Duke AD: 'Stars are aligning' for big 2013-14

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 04:38 PM

Duke athletic director Kevin White believes the Blue Devils are set up for a big year in all sports in 2013-14.

In an interview with The Associated Press, White called the just-completed academic year an "average year" by the school's notoriously high standards.

He says "we've got a chance to have a heck of a year" because "the stars are aligning in '13-14 for us, across the board, in all 26 sports."

On paper, his optimism certainly seems justified. The school's highest-profile program — men's basketball — appears poised for a run at its fifth national championship under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The women's basketball program returns nearly every key player from a team that reached its fourth straight regional final.

And the football team looks to build off the momentum of its first bowl appearance in nearly two decades.

"I wish this was Sept. 1. I'm not ready for a time-out summer," White said. "I'd like to fast-forward to Sept. 1 because I think we've got a chance to make some noise in a lot of areas — in almost every area. It'll be fun to see just how we do, and it'll be a result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over a pretty long time horizon."

There were several highlights in 2012-13. The men's lacrosse program won its second national title in four years, and each of the school's national title-contending basketball programs overcame a serious injury to a key player — men's forward Ryan Kelly and women's guard Chelsea Gray — to reach the NCAA tournament regional finals.

"Based on all of the adversity we had (in both basketball programs), it was an unbelievable year," White said. "I've never been through a year like that where Mike and also (women's coach Joanne P. McCallie) kind of recreated our team and we outperformed everybody's expectation. They thought we were done a couple of times and we became undone and found a way to retool and recalibrate."

Yet among Duke's 26 sports teams, none took a bigger step forward last year than coach David Cutcliffe's football team.

Long considered one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's lagging programs, the Blue Devils raced out to a 6-2 start and entered November in serious contention for a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game before reaching the Belk Bowl for their first postseason appearance since the 1994 season.

The foundation appears set for another bowl berth this season and that success came at an opportune time: Duke is in the early stages of a $250 million construction project for facility improvements that will include massive renovations to 84-year-old Wallace Wade Stadium.

In what White calls the start of "the domino effect" for the project, Duke last month began moving some practice fields to carve out space for a new track and field stadium.

That will allow for the removal of the track at Wallace Wade. The playing field also will be lowered and the stands will be extended closer to the field. The press box — which doubles as the school's sports medicine offices — will be demolished and rebuilt to include luxury suites and club seating.

The final stage of construction will involve bowling in the open end of the stadium's horseshoe, bringing capacity to just under 44,000.

Much of the work at Wallace Wade will begin after this season and be complete in 2014.

Planned improvements at Cameron Indoor Stadium include a new lobby, renovated locker rooms and facilities for players and coaches, plus a plaza to connect it with the football stadium and the Yoh Center, which houses the football offices.

"Facilities, we're just getting started, but it's been a function of raising resources and coming to grips with what we want to do," White said. "We have a pretty straightforward mindset. We want to do things in a way that sets us up for a real strong future and kind of do it in a Duke-like fashion."

White says that, financially, the department has "been able to stay in the fairway." With an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,700, Duke lacks the massive alumni base enjoyed by most large state schools and it's the most expensive school in the ACC with each scholarship costing roughly $60,000 per year.

According to the most recent figures in the U.S. Department of Education's gender equity database, Duke's athletic department spent $78.2 million in 2011-12 — putting the Blue Devils in the upper third of the ACC.

"We're doing what we can with what we have," he said.

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at @JoedyAP

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.