Few things bring Americans together like rooting against Duke in the NCAA tournament, and bless the schedule-makers’ hearts, we won’t have to wait long to do so this year.
When the defending champion Blue Devils tip off the tournament against UNC Wilmington on Thursday at 12:15 p.m., every non-Duke fan will be cheering for the Seahawks, or at least they should be. While Maryland fans might be wondering if Brett Blizzard has any eligibility left, barring an early upset, those same Duke-haters will be pulling for Baylor to take out the champs on Saturday.
Duke has been so easy to hate under Coach Mike Krzyzewski primarily because the Blue Devils have been so flopping good since he arrived in Durham in 1980. Five national titles. Twelve Final Fours. Come on, Coach K; retire already, and let one of your former players screw things up. Speaking of, the past 36 years have featured no shortage of loathsome Duke players. At the risk of dividing the country, here’s who would appear on my Mount Rushmore of Most Hated Blue Devils.
Leaving Laettner off of this list would be like Gutzon Borglum sculpting Mount Rushmore without George Washington. One could make the argument that the Mount Rushmore of Hated Duke Players should consist of four different Laettner faces — one for each of the Final Fours he played in. Laettner is probably the most hated college basketball player of all-time. There aren’t ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries called “I Hate Danny Ferry” and “I Hate Steve Wojciechowski,” but there is one titled “I Hate Christian Laettner” and it’s quite good.
Why he was hated: It didn’t help that Laettner graduated from an exclusive prep school in Buffalo before coming to Duke. He was cocky, a bit of a jerk to opponents and berated his own teammates, including Bobby Hurley, for poor play. The hate for Laettner may have peaked during the East Region Final of the 1992 NCAA tournament, when he capped a 10-for-10 shooting performance with “The Shot” — a turnaround jumper off a full-court pass from Grant Hill with 2.1 seconds remaining to beat Kentucky. Earlier in the game, Laettner stomped on the chest of Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake, earning a technical foul. “If it took until Saturday’s foot to the chest to figure out Laettner is mean as a viper, you’re way behind the game,” Michael Wilbon wrote after the game. “He’s as surly as he is talented. If Laettner wore a Georgetown uniform, the word ‘thug’ would have been on everybody’s lips the last two seasons.”
Why he’s actually sort of okay: Laettner was a good sport about the 30 for 30, even apologizing to Timberlake while live-tweeting the premiere. Also, his Twitter background is #HATERSGONNAHATE. Yes, they gonna.
If you’re like any of my colleagues who were in the room when I first mentioned Battier among the four Duke players on my Mount Hatemore, you’re thinking, “How could anyone hate Shane Battier? More than Greg Paulus?!” Well, I did, and I swear it wasn’t only because he scored 25 points in Duke’s comeback from 22 points down to beat Maryland in the 2001 Final Four.
Why he was hated: Battier came to Duke from the private Detroit Country Day School. He overlapped with the floor-slapping Wojciechowski for one season in Durham and assumed the title of Most Annoying Blue Devil when Wojo left. With the notable exception of drawing charges, Battier didn’t do any one thing great, but he did everything well. He was Laettner minus the attitude plus a somewhat wrinkly scalp that made it look as if his skull couldn’t contain his ginormous basketball (and non-basketball) IQ. Battier’s biggest crime was having “DUKE” across the front of his jersey, but I hated him nonetheless, for silly reasons like the Cameron Crazies’ “Who’s Your Daddy? Battier!” chant. Ugh.
Why he’s actually sort of okay: Like my colleagues said, ‘How could anyone hate Shane Battier?’ Once he took off that Duke jersey for the last time, he became one of the least hateable people on the planet, and now I feel somewhat guilty for shouting obscenities at him through my TV screen in 2001. Moving on…
Unlike Laettner and Battier, Redick didn’t come from a privileged upbringing, but he was blessed with an incredible shot that made me dread every time he touched the ball.
Why he was hated: Redick was Duke’s most lethal three-point shooter since Trajan Langdon. Sometimes it felt as if he’d never miss and most of his makes were followed by obnoxious head-bobbing, smirking and trash-talking. Redick regularly taunted opponents and relished the hate from opposing fans. “I think the best way for the fans to handle me would be to be silent,” Redick told the Post in 2005. “That would probably bother me more. [The heckling] doesn’t bother me. To be honest, it’s something I look forward to. I’m a competitive person and I’m able to internalize all the hateful things that are said to me, and it gets my competitive juices going.” Maryland fans once got ahold of Redick’s cellphone number and used it to harass him. Others made fun of his poetry and his acne.
Why he’s actually sort of okay: Looking back, Redick realizes his part in becoming one of college basketball’s most divisive players, even though he recently suggested on his weekly podcast that the media is also to blame for perpetuating the “white Duke villain myth” over the years. “I probably deserved it,” Redick told Grantland of some of the nasty heckling he received at Maryland in 2004. “I was sort of a prick. … I watch video now of me in college, and I just think, What are you doing, man?”
Too soon? Perhaps, but unlike Redick, the sophomore guard already has a national title. He’s also got an incredible hateability résumé to boot.
Why he is hated: Where to begin? He’s a prep school graduate who bears a striking resemblance to a young Ted Cruz. In February, he tripped Louisville’s Ray Spalding, got away with a blatant travel before a game-winning buzzer-beater against Virginia and then tripped Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the span of five games. (The missed travel was obviously the referee’s fault, but no one said this hate stuff was rational. Besides, he tripped two different opponents in one month…and Krzyzewski did nothing about it.) Fittingly, Allen finished the regular season with 666 points. “We have to be good enough for people to hate him,” Krzyzewski said of Allen earlier this season. “I hope we can be. I hope we can get good enough that people hate him.” Well, Coach K, you got your wish. Expect the hate to grow with every Duke win in the tournament, and/or every subsequent dirty play by Allen.
Why he’s actually sort of okay: He’s a 20-year-old kid who let his emotions get the best of him a couple of times this season. The world needs more love and less hate, but, uh, go UNC-Wilmington.
Honorable Mention (these guys were all pretty hateable, too): Danny Ferry. Chris Collins. Bobby Hurley. Steve Wojciechowski. Jeff Capel. Cherokee Parks. Dahntay Jones. Matt Christensen. Brian Davis. Greg Paulus. Jay Williams. Carlos Boozer. Mike Dunleavy. Shavlik Randolph. Shelden Williams. Ryan Kelly. Jon Scheyer. Gerald Henderson. Kyle Singler. Brian Zoubek. Austin Rivers. All of the Plumlees. Who did I forget?