One has all the awards and all the glamor. But the other knows this kind of pressure game better.
One looks like the prototype NBA guard, 6 feet 5, long arms, smooth jump shot. The other is so thin he looks frail on the court, so small for a basketball player that to this day his father thinks he can dominate him on the court.
One has played on three Final Four teams. The other played on a team that was 11-17 when he was a freshman and never advanced past the second round of NCAA play before this season.
And Monday night, one of them, in his last college game, will win a national championship. One will look back on the years of work and know it was all worthwhile. The other almost certainly will shed some tears and wonder.
They are Johnny Dawkins and Milt Wagner. Each is the catalyst for his team -- Dawkins for 37-2 Duke; Wagner for 31-7 Louisville, the two schools that meet here Monday to decide the NCAA championship.
Dawkins, who graduated from Mackin High School in the District in 1982, is the most decorated player in Duke history -- the leading all-time scorer, the third player to have his number retired, the winner of the Naismith Award. Wagner, who sat out last season with a broken foot, barely made first team All-Metro Conference this season, yet always seems in command with the game on the line.
Wagner is a pro scout's dream at 6-5, a "can't miss" NBA player. Dawkins probably is, too, but he hardly looks it at 6-2 and 165 pounds. His father, John Dawkins Sr., is 6-4 and 205 and still tries to manhandle his son -- known as "Pooh" among family members because an aunt decided he resembled the famous bear when he was a baby -- on the basketball court.
Wagner is in his third Final Four in five seasons at Louisville. Dawkins his first and last. And yet, as Wagner said today when the inevitable comparisons between the two came up, "We'll both be in the same place tomorrow night."
Both will rely heavily on their backcourt partners, Tommy Amaker for Duke, Jeff Hall for Louisville. Both will look for their bigger teammates inside. But in the last five minutes, when the title probably will be decided, everyone in Reunion Arena will be looking at them.
"I've been watching Milt play since he was at Camden High School in New Jersey ," Dawkins said today. "I always admired his game. I remember seeing Camden play DeMatha and he scored 52 points. Anyone who scores 52 against DeMatha can play. I've always liked to watch him play. Playing against him will be tough, but it's just another challenge.
"In the national championship game, you don't expect to take the easy way out."
Dawkins and Wagner are friends, having spent time together two years ago at the U.S. Olympic Trials. They spoke before the semifinals on Saturday and enjoy each other's company. Wagner says he doesn't feel slighted by the extra dose of attention Dawkins has received this year.
"If I had gone somewhere else where there weren't so many great players, maybe I would have scored more points or been more of a big star," Wagner said. "But that doesn't bother me. There's no jealousy. I want to play better than he does tomorrow. But he also wants to play better than me."
Dawkins' strength is quickness and leaping ability. He said today that he cannot remember ever feeling as if a defensive player could stop him. "I feel like the only one who can stop me," he said, "is me."
Dawkins has scored in double figures in 128 of 132 college games -- the most in NCAA history. If he is stopped, it probably will be because his jump shot goes awry, not because he cannot get his shots.
Wagner is less spectacular, less likely to come off a screen for an alley-oop dunk, not likely to backjam on the fast break. But he is the key to Louisville's transition game, a player who sees the whole floor, knowing just when to pass and just when to pull up for his deadly jumper.
Both were prodigies as teen-agers, always playing with older players. Dawkins was so skinny he would come home bruised and scarred from the schoolyard because bigger players would push him out of bounds to keep him from jumping over them for the ball.
"I've always loved the feel of the basketball," he said. "When I was a kid I was always breaking things in the house because I was playing ball. My mother got very disturbed with me for that. This Christmas I went home and I was fooling with a ball and I lost control of it and it went down the steps and crushed one of her favorite plant tables. My mother said, 'Pooh, don't you ever change?' "
Both players were the difference in their team's victories Saturday. Dawkins was 11 of 17 from the field against Kansas while the rest of his teammates were having trouble finding the rim, much less the net. Wagner took over the game against Louisiana State midway through the second half, keying a 17-1 spurt with four baskets and three assists.
"I'm glad Johnny's guarding him," Amaker said today with a laugh. "With his size, he's so tough to stop. You can't let him post you up because once he has the ball he'll jump over you and score. You have to keep him on the perimeter and hope he doesn't kill you from there."
Amaker, who has started all 104 games of his college career next to Dawkins, remembers the first time he saw him play in a summer league high school game. "He ran like a deer, jumped through the roof and filled it up," he said. "Nothing's changed since then. He just keeps doing it."
Monday, both Dawkins and Wagner will try to do it one last time. Each knows this final challenge might be the toughest. "That's what makes the game fun," Wagner said. "I've guarded the wing guard all season, so this won't be any different." He paused. "No, that's not true. It will be different."
Dawkins knows that too. "In some ways, it's hard to believe this is it for my college career," he said. "But on the other hand, I can't think of a better way to go out than playing for the national championship."