In an age of one-and-dones, Duke's three senior leaders are a rare breed.
By ANDREW JONES FS South
DURHAM, NC -- Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium was a throwback of sorts.
The night's intrigue took us back to another time in college basketball when it was more dynamic, more compelling, and more squarely on the nation's consciousness. We knew the players better, too, because they stuck around for three and four years.
The college game still does pretty well, has plenty of followers, and once the Super Bowl is behind us takes center stage for two months. That's not bad.
But Senior Night at Duke on Tuesday was partly a celebration of the Blue Devils' 85-57 victory over Virginia Tech and was worthy of everyone getting on their feet and applauding if you care about the sport's health, regardless of your feelings about Mike Krzyzewski and his program. Three accomplished seniors bid farewell to their college home, playing their final home games in this hallowed hall.
Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly aren't exactly role players who stuck around four years because the next levels of the sport weren't calling. Quite the contrary. Each could have made considerable money this winter playing somewhere else, but they opted to return for their senior seasons poo-pooing the stereotypes too often associated with basketball players that exhaust their eligibility.
Krzyzewksi appreciates how its uniqueness and says in the end it's about more than just basketball.
"It is unique and makes you remember the times that was always the case," the Hall of Fame coach said. "There's no question it's not just becoming a better basketball player they become men. They're going to graduate from Duke. They are great students, they're older, they get it."
In a time when many young men listen to poor advice and believe there's some kind of street cred that comes with leaving early, even if they aren't close to being ready for the next level, these young men stuck around for various reasons.
Plumlee, Curry and Kelly have combined to win 120 games, score 3,461 points, grab 1,699 rebounds, and convert 308 3-pointers -- all drained by Curry and Kelly -- in their Duke careers. Add Curry's freshman year at Liberty and they have scored 4,168 points.
"This is rare where you have three really good seniors who control the team," Curry said. "That might be the last time you see that as Duke or for a while in the country. It's something special and we're real proud of."
And as this season winds down, the Blue Devils, led by the trio, are ranked third in the nation and just might be the favorite to win Krzyzewski's fifth national championship.
Consider that Duke (26-4, 13-4 ACC) is now 17-0 with Kelly in the lineup and is the only team in the nation unbeaten when fully healthy. The Devils also possess some of the It factors that are part of every champions' DNA: They have NBA players; experience; size; perimeter scoring; enough depth; and they have the best coach in American sports.
But before beginning the postseason this night should be celebrated. And ironically, the visiting Hokies are led by the nation's leading scorer,
Erick Green, who is also a senior.
Green's team was competitive for 28 minutes. They trailed by six points with 12:36 left, but Duke closed with a 32-10 run for the 28-point victory. Green finished with 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting, adding another layer to the senior theme for the evening.
He couldn't derail Duke's night, though. Curry finished with 20 points, Kelly had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Plumlee had 14 points and seven rebounds. They were big-time on this night as they have been when healthy all year.
"It's a crazy thought and I don't know if it will really hit me until tonight, later on," Kelly said about playing his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "Obviously, I've enjoyed every minute of being here, I've enjoyed every minute on the floor, and that's the most important thing."
Plumlee took the opportunity before the game to soak in all he could.
"That was the last time we'll play at Cameron," he said. "And even like the warm-up songs, I was just taking in each one. Our band is so good and we won't have that feeling as players again."
Plumlee would have been a high NBA pick after last season but chose to stay. His older brother, Miles, was a late first-round draft pick by the Indiana Pacers, and by many accounts, Mason is the better player. Curry's father, Dell, was a star for the Charlotte Hornets for many years and his brother, Stephen, leads the Golden State Warriors in scoring. Kelly has battled injuries yet improved each season.
Each player fought off some emotion in the locker room after the game. But Curry admitted he couldn't control the flow before the game.
"I told myself all day I'm going to be good, just going as if it's a regular game," he said. "In the locker room before the game, he (got) a little emotional, and I can't help it. You try to wipe it away and move on."
That is exactly what Duke did on a rare and special night college basketball would be served well to see more often.