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What Duke Fans Are Thankful For

For at least a few days each year, The Sports Blog can't resist the temptation of cliche (expect a rumination on who's getting coal sometime in the next month). Why is this day different from all other days? Well, it's the day before Thanksgiving, and that, as triteness dictates, calls for a list of why Duke fans should be thankful.

We'll provide a list of the five people you'd want at your table tomorrow night (and perhaps even the five biggest turkeys Thursday or Friday), and then it's your turn to pitch in and pass the gravy.

Who are you thankful for?

David Cutcliffe's arrival. No-brainer, right? Last year at this time, the Blue Devils were not only 1-10, but also physically, mentally and, for all purposes, progressively stagnant. Ted Roof was on the brink of termination (Thanksgiving also calls for political correctness), and Duke hadn't yet capped off another season of misery with an overtime loss to North Carolina. Less than a month after we gobbled down Thanksgiving dinner last year, though, Cutcliffe had reason to be thankful when he was hired for his first head coaching gig since he was fired at Ole Miss in 2005. In a season particularly rife with pledges and denunciations, Cutcliffe promised and then delivered on the only change that mattered: He won. Although the Blue Devils probably should be bowl-bound by now (a credit, no doubt, to Cutcliffe and his staff), any Duke fan will settle for at least four wins--and the potential for five with a win in the Tobacco Road showdown Saturday. (And on a personal note, the difference between Cutcliffe and Roof's relationship with the media is the difference between turkey and tofurkey. Or mom's home cooking and Popeye's. Or something like that.)

Nolan Smith's decision. After Duke's win in the 2K Sports Classic last weekend, multiple media outlets focused on Smith's presence at point guard and, more importantly, his near-decision to transfer away from Duke after Johnny Dawkins left for Stanford in May. Before Mike Krzyzewski left for his Team USA responsibilities, he sat down with Smith and essentially boosted his ego, reassuring the sophomore about his importance to the team. Smith decided not to leave, and the Blue Devils are better for it, after he supplanted Greg Paulus in the starting lineup and has grown as a legitimate leader (and dunker extraordinaire) in the season's first six games. Even in the early season, it's become clear that when Smith plays well, so too does Duke.

Joe Alleva's departure. "The way I always judge somebody in a job is the way you do the hard things well," John Feinstein told me last year. "Joe had two hard things at Duke--football and lacrosse--and he was 0-for-2." Alleva's role in the 2006 Duke Lacrosse case was deplorable (his "boys being boys" comment, a drunk boating accident in the aftermath and his handling of the athletic department side of the debacle come to mind), and his legacy was also sullied by a steroids scandal in the baseball program and the loss of legendary women's basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors. And while Feinstein was correct to point out that football had tainted Alleva's tenure--his two hires, Carl Franks and Ted Roof, went 13-90 over 10 years--his comment seems relatively outdated now. Alleva's last momentous move at Duke was the hiring of Cutcliffe, which, by all accounts, has been a hugely creative and successful maneuver. Alleva is no longer Duke's problem as LSU's athletic director, but he might be remembered better in Durham than he ever thought if Cutcliffe keeps it up. And let's not forget that Alleva's departure paved the way for Kevin White's hiring, which has been almost universally lauded, or that Alleva hired Trent Johnson, which allowed DawkinsPlumlee to come to Duke. to move to Stanford, which prompted Miles Win-win-win.

Mike Krzyzewski's gold medal. Tom Butters' move might have been questioned in 1980, but few have ever debated Coach K's merits since. Krzyzewski's leading Team USA to a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics, though, served as a new installment of glory in his career and, consequently, gave Duke fans another reason to praise Butters' innovative instinct to hire a Bob Knight disciple despite his young age and lack of experience. The true effect of Krzyzewski's Olympic publicity won't be felt for years. Duke Basketball will continue to be the most-recognized college basketball program in the world, and as basketball continues its assault on undeveloped countries, a Duke presence will only help the University's global reputation. That, in turn, leads to a spike in admissions applications, expansion of outposts in other countries and greater worldwide prestige--all because of a basketball coach's success in his second job.

The Sports Blog's creation. Actually, we're more thankful to you for returning to this fledgling site after the first mediocre post that you read. We're nothing without you, our readers, and in this week of giving thanks, we wanted to end this post with a wholeheartedly genuine thank you. We'll try to reward your attention with more of everything between this Thanksgiving and next. Have a happy holiday, folks.


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