Having said that, it's time for some perspective. Losing is always annoying and/or depressing, but as much as we love basketball, it's not the end-all and be-all of existence. We're very proud of our team for a great season and for being solid people. Carlos, Matt, and Jason will be graduating fairly soon, and will be on their respective paths. For Carlos and Jason, that's more basketball, of course. For Matt, it's the start of a less celebrated but no less challenging career.
We have nothing but the utmost respect for what Indiana accomplished Thursday night. They played a team with more talent, they played with one player with a recent ankle injury and another with one that has lingered for some time, and they pulled off a tremendous upset. When it came down to getting it done at the end, Indiana did what Duke could not, and for that they are to be congratulated and applauded. They were, basically, sensational.
Not in the first half, though. Duke looked like they were going to tear IU apart. But as has happened on other occasions this year, Duke had a substantial lead and couldn't build on it and did not maintain it.
In the second half, Indiana clawed their way back, cut down on turnovers, and made it a half-court game. Duke couldn't match them, and Indiana moves on while Duke goes home.
So what from here? Not much, really. People are picking apart the game as often happens after an upset. The team is no doubt really upset - Matt Christensen obviously was - and many of us identify with Duke so closely that we feel many of the same things.
We feel badly for the players who won't be back, and for everyone else. We particularly feel badly for Jason, who missed a potentially tying free throw, and Carlos who could have locked the game up for Duke on a missed follow-up. Those kids have played their hearts out at Duke, and it's sad that that's the last play for them.
But we don't feel a need to pick the game apart, or to pin blame on anyone. It's a funny game sometimes. The ball bounces long off of Ewing's miss and ends up in Jason's hands. For a minute, he's a hero. Then he misses a foul shot and somehow he's not. Carlos doesn't get the stickback, and that somehow changes what he's accomplished.
Not for us. Jason has really grown up at Duke in a lot of ways, and has been an enormous asset not just for the team but for the University. He came to Duke as a remarkable kid, earnest, sincere, and as unpretentious as any great talent we know of. He leaves as a fine young man who has managed to hang on to his earnestness and sincerity. His parents should be immensely proud of him, and so should Duke fans. He's been thrilling to watch, and watching him grow up has been a joy. Every parent should be so lucky.
As much as Jason has grown up, Carlos has probably grown up more. That's not a putdown on Boozer, but he came to Duke from Alaska, which is pretty much another world. And while he came as a talented kid, he was someone who was in many respects, more a kid than Jason Williams was.
When we first saw Carlos, we were struck by a similar quality of earnestness, a lack of pretension. He obviously had friends and interests outside the basketball program, and we were not under the impression that he saw himself as a big shot at all.
He wasn't as focused as Jason was, but the flip side of that is he was 17 and looked 35, and people expected him to be as mature as his body was. There's nothing wrong with being the age you are, and Carlos was inconsistent for the early part of his career. But as Coach K said in his book about the championship season, Carlos finally unpacked his bags, and he has become an absolute rock. We've been immensely impressed by his growth since the middle of last season. It's funny, you look at him from a distance, and he looks so serious and so...it's not that he glowers, but he has a serious look most of the time. We don't know him at all, but we know enough to know that he's as solid a kid as you'll come across, and extremely nice. Not a lot of big-time athletes are really nice people, but like Williams, Boozer is a fundamentally nice guy. Mr. and Mrs. Boozer raised a kid anyone would be comfortable being around, and someone who is smart and empathetic.
Coach K often says that he coaches for relationships, not wins, and that's always intrigued us. We've said for years now (every March) that if you make a title your only way to gauge success or failure, that most people fail. We wish they had gone farther, but not at any price. Duke has lost interest in a number of recruits over the years because they didn't understand the idea of being part of something bigger. These kids understood it, even though they didn't achieve all they wanted.
We think that next year's recruits understand this as well. We've learned a lot about Michael Thompson, Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, Sean Dockery, and Lee Melchionni, and we think they all understand this. Shelden likely had a few facts of life brought into sharper focus this winter, in a very painful way, and will likely be reminded of them quite often next year, but from everything we've heard about him, he'll be fine (for the record, we have heard nothing that could convince us that Shelden did anything for which he could be charged).
Life goes on. Duke basketball goes on. This was a good year which ended on a sad note. So be it. We recommend that everyone take Coach K's advice and put on a Duke shirt tomorrow and be a proud Duke fan. Duke lost a game, but there's an awful lot in which we can take pride, and we should.