A backyard, neighborhood brawl on the world stage... by R.C. "Bucky" Waters


I dare you to name three men who look cooler in a turtleneck sweater than Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Richard Roundtree in Shaft and Bucky Waters in Pomodoro Italian Kichen in Durham, where we last had lunch together.

Waters is the retired Vice Chancellor for Alumni and Development at Duke University Medical Center. He played basketball at N.C. State University and coached at Duke. Here's his first column as The Saunders Report's college basketball correspondent.


I've been so fortunate to have been involved in the drama, joy and pressure of two Final Fours with Duke. I’m moved to share some thoughts with this unique neighborhood duel.



A few weeks ago, it seemed destined that Duke and Carolina would square off in the ACC Championship game in Brooklyn. It would've been the rubber match of the season, with the winner moving forward with that Frank Sinatra lyric in their head: "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere...New York, New York."

As someone who had worked for 3 decades in the Garden doing broadcasts for multiple networks, it was something I was looking forward to seeing.


But now Duke and Carolina will square off on an even bigger stage - in front of 75,000 spectators in the Superdome and a massive TV audience. It's said that tickets are fetching astronomically high prices to see two teams from 8 miles apart who've traveled 850 miles to play a game. Tighten your seat belts, New Orleans!

I was an assistant coach when Duke first went to the Final Four in 1963. The format was different then. You played Friday and Saturday. In 1964 we beat a physical Michigan team and then had to come back and face a quick, pressing UCLA team that would bring John Wooden his first NCAA title. Our players now look back and wonder: Would one more day of rest have made a difference in the outcome?

Can you imagine having to play a bruising slugfest against your biggest rival and then have to come back less than 24 hours later? It will be tough enough for Saturday's victor to take the court on Monday with a national championship at stake.

The victors may be emotionally drained and ready to celebrate, but they will need to conserve energy and focus on the task at hand on Monday. At least there is one more day to recover than we had. It's the game on Monday that is really important; a loss would be anticlimactic, while a win would be euphoric.

Yes, I'm the answer to a trivia question. Duke and Carolina have only met once in a game after the ACC Tournament. It came in the 1971 NIT, when I was the Duke coach. Carolina beat us by 6 points in the semifinals and went on to win the championship. The Heels were #13 in the nation at the time but only the ACC Tourney champion qualified for March Madness in those days, and the Heels had just lost a dramatic 1-point heartbreaker to Frank McGuire's #6 South Carolina team in the ACC Finals.

This current Carolina team finished the season unranked, yet here they are heading into the Final Four playing their best basketball. Duke has shown me a lot in the tournament; they seem to be firing on all cylinders and reaching their potential. We've had two blow-outs this season, but I expect this one to be decided late.

Cardiologists should be on duty in North Carolina. Some fans will be very bitter, since they'll encounter jubilant fans of their rivals all over the place: at work, at school, in restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores, movie theaters, church. You are continually reminded of your rival.


It's not logical: it's emotional.

This game has been a long time in the making. Fans of one team will be celebrating on Bourbon Street long into the night, while fans of the losing team may also be on Bourbon Street drowning their sorrows. New Orleans is a special place for this backyard brawl now occurring on the world stage event. Having attended over 50 Final Fours, I can say there is only one Bourbon Street. It is the only place I know that can provide a full body massage while folks analyze the game.

One thing is certain: it's gonna be something special.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  

BEYOND THE REPORT

Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 

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