The Final Four apparently cannot be played without Washington-area representation. Every year since 1980, the NCAA semifinals have included a so-called Washington-area entry.
That six-year streak will be kept alive by Duke, the No. 1-ranked team in the country. The Blue Devils may be based amid the pine trees of North Carolina, but the team's roots are decidedly in Washington, just as was the case with North Carolina State in 1983. (Georgetown has been in the Final Four three times in the '80s, Virginia twice.)
Duke would barely be able to put a team on the court Saturday against Kansas if all the Washington-area players were taken off the roster. Six of the Blue Devils are from the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland or Northern Virginia.
The first player to walk through Coach Mike Krzyzewski's office door Tuesday afternoon was all-America guard Johnny Dawkins -- Mackin High School, class of '82; alumnus of playgrounds at Fort Stevens, Sligo, Takoma Park and Candy Cane City. Dawkins calls the Redskins "we" and his migration to Durham precipitated a rush.
While Dawkins was conducting a television interview before practice at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tom Amaker -- class of '83, W.T. Woodson High -- entered the room and asked how the Bullets had fared the previous night.
Amaker teams with Dawkins to form what television analyst Al McGuire calls "the best back court in 20 years."
If Maryland had Dawkins and Amaker -- and Coach Lefty Driesell did everything in his power a few years ago to make it happen -- the Terrapins would probably be headed to Dallas now, instead of Duke.
Amaker had just finished talking with Billy King, the 6-6 reserve forward and defensive specialist -- Park View High (Sterling), class of '83.
Then there's Danny Ferry, the 6-10 freshman. He didn't have to ask about the Bullets; his father, Bob, is general manager. Ferry, from Bowie, Md., and DeMatha, class of '85, isn't shy about saying how he loves the camaraderie of the D.C.-area group.
Dawkins, Amaker and Ferry all started at one point this season for Duke. Even now, when Ferry is coming off the bench, four Washington-area players are among the Blue Devils' top seven.
Krzyzewski also has two other freshmen on his roster -- John Smith, a 6-7 forward from Friendly High in Fort Washington, Md., and 7-2 center George Burgin, a teammate of Amaker's at W.T. Woodson -- who could be primary contributors to Duke's team in the next three years.
Krzyzewski's successful raid of Washington-area high schools isn't unique. Notre Dame's great teams in the 1970s were built around Austin Carr (Mackin) and Adrian Dantley (DeMatha).
And North Carolina State, which "represented" Washington in the Final Four three years ago, would have been nothing without Thurl Bailey (Bladensburg High), Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg (both from DeMatha).
Krzyzewski just knew a good thing when he saw it. Part of his recruitment of Washington-area athletes was by design, part just happened that way.
"I didn't realize it would be as fruitful as it has been, but I'm not surprised," Krzyzewski said, adding that he gained an appreciation for Washington because his wife lived in Alexandria and because he tried to recruit the area as head coach at Army.
"We weren't that successful then," Krzyzewski said, "but I knew it was a talent-rich area, which had basketball all year round. Organized basketball. And that's critical. AAU, summer leagues, it was all top-notch. And I thought that Catholic league was as good as there is in the country. Northern Virginia was getting better . . . and that's the closest metropolitan area, with good basketball, to Duke.
"We thought D.C. would be really important for us," he said. "But we also had to ask ourselves, 'How long will it take to establish good will?' Could be one year, could be 10 years. We felt that once we got Johnny, and if we could show we would develop him, then we might be able to get some others."
The good will was established immediately. Dawkins was a rookie sensation. And he became a primary recruiter when the D.C. recruits headed south for weekend visits.
"I had no idea this would happen after he recruited me," Dawkins said. "Once we got the ball rolling, it was a snowball effect. The players in the Washington area are so good and there's so much talent there, if you can get one or two players to commit to a good school, then chances are if the first couple of guys are successful, other guys will follow. You can really develop a connection."
Six players from within a 50-mile radius certainly would have to qualify as a connection.
Those who talked this week about why they went to Duke, as opposed to Georgetown, Maryland or Virginia, sounded virtually the same. They talked about a great school academically, away from home but close enough for parents to drive (five hours) to home games. And (except for Dawkins) it felt comfortable with other Washingtonians hanging around arguing about the Redskins.
For Dawkins, Duke was the perfect answer for his mother's insistence that he go to a fine academic insititution and his own desire to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I was almost destined to come here; it was the perfect school for me," Dawkins said.
Nearly the same words came from Amaker, who grew up playing with Georgetown's Michael Jackson and began thinking of Duke after his sophomore year in high school.
"It made a difference, in terms of my decision, that Johnny was here," Amaker said.
Krzyzewski was actually in town to look at Dawkins one summer day when he discovered Amaker by accident.
"Coach K was the first coach who saw me play," Amaker recalled. "In fact, it was after my sophomore year at a Jelleff Summer League game. He was there for the first game, to watch Johnny, who was about to be a senior. Reggie Kitchen, who coached me, Michael Jackson and a lot of guys in the Northern Virginia AAU, he told Coach K, 'Hey, you better stick around and watch this other guy, this little guard named Amaker.'
"Coach K said, 'Naw, naw, I've got to catch a plane. He agreed to watch the start of the game, and after the game was over I noticed he was still there. About two weeks later, I got my first letter from Coach K."
Next came King, a third high-school all-America for Krzyzewski. Ferry, Krzyzewski says, was the toughest to recruit because of the magnitude of the national chase.
Dawkins felt confident Ferry would choose Duke.
"We felt by us being from the same hometown area, we could relate to him and assure him that it could work out here. He was close with Billy King, too, and that helped a lot, I think," Dawkins said.
And Ferry admitted, "Johnny, Tommy and Billy being here was a definite advantage for me coming here. I knew I had friends there already."
Amaker looked around Cameron and said, "We've got a lot of guys who can go home and brag this summer."
Although each of the players has his separate group of friends on and off campus, the D.C. half-dozen is a tight subgroup -- King, Amaker and Dawkins were in Driesell's summer camp nearly 10 years ago -- especially during football season.
"We take pro football very seriously here," said Dawkins who, it is said, walks into the Duke football weight room humming "Hail to the Redskins" to irritate the Blue Devils gridders.
"I was a Bullets fan growing up; I watched the fat lady sing for us one time," Dawkins said. "And I still keep up with them. Tommy and I both. We take a lot of criticism here at Duke for that, but we're die-hards."
The marriage seems to have benefited everyone. Recruiting can be difficult for Duke, considering its academic requirements, but there are enough good student-athletes in the Washington area for Krzyzewski to make the effort.
"Being around D.C., the kids are just more sophisticated," Krzyzewski said. "The kids are exposed to the best in basketball, plus the news and people. When you see these kids, they usually dress well, handle themselves a little better. Not so much jive. I don't know if there's one word for it. But they have more presence.
"I think a lot of that comes from having such disciplined programs all year. You can't goof on the AAU teams. If you goof around in the summer leagues, you're kicked out. There's discipline all year round.
"Johnny's dad is a good example. He's in his what, early 40s? And what is he doing on the weekends? Playing basketball. So kids are playing against older men, smarter men. I think it's a neat environment."