At some point during the last year, Chris Carrawell realized how his career had to end.
For the St. Louis, Mo. native, there was no choice: what had once been undreamable was suddenly the only conclusion possible.
It would be with a win against archrival North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Senior Day; not even Chris Carrawell could dream up a more suitable way to close out one of Duke's finest four-year careers in program history.
"I couldn't imagine a better ending," Carrawell said. "When I started to think last year that I was going to be the only senior, I looked on the schedule and saw that our last game was at home against Carolina. I was like, 'That's the making of a great story.' It certainly ended up that way."
The regular-season ending to Carrawell's story was better than great, it was perfect.
Minutes before the tipoff of Duke's 90-76 victory over the Tar Heels Saturday afternoon, the stadium lights were turned off and flashes from cameras began popping. After a round of hugs from each of his teammates, the only Blue Devil senior trotted out into the spotlight reserved for him as 9,314 fans-including Carrawell's mother, JoAnne, who made her first-ever visit to Cameron-said good-bye to the player who has become known simply as C-well.
Following several waves to the crowd, Carrawell walked over to the Duke bench, located his mom and escorted her out to centercourt where the gracious champion and his beaming mother hugged and acknowledged the screaming score of fans who, even in the upper deck, refused to take their seats.
"It was very emotional; I was nervous-I was
"I kept on taking deep breaths so I wouldn't lose it out there and start crying and not be able to play the game. Definitely, it was great to be able to bring my mom out there for her first time in Cameron. It was just a great feeling and I thank the fans for that."
It's easy now to see that this was how it had to happen for the player who has gone 46-2 his last three regular seasons in the conference. But if the preparation for Saturday's celebrations had begun when Carrawell arrived at Duke, he would have only been an afterthought.
Hailing from one of the more troubled neighborhoods of St. Louis, Carrawell admits that few people from his hometown gave him a chance to succeed and that he even questioned whether he could make it here, either as a student or as a basketball player.
Yet, Mike Krzyzewski believed in Carrawell and recruited him as the third most-prized piece of the once-impressive Class of 2000. Despite his evident potential, Carrawell was rated below fellow classmates Nate James and Mike Chappell.
But then things changed. James suffered a season-ending knee injury that forced him to redshirt the 1997-'98 season and Chappell transferred to Michigan State after his sophomore season. Suddenly, Carrawell was the Class of 2000.
"Coming here with Nate and Mike, those guys were definitely more highly touted than I was," Carrawell said. "[As a freshman,] I was lucky to get on the court, so when [Krzyzewski] said, 'You're going to play center,' I was like, 'OK. Anything to get on the court.'"
Fittingly enough, that day-Carrawell's first career start-came against the Tar Heels on an afternoon when Trajan Langdon's missile from the corner ended four-and-a-half years of UNC domination. Perhaps even more appropriately, Carrawell guarded Carolina's Antawn Jamison, which epitomized a trend that would continue for four years as Duke's defensive stopper would frequently move out of position to defend the opposition's most talented player.
Like so many other great stories, Chris Carrawell's ended right where it began-in Cameron with a win over UNC. Not surprisingly, despite many great performances by his teammates, it was Carrawell who slammed the door shut on any possibility of a Tar Heel comeback.
After Joseph Forte cut the Blue Devil lead to 11 with 1:41 remaining, Carrawell buried two free throws and picked the ball from Cota as he sailed coast-to-coast for an emphatic one-handed jam, the final two points of his regular-season career.
Fifty-three seconds later, Nick Horvath re-entered the game, and Carrawell's fantastic ride was finally over. When Chris Carrawell looks back on Saturday's game, he won't remember his four steals, his four assists, his seven rebounds or even his 21 points, but he won't soon forget how, after four years of paying his dues, everything on his day was perfect.
"It's nice to celebrate a kid who has been here for four years and who has done it all," Krzyzewski said. "It's terrific. I don't know what amount of money that's worth, [but] a lifetime of memories is priceless. That's what Chris Carrawell has had this year."