Nearly three years ago, I received a call from my best friend from high school, who happens to go to the University of Maryland. I still remember the giddiness in his voice as he told me that Coach K was thinking about leaving Duke for the Lakers, signaling what my friend thought would be the demise of Duke Basketball.
I was in complete and utter shock. How could Coach K-the man whose name is synonymous with everything about this University-leave Duke?
It made no sense. It couldn't be true.
I sat in front of the TV watching ESPN the rest of the day, while scouring the Internet and Duke message boards for any information that might suggest these rumors were false. Had I not missed a phone call from The Chronicle's sports editor, I would have been boarding a flight to Los Angeles to spend my July 4th weekend reporting what seemed to be the inevitable announcement that Coach K's time in Durham was over.
Thankfully that announcement never came, in large part to the overwhelming outcry of support that Coach K received from members of the sixth man-his team.
In the days and possibly weeks ahead, it seems likely that Duke fans should brace themselves for a fight to keep their other basketball coach. Rumors have been circulating that Gail Goestenkors tops Texas' wish list to replace Jody Conradt, who retired from the helm of the Longhorns after 31 seasons and 900 wins. And it is expected that their offer will include a substantial pay raise for the 15-year Duke coach.
Although the outcry from the student body hasn't been quite as loud as it was for Coach K three years ago, I hope it grows stronger now that Texas has been given permission to speak with Coach G. She is every much a part of this University as her counterpart-even if her program isn't quite as visible.
The women's team suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the Sweet 16 and fell short of their ultimate goal of capturing the program's first national title, but that should not diminish the fact that the support for women's basketball on Duke's campus is growing and reached an all-time high this season.
For the first time, students set up tents in Krzyzewskiville-or should I say Goestenkorsopolis-to claim the best seats for the North Carolina game. And following that win, which secured the program's first undefeated regular season, a bonfire celebration took place on Main West-also a first for the women's program. In addition, Cameron Indoor Stadium has sold out for eight women's games in the last four years. The team had never garnered a capacity crowd before then.
The heartbreaking manner in which Duke has ended its past two seasons has been frustrating, but Coach G's time will come, and I think fans can sense that. It wasn't until Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt's eighth trip to the Final Four that she finally captured that elusive first NCAA Championship. She now has six titles.
With another strong recruiting class heading to Duke next year and a brand new practice facility being constructed for the basketball programs, both the success and the support for the women's program should continue to increase.
I cannot think of a worse time for Coach G to leave Duke. And students, alumni and the Athletic Department need to make sure they are vocal in helping her realize that.
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Duke probably won't be able to match the financial incentives to retain Coach G. Both Duke's and Texas' women's programs operate at losses of more than $2.1 million and $1.3 million, respectively, but the overall size of the Longhorns' Athletic Department and the astronomical revenues brought in by their football team provide Texas with more spending money to lure their new coach.
Duke couldn't match the Lakers' offer when they came calling for Coach K either, but his decision was not motivated solely by money.
"I'm part of Duke," he said in an exclusive interview a year after the Lakers saga. "I think anyone who is here benefits from being a part of Duke. That would be a very difficult thing to give up.. I think I always would have regretted leaving Duke if I had done that."
Coach G, you are every bit as much a part of Duke. You are the Duke women's basketball program. And losing you is something we'd all regret.