The image remains vivid. Eugene Banks and Kenny Dennard, both 18, both not old enough to understand what they were doing, running full speed the length of the court, colliding and embracing.
Above, the scoreboard in the St. Louis Checkerdome said that Duke had just stunned Notre Dame, 90-86, to reach the final of the 1978 NCAA tournament. And there, on national television, the two freshmen hugged, wept. t
Banks, a black teen-ager from the Philadelphia inner city, and Dennard, a white kid from the tiny town of King, N.C., stole the country's heart that afternoon with their enthusiasm and their ability to play the game.
They were a joy to watch. And they received as much adulation and attention as any freshmen who ever played the game.
Freshmen . . . Innocent freshmen.
When Cameron Indoor Stadium is full on a winter night, it can get so loud that your head pounds and your ears ache. It is 42 years old, with a low flat roof and a front row of seats about six feet from the court.
Now, the gym was empty, quiet. Gene Banks, wearing a red Phillies jacket, sat on a bench hugging himself to keep warm. He was remembering.
"That '78 team, that whole year was the greatest of my life," he said. "We all played together, worked together and just let the adulation come. Those were happy days."
Things are not so happy these days for Banks, whose team plays Maryland Saturday at Cole Field House at 1 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7). Three years after basking in the national spotlight, Banks finds himself on a team going through an identity crisis, a team with one foot stuck in a glorious past and one foot heading toward an uncertain future.
Banks, Dennard and backup forward Jim Suddath are all that remain of that 1978 team. Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski, John Harrell and Bob Bender have all graduated. Bill Foster, the coach who took over a program in shambles and made it a national power, is at South Carolina. Bob Wenzel, the assistant coach who recruited most of the players, is there with him. Lou Goetz, the organizer, the X and O man, is head coach at Richmond.
The Blue Devils, 73-24 the last three seasons, including two ACC titles and three NCAA trips, are 7-4. Unranked. They have already lost at home to Virginia and outsiders are talking seventh place.
Mike Krzyzewski is the coach now. He played for Bob Knight at Army and coached under him for a year at Indiana. He is a believer in Knight's basketball philosophy, if not his personal philosophy.
There is nothing military about Krzyzewski. He has a sharp, low-key wit and, because he is just 33, he relates to his players extremely well. And his players say, he knows the game.
"I'm really sorry Coach Foster isn't here," said Banks, who chose Duke largely because of Foster. "It would have been sweet to have him here my senior year. But he and Coach K have one thing in common -- honesty. They're always straight up with you, tell you exactly what they're thinking. That's what I need. And he knows his basketball. If we just do exactly what he tells us, we will be a good team."
Perhaps. But this is a team trying to compete in the ACC with a 6-foot-8 forward, Mike Tissaw of Robinson High in Fairfax, playing center. 6
The Blue Devils have little depth and wing Vince Taylor, a key man if this team is to succeed, is struggling.
If Duke is going to be successful this year, the reasons will be Banks and Dennard. Both are 6-7, agile, gifted athletes; sure-fire first-round draft choices, according to North Carolina Coach Dean Smith.
Dennard has learned to accept Duke's slide from the ranks of the top 20. But Banks, one of the most heralded high school players of the '70s; a star as a freshman, the hero of the ACC tournament as a junior, is having trouble adjusting. He sees Albert King, his friend and longtime rival, on national magazine covers and his stomach starts churning.
"When I first got here, everyone rolled out the red carpet, I was the hero, the franchise, everyone loved me and all the publicity was great," he said. "But for some reason after the first year, it changed. I don't know quite why.
"Maybe people got a little spoiled because we had success so fast. Maybe Duke wasn't -- isn't -- ready for a black superstar. I got publicity nationally early in my career. Now, I'm not. We were supposed to be on national TV twice this year and both games were canceled. That upset me. I like exposure, I like publicity. Why should I say I don't care when I do?"
Banks cares. It bothers him that he is playing the best basketball of his life, shooting 55 percent from the floor, averaging 19.2 points per game and, as always, playing good defense.
"This is not the way I pictured my senior year," Banks said. "I thought about turning pro last year but it didn't feel right. When this is over, if I get the kind of contract I want, I suppose I'll look back and say I learned from it, grew up from it. Right now, though, I'm having to work hard to maintain my enthusiasm.
"I know that Kenny and I have to lead this team by example. If we work hard, go all out, so will the other guys. If we sacrifice, so will they. In the old days, we could gamble and be cocky because we had so much talent. Now, we can't do that. We have to be intense all the time to win."
Dennard has watched his friend struggle with his emotions, has watched him try to do too much on the court. He feels Banks' frustration. "Gene is at his best when he just goes out and plays, when he just does what comes naturally," Dennard said. "But sometimes he just tries so hard he forces things and it doesn't work. It's hard when you're a star to deny your own ego and say I need these other guys as much as they need me. If Gene works through the team he can be as good as anyone in the country."
But, because of Duke's other deficiencies, Banks could be the best in the country and go virtually unnoticed this season. That makes him restless.
"The thing you find out in the end is that college basketball is a business," he said. "Freshman year, we all just played and had fun. Then came the pressure and the criticism. Now, it's almost over for me here and I still don't know how I feel about the whole experience.
"Part of it has been fantastic. We've won, we've gotten attention and I'm going to graduate in May. I think I'm a smarter, better person now than when I got here."
But is he a happier person?
Banks smiled. "I don't know yet."