Ben Cohen


Cutcliffe Recalls Tension From Past

As a child, David Cutcliffe’s love of football was pure. By the time he reached Banks High School, though, the football field no longer just housed a conflict between two teams. This was Birmingham in the 1960s, and Cutcliffe’s hometown was torn by racial tension.

Cutcliffe found himself caught in a conflict that predated him, outlives him and, eventually, helped shape him as a football coach.

“When you grow up in the most segregated city in the South, you’ve got to take sides one way or the other,” said Paige Cutcliffe, David Cutcliffe’s brother. “Our family took sides that it’s wrong, and we’ve been fighting that battle ever since.”

Fifty years later, David Cutcliffe’s squad-and the head coach himself-might be fundamentally different if he hadn’t lived through what his brother called an “apartheid city.”



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Hello, Coach K

How do you say “Coach K” in Chinese?

President Richard Brodhead might know.

Brodhead is a Yale-trained academic with a scholarly interest in American literature and a life rooted in higher education. He traveled to Asia for two weeks in June 2006 in his first overseas trip as Duke’s president and while in Shanghai, he answered an hour and a half’s worth of questions about Duke in an online chatroom for about 10 million Chinese students. They asked him about education and worldwide reputation, but they also wanted to know more about the leader of the University’s most visible team.

Kobe Bryant, too, might know.

Bryant, who bypassed college life by jumping from high school to the pros, is perhaps the world’s best basketball player. The reigning NBA MVP flew to Asia in September to promote Nike and Team USA in preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing and traversed five cities-Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Taipei and Shanghai-in his five-day “Supernatural Tour.” When he returned, he talked to the national team’s coach. “It’s unbelievable,” he told Mike Krzyzewski. “Coach, they ask questions about you. They ask questions about Duke.”

Krzyzewski certainly knows. He made his first trip to China in 2007, and some approached him using his nickname, even if they wanted to ask more questions about Bryant and LeBron James. Krzyzewski, who will begin his 29th year at Duke after he attempts to guide Team USA to its first gold medal since 2000, was struck with the Chinese adoration of basketball, their knowledge of Duke and, consequently, Duke Basketball.

“I’m conscious of being a representative of Duke every second of my life, because I’m branded with Duke,” Krzyzewski said. “Whether I go out to eat, whether I go to the grocery store, getting gas… but I also know that if I’m on the road or somebody might not be able to pronounce my name, they’ll say, ‘Duke!'” I say, ‘No, it’s Mike Krzyzewski.'”



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Leading With The Heart

“Leading with the heart” was published in The Chronicle on Sept. 22, 2008. The story is about Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe, who took the charge to resuscitate a hapless program just more than three years after he underwent triple-bypass surgery for a 99-percent blocked artery that he obstinately ignored.

I wrote the story off an exclusive interview with Cutcliffe, to whom I pitched the story that no one else had written. The day of publication, I received a personal note from Cutcliffe himself, who took a break from analyzing game film to tell me he appreciated how accurate and honest the story was. He told me enjoyed the piece, too, but the fact that he acknowledged the story’s factual correctness meant more than anything.

It takes a long time to get there, but the end of this story is perhaps my favorite part.



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Film Studies Extend To Cameron

When Kevin Cullen, Duke’s new video coordinator, left to accompany Mike Krzyzewski to the Olympics last summer, the spacious video room in the basement of the team’s recently unveiled practice facility had been open for months, even though there was nothing in it.

So why did a small office on the fifth floor of Schwartz-Butters still serve as the team’s video headquarters last season?

Instead of taping every college basketball game from a central computer, why was Mike Schrage, the former director of basketball operations, still scrambling to pop discs into DVR machines in different coaches’ offices?

How come the room next to the team’s video theater was empty?

“The idea of moving midseason or over one night, or even for one hour, wasn’t too appealing,” said Cullen, who assumed his position in May. “As critical as the e-mail server is, the video server is 1A. Arguably, you could get by longer without e-mail as we can without the video server.”

And it is up to Cullen, a 2007 Duke graduate with a computer science degree, to preside over the team’s video operations and indirectly prepare the Blue Devils perhaps as much as anybody else.


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Pitching Coach Doubles As Starting Pitcher

Once every five days, Joel Bennett takes off his mitt, puts on his jacket and sidles up near Jackals manager Joe Calfapietra. Minutes later, Bennett struts back onto the field and heads toward the pitcher’s mound, the place he has just left.

The game’s starting pitcher is now the Jackals’ pitching coach.

Bennett, 37, has the keen mentality of a coach, but is also strapped with a right arm and crafty demeanor that still baffles hitters in the Can-Am League. So instead of locking himself into either coach or player, Bennett is both.

“It’s definitely a luxury to have a guy who’s pitching and can work so well with the younger players, that’s for sure,” said Calfapietra, whose team won the league’s first half and is guaranteed a playoff berth.

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Tarrant Gets Kick Out Of Belt

Liam Tarrant, a Muay Thai boxer who trains in Lodi, won his first belt last weekend at the World Kickboxing Association’s North American championships in the light middleweight division. Since then, he’s barely parted from the symbol of his title.

He takes it to his training gym, North Jersey Muay Thai, where he first learned the sport that inspired American kickboxing more than three years ago. He takes it to his workplace in Englewood Cliffs, where he is a personal trainer and assistant manager at a gym.

He even slept with it once.

The belt is a gratifying keepsake for Tarrant, whose wallet has held a picture of a random fighter clutching a belt for about three years.

“The belt is always right there,” said Tarrant, 23, who is now 7-0. “It’s a very comforting feeling. Three years ago, I cut out a picture of somebody with a belt, and I’ve had that picture for three years. Now, I’ve got the real thing. It’s incredible.”

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Bartels Powers Way To Top

The Amanda Bartels lore started after her first varsity at-bat, when she smashed a home run, and officially ended after her last varsity at-bat, when she book-ended her career in the exact same fashion. The last bomb, her 25th, broke the school record for most homers in a career.

But just as Babe Ruth truly earned his iconic status when he called his shot in the World Series, Bartels reached mythic proportions on May 6 in the Bergen County tournament when one of her massive shots shattered the back windshield of teammate Lauren Gramegna’s car. The car was more than 220 feet away.

Bartels promised the outfielder she would make up for it somehow, so in her next at-bat, she hit another blast. This time, though, it crashed harmlessly into the grass beyond the center field wall. She found Gramegna immediately after she crossed home plate.

“I went up to her and said, ‘That one’s for you.’ Cheer up,” said Bartels, the 2007 Herald News Hitter of the Year. “No one parked their car over there again.”

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Brodhead Sees Potential For Athletics Growth

In May, President Richard Brodhead traveled to New York City, where he was to meet Kevin White, then the athletic director at the University of Notre Dame. White’s name was the biggest in the business and Duke was intent on hiring someone of his caliber.

After all, the field of athletics had provided some of Brodhead’s toughest challenges in his nearly five years in the Allen Building.

Mike Krzyzewski threatened to leave for the NBA on Brodhead’s first day on the job. He watched the football program go 2-33 in the previous three seasons. And the scandal involving the lacrosse team tested him on a national stage in 2006.

So Brodhead flew to meet in private with White. The only problem: Brodhead had no idea what White looked like.

“I’m walking up to this door, and there’s this person, and I looked at him. And I thought, ‘My God, that’s Kevin White. And my next thought was, and he’s going to be the next athletic director at Duke,'” Brodhead said. “And then we went upstairs. We talked for hours. Hours and hours and hours.”

Less than a week later, White was introduced as the school’s athletic director and vice president, a title which former athletic director Joe Alleva never held. The move gave athletics an official seat at senior leadership and policymaking meetings. Brodhead and White talk every day, recognizing the importance of a close relationship between president and athletic director, especially at Duke, where a high-powered athletic program distinguishes the University from other top-10 academic institutions.


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10 To Watch: Dr. Allan Friedman

Dr. Allan Friedman is a meticulous neurosurgeon who abides by only the strictest rituals. He runs the trail at the Washington Duke Inn three times a week and on Fridays, he loops twice. He does not mind the scorching humidity of early June, because that’s when the smell of honeysuckle is most intoxicating. He watches women’s basketball games from the front row under the Duke basket and mentors female athletes interested in medicine through a program he co-directs with another top neurosurgeon, Dr. Henry Friedman (no relation). He leads a biweekly, Socratic discussion for first-year medical students called “brain school.” He enjoys poetry and has a copy of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” on the corkboard behind his desk; he can even recite by memory the first, oft-quoted line.

Friedman operates three or four times a week, and he repeats the same process every time. He reviews the X-rays for his next day’s cases the night before and simulates the operations in his head. He considers the potential pitfalls and pauses at the trickiest parts. The routine June 2 was no different. He met with the patient for about an hour Sunday to explain the course of action, informing him and his family that there was a chance he could end up a “whole lot worse than when he came in,” as Friedman says. Then he studied the looming procedure Sunday night, slept for seven hours, woke up Monday morning, drove to work at Duke University Hospital and removed a malignant tumor from the brain of Sen. Edward Kennedy.


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Fuqua Football

The only desk on the fifth floor of the Yoh Football Center is in an unoccupied-area-turned-office, surrounded by a bookshelf, two storage closets and a door leading to the roof. One floor below, head coach Ted Roof can peer through his window into Wallace Wade Stadium, where he roams the sideline on autumnal Saturday afternoons and tries to execute a game plan that will end a cycle of failure. At his desk, B.J. Naedele sits with his back to Wally Wade.

A roof terrace blocks his view of the grassy gridiron, making it impossible for Naedele, the only man on the highest level of the building, to even catch a glimpse of an upright. That’s fitting, because Duke’s new Director of Football Relations is the only coach that does not need to see the field to do his job. He may be better off by not looking–at least right now.


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