"God got them back." That's what Bob Dukiet told our team in 1990 after Slippery Rock, all season long one of the top teams in Division II, was upset in overtime by East Stroudsburg in the first round of the NCAA East Regional, played at the Audi. The Rock program has to be equally surprised this year as their club, one of the hottest teams in the region down the stretch, was not selected for this year's D-II Big Dance. On paper, they should have made it. But maybe because of their (and their football team's) boorish behavior during their win over Gannon last month ... "God got them back."
The details behind Dukiet's statement reveal one of my favorite Gannon basketball stories. Dukiet always showed great respect for our opponents. Even when we played a patsy (like Daemen), he treated the scouting report like we were facing Division I (DePaul Blue) Demons. He was also very respectful of the other team's shootarounds and practice times. If we arrived early for our floor time and our opponent was in the gym, we were instructed to wait outside quietly and not even look inside. Dukiet preached discipline.
Apparently Slippery Rock coach Bob Bartlett did not share Dukiet's sense of decorum. We were on the Audi practice floor the night before the opening day of the 1990 regional tourney and with about 20 minutes left in practice -- in middle of running our press breaker -- we heard a ruckus in the Audi lobby. Moments later some members of the Slippery Rock team emerged from the shadows of the tunnel, talking as if they were entering their cafeteria. I vividly recall as one player, "Big Bill" Johnson, plopped his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame (and 19-inch biceps) into a plush seat and stretched his legs into the row in front of him. Make yourself at home, big fella.
As you might imagine, Dukiet was irate. He immediately stopped our press breaker, sent us all to the foul line, and then paced at midcourt as he seethed. The SRU players continued to yak it up when Duke summoned us to the middle of the floor. In the huddle he gave us specific instructions: when he blew his whistle, we were to sprint as fast as we could to get the basketballs that were on the floor, then sprint to the ball rack, and then to our lockerroom hallway in absolute silence. He wanted to show SRU that we weren't just disciplined; we were psycho disciplined.
TWEEEEEEEEEEET! We did exactly as Duke said, carrying out our instructions as seriously as an Army Special Forces unit. Outside our lockerroom, we held our breath and listened for Slippery Rock's reaction. Complete silence. The next night, our team loudly celebrated a comeback win over C.W. Post while Slippery Rock mourned its stunning season-ending loss to Stroudsburg -- in complete silence. God works in mysterious ways.
- - - - - - - - -
Ticket talk -- You already know NCAA Regional tickets will be available Wednesday starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Hammermill Center. You also already know you need to bring cash to purchase them. But here's a special scoop for Gannon Hoops readers: bring your appetite, too. Want details? Show up at the Hammermill around 8:00 Wednesday.