published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Duke case stronger if Irving plays a lot

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Hard as it might be for Tennessee basketball fans to believe, the ongoing Bruce Pearl soap opera was not the biggest news to filter out of Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday.

That honor went to Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who apparently is set to return to the playing floor after missing all but the first eight games of the season with a foot injury.

“Kyrie will play tomorrow,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of last year’s national prep player of the year. “He’ll play limited minutes and come off the bench, but I don’t know what limited minutes means. We want to play the way we’ve been playing and integrate him into what we’re doing.”

The defending national champion was winning big before Irving went down. Through eight games — all of them Duke wins — Irving averaged 17.4 points, five-plus assists and 1.5 steals.

More than that, he made a huge impression on his teammates once he was injured.

“It excites us because he’s been there for us all year long, being a great teammate, so we’re excited that he’s healthy again and will get a chance to play,” said senior guard Nolan Smith, who has manned the point guard spot in Irving’s absence.

Fox and Williams

Once upon a time, while he was still at Kansas, North Carolina coach Roy Williams received a letter from a KU graduate student who wanted to hang around the Kansas program as a volunteer coach. Guy by the name of Mark Fox, now Georgia’s head coach.

“He just wanted to hang around and watch practice,” Williams recalled during Thursday’s media sessions.

“I talked to Joe Holloday, one of my assistants, and he said he wouldn’t do it. I decided he was a young coach and I wanted to try and help him.”

According to Williams, Fox came to practice every day, then gave him a notebook at the end of the year — “with his thoughts and ideas and his interpretations of what we tried to do and wanted to do, and it was extremely thorough, very well thought out. If I would have been a teacher, I would have given him an A-plus.”

But at the end of that year, Fox gave his knowledge to rival Kansas State, becoming a full-time assistant.

Not that Williams was quite ready to quit being his teacher.

“First time we played Kansas State after that, we ran an inbounds play and dunked it,” Williams said. “I looked down at the other bench and Mark broke his clipboard on the other end. I was just trying to show him that coaching doesn’t make quite as much difference as players do.”

Buzz from Beilein

John Beilein always has been a little bit different than most coaches — a little more cerebral, a little more complex.

Said Beilein of his young Michigan team’s development from a six-game losing streak in early January to NCAA foe of Tennessee today: “Our thing is to dream big but focus on the small.”

Asked about Tennessee’s offensive rebounding skills, Beilein said:

“Somebody asked me, ‘Does it concern you?’ It would concern the Boston Celtics if they had to box these guys out.”

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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