Even hard-core basketball degenerates cannot always fathom the time and energy college coaches devote to reaching what Digger Phelps calls "this dream," the final four of the NCAA tournament.

During one stretch of 300 days last year, Duke coach Bill Foster was on the road overnight for 216 of them.

"I hope those days are over," he said of that Herculean rebuilding effort that lifted Duke from the pits of the Atlantic Coast Conference to the NCAA championship game in four years.

"I'd like to be home, but you can't relax, especially in our league. You can go from first to last in a matter of two weeks."

He was referring to the first rule of his profession: a coach can't coach - or at least do the sort of things necessary to win a national championship - until he gets players who can play. In that regard, Duke's 90-86 victory over Notre Dame yesterday began, in fact, almost a year ago, at the D.C. Armory or all places.

That was the last chance Phelps had to lure the pivotal figure in Duke's victory - Gene Banks - to Notre Dame. He failed, but with the sort of flair one expects from the Irish and left trades of bitterness that still remain between himself and Foster.

Banks had made a verbal commitment with Duke long before his West Philadelphia team played in the Knights of Columbus tournament the same week the Irish were losing in the NCAA regionals at Maryland.

o all coaches, however, "no" means "maybe" until it is either screamed at the highest decibel by the player or the national signing date passes. So after West Philadelphia beat Georgetown prep that March night, down from the stands came Phelps.

And Sid Catlett. And Collis Jones. And Bob Whitmore. There are three no more impressive athletic salesmen in all of America than those three Irish Washingtonians, and when they talked with Banks at length Phelps was hauling out his full-court press.

The Duke baby-sitter, Assistant Coach Bob Wenzel, later insisted he was unconcerned. His face had the same expression you see on a fellow who brings his favorite girl to a dance, and watches her leave with someone else.

Banks held firm, and Phelps later recruited the players (Kelly Tripucka, Tracy Jackson, etc.) that helped him realize that Final-four dream, anyway. But yesterday, when Duke was building a lead that very nearly evaporated, ther was Banks acting very much unlike a freshman.

The best assessment of Banks came from Wenzel, who said just before the ACC tournament, "His teams win." Meaning he passes and plays tough defense in addition to numbers such as his 22 points and 12 rebounds yesterday.

Duke's was not a three-man effort, although Banks, Mike Gminski and Jim Spanarkel were the cornersiones, as usual. Poster's intense work got them to Duke in successive years, illustrating both how quickly teams can rise and why the competition is so fierce for the very best players.

It is not quite family here in the final four. But every coach knows most of the starters very well. Notre Dame's Dave Batton said his second choice wss Kentucky. Tracy Jackson nearly went to poster.

In his own fashion, Sutton has done as splendid a job of retooling as Foster. He has come nearly as far as quickly, although winning in the South-west Conference was not quite as difficult as winning in the ACC.

"I had at least 150 speaking engagements alone that first year," Sutton said. "I always thought great football schools should have great basketball programs.I tell 'em (the football coaches), bad year. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

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I'd interviewed for the (Arkansas) job after my first year at Creighton. But I turned it down in about 30 minutes because the attitude then was: 'Well, we have football and then we have spring football. We want something in between.'

"Now I have the commitment you need. We spent about $24,000 recruiting each of the last a year before I came. We played four games in four years. Of course, they were taking in $50,000 Little Rock this year, and the gross was about $35,000 per game."

For the first 39 minutes of the Kentucky game, the trio of Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph were doing for Sutton what Sparkel, Banks and Gminski had done for Foster.

When the favored Wildcats threatened to put the game on bourban - or whatever they use in Kentucky - the Hogs would figrt bact. But Delph missed a baseling jumber and Brewer threw up an air ball in the final minute and Arkansas lost.

Kentucky has been ranked No. 1 in most of the polls most of the year. What nearly everyone fails to remember is that three years ago Coach Joe B. Hall signed Bill Willoughby, who opted for the pros instead of college.

"And if (Darryl) Dawkins hadn't turned pro (out of high school), he's have signed with us, too, I believe," said Hall. Imagine a front line of Rick Robey, JamesLee, Mike Phillips and Willoughby and Dawkins.

"It'd be interesting," Hall admitted.