It is little secret that Maryland guard Dez Wells grew up a Duke fan. Raised in Raleigh, N.C., right smack in Blue Devils territory, he sometimes wrote letters to his favorite players and still heaps praise onto Coach Mike Krzyzewski whenever the opportunity arises.
But Baltimore native Nick Faust rooted for Duke as a child, too? That’s new.
“I just remember a lot of J.J. Redick and Jason Williams killing Maryland a lot,” Faust said Friday afternoon, laughing at how much has changed. On Saturday night, the final regular season ACC matchup between the two longtime foes will tip off at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and at least two current Terps will carry memories of cheering for the opposite side.
“They didn’t win too many times against Duke back when I was younger,” Wells said. “But the times they did, me and my mom were pretty upset. It’s funny to see how the tables have turned.”
Perhaps not for the rivalry at large. Duke still holds a 113-63 all-time advantage since the first matchup in February 1925. But Maryland currently holds a two-game winning streak for the first time since 2007. For that, the Terps can thank Wells.
Last season, Wells scored 30 points against Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, a career high at the time. It was end-to-end dominance for Maryland, which never trailed, and for Wells, it meant receiving a postgame compliment from Krzyzewski, who during the handshake line whispered into his ear, “Good game.”
Ever quick to drop the names of NBA idols or discuss his penchant for watching old tape, Wells said he has probably watched old Maryland games “about a hundred times,” including several fierce Terps-Duke matchups from the early part of this century. So he knows that playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium is far different than winning at Comcast Center, or even at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, just a short drive from Durham.
“When you’re playing in a hostile crowd on the road, you have to use that stuff as motivation,” Wells said. “If not, then it’s not going to help you out at all. It’s going to get into your head. It’s going to be tough to play through it.”
“The atmosphere is different from other arenas,” said former Maryland guard and current special assistant to the head coach Juan Dixon, who just might understand the matchup better than anyone. “Duke fans are respectful. They have a lot of fun. They enjoy the game. They support their team. I’ve never been intimidated once playing down at Duke and I don’t think these guys are either. It’s a lot of fun. They have great fans and feed off their energy.”
Much of Friday’s media availability unfolded in this manner, with talk about the past evolving into discussions about the now. For the Terps, their immediate opportunity seemed to take greater precedent over historical reflections. Duke ranks eighth nationally in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll. Its offense is the best in the country, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy. Freshman Jabari Parker is nearly certain to be a sure-fire lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and Rodney Hood is not far behind.
In this manner, Saturday weighs heavy on the Terps. But they also know they carry with them the memories of many past players, coaches and fans, many of whom are saddened by the end of the rivalry, all of whom would love to see it end with another Maryland victory at Cameron.
“We’re excited to play the game,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “Duke’s one of the best teams in our league. They’re probably playing the best in our league right now. So it’s a big game. But we also know what this game means to Maryland, what it represents to our fan base. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough challenge. We understand that. It always is when you play down there.”