Lee Rose, the Purdue basketball coach, was telling everybody it was awful what Bill Foster had to go through coaching Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"You go through what Bill's gone through . . . my word, how many times did you play at Chapel Hill?" Rose asked.
Foster's right shoulder leaped up and down and his head twitched toward the rising shoulder, giving him the look of a marionette operated by a witless spastic.
"Doesn't affect me," Foster said, twitching faster.
At breakfast this morning, somebody told Howard Garfinkel, the New York basketball camp tycoon, that he intended to write a story about what happened to Duke in the last two weeks of the regular season.
"If you can figure that out," Garfinkel said, "you're in the wrong business.You oughta be a psychiatrist."
The W and L story is easy. In those two weeks, the Duke team that in the early season was ranked No. 1 suddenly played like No. 100. Beginning with a 101-82 dismantling by Maryland, Duke lost four straight games and five of its last seven, ending this descent into humiliation with a 25-point spanking by North Carolina in a game that guard Bob Bender refers to as "that thing at Chapel Hill."
But now, two weeks later, Duke is one of the last eight teams in the NCAA tournament and needs only best Purdue here Saturday afternoon to make it to the final four in Indianapolis next weekend.
These ain't Blue Devils, they are incarnations of Lazarus -- with a jump shot.
They won the ACC tournament. They did it by beating the top three seeded teams. Those teams had beaten Duke by 17, 19 and 25 points in the preceding month. And now Duke has won the two NCAA games, including Thursday's 55-54 victory over Kentucky on Kentucky's home court in front of 23,380 Kentucky zealots.
So Garfinkel's breakfast companion invited Bob Bender to lie down on the couch and pretty please explain this craziness.
Did the Dukies go over the hill when their coach, Foster, said he was leaving to take the South Carolina job?Did it matter that Gene Banks, the wonderful forward, felt compelled to call a press conference to say he wan't turning pro? Were the veteran Devils choking after three years of the ACC twitches?
None of that, Bender said.
"The most important thing during all that was that we never had to deal with one problem -- the mental problem," said the fifth-year senior who played for Indiana's national champions of 1976 as well as Duke's 1978 runners-up.
"We were embarrassed by that thing at Chapel Hill in our last regular-season game, but we never lost confidence in ourselves.
"It wasn't mental. We were having technical problems that we knew could be corrected. We could see it on the films."
Those technical problems were, Bender said, "giving up far too many second and third shots and getting none ourselves, and making too many ballhandling mistakes on our own without them being forced."
It is normal procedure for big-time college basketball teams to look at films of games. Such movie-going is taken lightly most times, because what's happened has happened and there's another game in Chapel Hill tomorrow. At Duke, with the sky falling in, there hadn't been such interest in movies since Bo Derek went one-on-one with the world.
"After the Maryland game, we watched three reels of films, where we usually might watch one, and the coaches had stop-action on the projector," Bender said. "You wouldn't expect films to be that helpful, but they were."
Foster and his assistants were tutorial rather than scolding in their narration of the unpleasant movies. What Bender noticed, in the classic film, "The Terrapin That Ate Durham," was that after three seasons with the Blue Devils he had fallen into a routine destructive of his duties on a team with great inside players such as Banks and center Mike Gminski.
As the guard with the ball most of the time, Bender is obliged to get it to those fellows as quickly as possible.
"I saw that every time I caught the ball, I put it above my head -- and I waited, and I waited, and I waited," Bender said. On a couch in the lobby of a fancy hotel here, Bender held both hands stiffly overhead in approximation of his frozen attitude with a basketball. Passers-by looked at this handsome young fellow with the problem of catatonia.
"The ball was dying in my hands," Bender said, "and my man would drop me to help out somewhere else. I was screwing everything up. What I was doing is what we all were doing in that time -- we were trying too hard.
"We simply were trying too hard to do the things that we know we can do and we have done in the past. We always have been characterized as a running team and we have been competent at running. But during that bad stretch, we were throwing the ball away, kicking it away, all because of a lack of patience.
"We just had to go back to playing free and loose. And now we have."
Whatever ending this latest Duke movie has will be fine with Bender, for he says this season has been his most gratifying. From No. 1 to No. 100 and on the way up again, Duke has had a 12-game winning streak followed later by a four-game losing streak that proceded an ACC tournament championship, two NCAA victories and redemption without doubt.
"Two years ago, when we made it to the championship game, nobody expected it and it was like fantasy land," Bender said.
And if not fantasy, what has this season been?
"Real," Bender said. "It's been real life. Real problems. We've had guys hurt, we were losing, we were losing in big ways. But there's been no finger-pointing, no blaming each other. We just knew going into the ACC tournament that we would have to play great -- not mediocre to good, but we would have to be great to win.
"How many teams ever play the one-two-three seeds and win the ACC tournament?
"It's been real and it's been something we earned."