It might come as a shock that Duke, one of the nation's great storied programs, has spent six years on the outside looking in. But no joke — the Blue Devils have been waiting since 2004. Back when Shrek 2 was in theaters, the term "wardrobe malfunction" was coined, and Barack Obama was just a state senator looking forward to his big speech to the Democratic National Convention.
You've got to be a Duke diehard to even remember the last time the team made it this far. There are few people around these parts who can recall.
One is Shelden Williams, the 12th man on the Celtics' bench this season. Williams was a sophomore at Duke in 2004, the starting power forward on a Blue Devils team that many thought would win it all. He still remembers the team's devastating loss to UConn in the national semifinals, a game lost 79-78 to the eventual champion Huskies.
Now, the Devils are back. And Williams, now a legend in Blue Devils lore, is proud of it.
"It's great," he told WEEI.com this week. "It's kind of strange that this is the first time that we've been back to the Final Four since my team in ‘04. It's been kind of crazy, but actually this year has been amazing for college basketball fans to watch. This tournament has been unbelievable with underdog teams and powerhouse teams — you never know what to expect. If you had tried to tell me after being in the tournament that a fifth seed, a fifth seed, and only one [No.] 1 seed would make it, that's crazy."
The Blue Devils are the only top-seeded team left in a tournament that's seen a number of underdogs find success, including No. 5 seeds Butler and Michigan State making it all the way to Indianapolis. You'd think that with all these other national heavyweights falling, and only Duke left standing among the tournament's big guns, the Blue Devils would be getting a little bit more buzz as the Final Four draws closer.
But really, Duke has flown under the radar. All the talk this tournament season has been about the underdogs, the upsets and occasionally the fallen star players like Ohio State's Evan Turner or Kentucky's John Wall. No one seems to notice that Duke has snuck into the Final Four as the top-ranked team left.
There's nothing about these Blue Devils that's loud or flashy. It's not about superstars — it's about a solid team concept and a good group of role players.
"Everybody on that team is playing their role," Williams said. "Nobody's getting out of hand with things, nobody's trying to do more than what they can do. I think just everybody is playing their role and playing off of each other well. I think that's a great thing for them to do, [especially when] they're not shooting well. Like [Sunday, Kyle Singler] was 0-for-10. He's one of the top scorers, if not the top scorer, on the team, and they still managed to find a way to win. That says a lot.”
That's the way the college game works — especially at Duke, where Coach K has spent three decades developing the Blue Devils' system. It's a special style of play and a special environment, and there's a lot about it that the alum Williams misses.
"Just how much every game means to you, how much the atmosphere comes into play, everybody is into it whether they love you or hate you," Williams said. "Basketball is like king, and everything else is secondary. It's one of the best feelings to be part of."