COLUMBIA, S.C. (UCFKnights.com) – There are numerous connections between Duke and UCF, both in the basketball programs and at the Athletic Director level. There is a nationally-intriguing matchup between the top player in the country and the tallest player in the nation.
So, it was a legitimate question. Even if UCF Vice President and Director of Athletics Danny White danced around the subject just a little bit. After all, White’s father Kevin is the Director of Athletics at Duke and is also a member of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Committee.
Do the NCAA and/or its broadcast partners look at potential matchups and the storylines that could accompany them?
“I think it's a great national story with the matchup,” White said. “Did they consider that in the seeding? I really don't know. I think we had some opportunities down the stretch to help ourselves to get out of the 8-9 game.”
Whether the matchup was just coincidence or if it was a little more “made-for-TV,” there’s no question, Sunday’s 5:15 p.m. ET contest between UCF and Duke has garnered a great deal of attention around the nation.
Here’s a look at a few of the subplots:
Mike Krzyzewski vs. Johnny Dawkins; Teacher vs. Student
Johnny Dawkins came to Duke as a freshman in 1982. The Duke program was struggling. Krzyzewski had just finished his second season and had a combined record of 27-30 with the Blue Devils.
Four short years later, Dawkins was the floor general for Krzyzewski’s team that went 37-3 and reached the NCAA Championship game. Dawkins was the Naismith Player of the Year that season.
“Obviously, he was the start of us developing our program at Duke,” Krzyzewski said. “Our first great player.”
Dawkins said he sometimes still feels like that young man who came to Durham, N.C. from Washington, D.C.
“That's always there. He'd probably put me on the line now, and I'll probably start running suicides,” Dawkins joked. Once someone's coached you, they're your coach for the rest of your life. I was a part of it and loved it, and I love Coach.”
The two had such a great relationship that Dawkins rejoined the Duke family almost immediately after his nine-year NBA career ended. After a few years in an administrative role and working on the Blue Devils’ radio broadcasts, Dawkins became an assistant coach and served under Krzyzewski from 1998-2008.
From 2008-2016, Dawkins was the head coach at Stanford. He came to UCF for the 2016-17 season. Despite being a head coach for 11 years now, Dawkins and Krzyzewski have only squared off once and it was not by choice. Krzyzewski actively tries not to face any of his former players or assistant coaches when they become head coaches.
“Why would you want to?” Krzyzewski asked. “They're family. If you don't have to play against him, I'm not going to do it. But this presents an opportunity for both of us in a great setting. So both teams are winners.”
“You still don't relish it, Dawkins said. “But it's still something you've already experienced. You understand everything that's kind of -- that will be around this.”
In addition to Dawkins, UCF assistant coach Vince Taylor is also a Duke alum. Taylor was already on the team when Krzyzewski started at Duke. But the legendary coach had high praise for the Knight assistant.
“I would have recruited Vince Taylor though,” Krzyzewski said. “In Vince's case, we were going through an amazing transition there. He was captain of my team. We've become great friends. I'm glad that he and Johnny are together.”
White Family Ties
As mentioned above, Danny White leads the UCF athletics department and his father Kevin White has been Vice President & Director of Athletics at Duke since 2008.
White said he was sitting with Coach Dawkins and his wife Tracy when the bracket was announced. According to White, the trio’s reaction was “interesting.” He didn’t elaborate much on that. But it was obvious he understood what a win in the first round would likely mean for his school.
Meanwhile, Kevin White mentioned feeling a bit queasy or sick to his stomach about the possible matchup when asked it about on television last Sunday following the bracket announcements.
The elder White is serving the NCAA Committee in Jacksonville, since he’s not allowed to represent the committee at the same site as his school. So, while father and son won’t have to be in the same building during the game, there has been plenty of contact between them the past two days.
But don’t worry, NCAA Compliance hawks, no wagers – friendly or otherwise – were made within the White family.
Zion vs. Tacko
Duke freshman Zion Williamson is the consensus top player in the nation and likely the first pick in the NBA Draft later this year. The Duke big man will likely match up with UCF senior Tacko Fall, the tallest player in all of college basketball.
Friday night after UCF’s historic first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, Fall was asked about matching up with Williamson. He jokingly said he didn’t want to allow Williamson to dunk on him and he was not going to be ending up on any of the numerous Williamson highlight videos floating around social media.
While some in the media tried to Fall’s statement into some sort of beef, two of the classiest players in college basketball both said the right things Saturday.
“What is he supposed to say?” Williamsson asked. “Is he supposed to say like I'm going to dunk on him? He said the right thing, but I'm not really focused on that. I'm just focused on trying to help my team win the game. He is a very unique player, and I got a lot of respect for him because for him to be that size and be able to move the way he does and have as much skill as he does, he's a great player.”
Fall heaped praise on Williamson as well.
“Basketball plays are going to happen,” Fall said. “I'm going to be out there and be aggressive and be the protector that I am. Zion is obviously a very talented kid, great kid. I've seen nothing but positive things about him, and great high ceiling too. He's going to do his job, and I'm going to do my job. Whatever happens, happens.”
Fall said he can’t focus simply on Williamson and wants others to realize there are eight other young men on the court.
“I just don't want that game to be about me and Zion,” Fall said. “Obviously, it's very exciting. You got a guy who's 7'6". You got a guy who's a freak athlete, very talented. But at the end of the day, it's a ball game. It's basketball. We can't make it bigger than what it really is. It's bigger than that. It's UCF versus Duke. They have great players, talented guys. We have also great players, very experienced, talented guys, and we're going to go out there and do whatever we can to win the ball game.”
Both were impressive in the first round of the tournament and throughout the season. Fall had a 13-point, 18-rebound, 5-block performance vs. VCU. As for the season, he is averaging 11 points, nearly 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game. Williamson scored 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting vs. North Dakota State in the first round Friday. He is averaging over 22 points and nearly 9 rebounds per ontest.
The matchup has drawn the interest of many in the sports world. ESPN, USA Today, Associated Press and numerous other national outlets have already written about the matchup.
That matchup is set for 5:15 p.m. Sunday from Colonial Life Arena. The contest will air nationally on CBS. You can also listen to the UCF Radio broadcast on FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game in Orlando and worldwide on iHeart Radio.