As Duke and Kansas went through their last Final Four workouts at Reunion Arena today in preparation for their semifinal meeting Saturday, the Blue Devils were asked repeatedly if they were having any fun, and the Jayhawks kept explaining their haircuts.
This is the Final Four. Are you having fun?
"We have fun," all-America Duke guard Johnny Dawkins said with a grin. "We're sort of like J.R. Ewing. Out front, we look like we're all business. But behind the scenes we have lots of fun."
Dawkins grinned a wicked grin, went to practice and almost brought the house down with a dunk that looked like lots of fun.
In the meantime, Kansas Coach Larry Brown was talking for perhaps the 1,000th time this season about the "special kids" on his team, five of whom went out and got crew cuts for the Final Four.
Greg Dreiling, the 7-foot-1 senior center whose play here Saturday may be a key for Kansas, showed up looking like a cross between Ivan Drago of "Rocky" and Lurch of "The Addams Family." "We thought that Coach was going to get one, too," he said. "But he chickened out."
Aside from haircuts and hype, this is a matchup of two superb teams who have had extraordinary seasons. Duke (36-2) has tied the NCAA record for victories in a season. It won the preseason Big Apple NIT, finished first in the ACC in the regular season, won the ACC tournament and the East regional and comes here with a 20-game winning streak.
Kansas (35-3) lost that NIT final, 92-86, to Duke, won the Big Eight regular season, won the Big Eight tournament and the Midwest regional and has won 16 straight. "Both teams have a lot of weapons," said Brown, who often has said, "We're just excited to be here."
The coaching matchup is an interesting one. Krzyzewski is a Bob Knight product as a player for him at Army and an assistant coach at Indiana. Brown is a Dean Smith player and assistant coach at North Carolina. Both mentors were present Thursday when the teams practiced at Moody Coliseum on the SMU campus.
Krzyzewski had Knight speak to his team when practice was over. Knight, according to the Duke players, reminded them that, "The first thing to remember about the Final Four is you don't have to play great basketball to win. You just have to play the way you played all season."
And, Knight added: "You're going to make mistakes. When you do, pat each other on the back. Everyone will pat a guy on the back after a great play. Remember to do it after a bad play."
Knight finished his talk by jokingly ripping Krzyzewski. "He said in the papers that I turned him into a non-scorer. That's bull. What I did was turn him from a semi-wimp not the actual word Knight used into a tiger."
When Knight was finished, his mentor, former California Coach Pete Newell, spoke to the Blue Devils. He began by saying, "I want to congratulate Bob. That's the longest almost 10 minutes I've ever heard him talk without cursing."
Brown, by contrast, didn't ask Smith to do any talking. "Our players hear him talk every day when I talk," he said. "Him talkin' would have been the same as me talkin.' "
The Duke players said they enjoyed listening to Knight -- especially when he climbed all over their coach. "Now that," said Billy King, "was fun."
Duke has been accused in some quarters of being too workmanlike, of not enjoying the scene. "I told our players last night that the next time someone says they aren't having fun to tell them that we like to put needles under our fingers to have fun," Krzyzewski said. "We may warm up in hula hoops tomorrow."
When the pregame warmups end, the Blue Devils will be confronted by a team that is taller and quicker than they are. Jay Bilas at 6 feet 8 and Danny Ferry, 6-10, will have to guard Dreiling, and 6-8 Mark Alarie will have to guard 6-11 Danny Manning, the Jayhawks' gifted sophomore.
"He's tough to guard because he's 6-11, but he can beat you from the perimeter," said Alarie. "But I think height is overrated. If Jay Bilas was 6-10 instead of 6-8, people would say he was a better player. I don't believe that."
Kansas, in addition to worrying about the quicksilver Duke backcourt of Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, must be concerned about David Henderson, who burned the Jayhawks for 30 points in the NIT final.
Duke must hope that Dreiling's 19-point, 12-rebound explosion against North Carolina State in the Midwest regional final was a one-time thing. Because he is so big he can dominate if he stays out of foul trouble. "We can't beat Duke if Greg plays 16 minutes and fouls out," Brown said, a reference to the NIT game.
Conversely, Duke cannot beat Kansas if Manning gets Alarie into foul trouble. All season, Alarie has been the Blue Devils' rock. Dawkins occasionally has an off day shooting. So does Henderson. Alarie always seems to be there, quietly getting 15 to 20 points and six to eight rebounds and stopping the other team's best scorer.
In the end, though, Duke assistant coach Bob Bender, one of two players to play for two schools in the Final Four (Indiana 1976, Duke 1978) said it best: "Cliche or not, defense will decide. Everyone is bound to be tight on offense. It always happens that way. After all, this is the Final Four."