barrage of 3′s at Wisconsin, keeping Duke alive before falling to the Badgers.

*Brian Zoubek rushing out to get a hand up on Joe Trapani’s 3pt attempt at the buzzer at BC that would have tied the game.

*Mason Plumlee’s reverse dunk in Chapel Hill after an offensive board that sparked a 12-5 Duke run and pushed the Blue Devils ahead to stay in a 64-54 win over UNC.

*Coach K’s press conference team status updates… From good team, to really good team, to really good with great character to finally a great team and national champs.

*Locking up #15 Gonzaga and rolling past the Bulldogs 76-41 in Madison Square Garden.

*Brian Zoubek’s incredible knack for offensive rebounding, setting an all-time school record for offensive boards in a single season (143) and leading the nation in OR% (Zoubs grabbed 21.4% of possible offensive rebounds while on the floor).

*Duke’s work on the offensive glass all year, and in particular late in the regional final when a pair of offensive boards by Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas led to 3′s by both Jon and Nolan.

*Taking photos during the NCAA Tournament and seeing the emotion of the games at court level.

*Watching our bus motor along the highway on a laptop via Slingbox as the local news sent a helicopter out to follow us… And then seeing a packed Cameron ready to welcome back the team.

*Doing a double take after Lance Thomas’ tip-in dunk and foul against Baylor…  Did he really just slam that back and get fouled?  Yes.  Was Duke on the verge of securing a Final Four spot?  YES.

*Walking back out to the court at Lucas Oil Stadium with Nolan Smith to take a photo at his request of the 1980 Final Four logo, Nolan and the championship trophy (after Nolan had just won the NCAA title in the same city as his late father did three decades earlier).

*Watching the seniors celebrate a national championship after four years of hard work, dedication and representation of Duke at the highest level.

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