Despite the disappointment of losing to No. 2 Tennessee, Saturday night belonged to Duke senior Alana Beard, who became the first woman in Duke history to have her number retired in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"I think I realize how special it is now," Beard said. "It's just an honor to have your jersey retired along with so many great players and to hang it in the rafters. The crowd support was awesome. I loved every minute of it."
The pregame ceremony honoring Beard's No. 20-which will be hung in the team's away blue to distinguish it from the white men's jerseys-included speeches by athletic director Joe Alleva and outgoing president Nan Keohane.
According to Alleva, the criteria for retirement include lofty recognitions such as All-ACC honors, All-America honors and National Player of the Year consideration. In her three-plus years at Duke, Beard has certainly fulfilled the requirements.
In addition to becoming the leading scorer in program history when she recorded her 2,233 point January 5th against Florida State, the Shreveport, La. native was chosen as the consensus National Freshman of the Year in 2001; she has been named a two-time Associated Press and Kodak All-American; and she was tabbed the 2003 Player of the Year by several publications after leading Duke to it's second consecutive Final Four.
"Alana is obviously the finest women's basketball player to play at Duke University, and one of the best to play anywhere in the country," Alleva said. "With what Alana has accomplished, she measures up to all the guys that are up there [in the rafters] and probably surpasses a whole bunch of them."
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Alleva chose to honor Beard before the Blue Devil's game against the Volunteers because he knew that her parents, LeRoy and Marie, would be in attendance. Their presence made the night particularly special for the Duke guard.
"Just to see my parents standing out there with smiles going from ear to ear was the most enjoyable thing," Beard said. "If anything, I wanted it for my parents because they were so happy. You could see the expressions on their faces."
Beard's parents ultimately deserve much of the credit for their daughter's memorable night, as they were the ones who convinced Beard to consider Duke as she was being recruited by top programs across the country while leading Southwood High School to four straight Louisiana state titles.
Marie urged Beard to give Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors a chance, and after Goestenkors visited their house, LeRoy knew that he wanted his daughter to play for her.
"[Goestenkors] showed me that she wanted Alana at this college," LeRoy said. "She's the type of lady who just showed a lot of love for my kid. I also knew Duke was a great college. It wasn't just about the playing, but the education, too."
Beard's parents are thrilled to see the way in which their daughter has grown at Duke, going from a homesick freshman to a more outgoing star on one of the biggest stages in collegiate sports.
"She was a very loving kid, but she's blossomed into a beautiful young lady," Marie said. "She's matured so much over the years."
In addition to Beard's parents, several Tennessee legends were also in attendance Saturday night, including Chamique Holdsclaw and Kara Lawson.
Holdsclaw, a star forward for the WNBA's Washington Mystics who may play with Beard next year if her team takes the Duke guard with its No. 2 overall pick, was happy to see Beard's accomplishments recognized.
"You look up here and you know that Duke is know for its men's basketball team and all its great players," Holdsclaw said. "It's a tremendous honor for Alana to be the first woman to have her jersey retired."
The chance to retire Beard's jersey was also not lost on Keohane, who had seen the numbers of Grant Hill, Shane Battier and Jason Williams be raised to the rafters during her tenure, but had never been able to do the same for a female player.
"As a woman president, to retire the first women's jersey is really meaningful," Keohane said. "I would dearly love also to hang the first women's basketball national championship banner. That's one of the ambitions that I have left for this spring."