Fist fights on the sand lot

Art Heyman and Larry Brown grew up together: Heyman in Oceanside, New York and Brown in Long Beach. They competed on the playground across the street from Brown’s grandfather’s bakery. Even though they were just kids, this was fierce competition at a very high level. Because of this, only the best young players could play on these uneven courts. Perhaps you could never tell that Art and Larry were close friends. Both boys were tough and mean and even then there were fist fights, but there was also mutual respect. In fact, they were hunted by Frank McGuire in North Carolina until they both agreed to play for him. That was until Duke came on the scene. But that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say, this pair was as tough as New York can produce, and a Heyman unleashed was a gruesome prospect for any opposing team. He proved it at Duke for a very satisfied Bubas coach.

The magnificent warrior

In the grim, murderous North St. Louis neighborhood where Chris Carrawell grew up, he remembers three drive-by shootings in one summer, a scenario he said he wouldn’t dare wish on many people. “Learn to defend what is mine” was his eleventh commandment. “My basketball was my thing; I had to fight older guys so they wouldn’t take it from me,” says Carrawell. Carrawell had no one else to defend him as a child. His father didn’t exist, he was the man of the house, and most of the time it seemed that no one cared if he would ever enjoy a shred of success doing something anywhere.

He claims that the only reason he and his siblings were able to do it was because of their mother’s harshness. “She kept us in church, she was very religious,” he says. “Seeing her being there for us every day and staying away from the things you can counteract by growing up in the neighborhood we grew up in. She was the strongest person I know to this day.” And thanks to her, Carrawell became great at the one thing he could excel at above all others: basketball.

He had some serious injuries, one might even have questioned why Mike Krzyewski went after Carrawell for Duke, knowing he might have chronic difficulties. Perhaps it was the boy’s fighting spirit, his refusal to back down. Well, in any case, Coach K’s gamble paid off and Carrawell became a giant killer. At just 6’6 “and 215, he was assigned to Tim Duncan in college and defended him well. However, he was also the backup point guard and was generally assigned the best perimeter shooter on the other team. In the end, Coach K he called Carrawell “the magnificent warrior,” and it was a fitting title for a young man who never gave up, who gave his last effort in every game, who had learned to keep his cool even in the most pressured playing conditions.

When Daniel stopped crying

Daniel Ewing, a native of Missouri City, Texas, grew up in a large competitive family with some heartless older brothers. When they played basketball games as a family, you would think that Daniel’s brothers would leave him a little lazy, give him a break, a free throw or two. But no way. Ewing was tortured, beaten, pushed and shoved until he ran to his father crying for sympathy. Nonchalantly, his father used to say, “Go back there and stop crying …” So Daniel learned to fight with all his heart for every bounce, every possession, every shot, and in the process became one of the best high school players in America. As a shooter and point guard at Duke, Ewing participated in more victories than any other player in the nation. He seemed mild-mannered, but that was in contrast to the extreme effort he put into every game and as team captain for two years.

Competitive as they come

At first glance, Bobby Hurley looked like a short, pale 15-year-old with a smug pout. But woe to the coaches and basketball players who underestimated him on the court. Hurley’s father was a successful high school basketball coach and both he and his son were super competitive. This resulted in some fierce one-on-one games between the two while Bobby was still in elementary and middle school. Hurley Sr. was almost inhuman in the little things he did to shake Bobby or get him out of his game, to undermine his confidence. Eventually, he could no longer get inside his son’s head and Bobby graduated from the inner city courtyards. Sometimes he was the only white kid on the court. If he lost a game, he was likely to wait at least an hour before getting another chance. In the end, Bobby’s teams almost always won. Arguably, he became the best point guard to ever play for Duke and still holds the NCAA career assist record of 1076. He was good for two national championships.

Some critics act as if only the wealthy and privileged kids who grew up playing on gold-plated hard courts would ever end up at Duke. Or are children just the best brains in the nation. Or are they just the ones worshiping at the massive Krzyewski Shrine located in the middle of the Durham campus. No. Many of Duke’s best players turned up the hard way, fighting their way against equally determined players on concrete driveways and asphalt park courts from the slums of St. Louis to the boroughs of New York City.