Players bask in resort's splendor
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 1999
ST. PETE BEACH -- If the Duke Blue Devils had any reservations about returning to St. Petersburg, they vanished once they realized which hotel held their reservations for Final Four weekend.
Upon arriving Thursday at the Don CeSar Resort, the posh beachfront landmark, players and coaches immediately dug their new digs.
"It's pretty nice," forward Shane Battier said. "I remember a funny story. Last year, we came down here and we approached the Don CeSar and saw this palace. We all figured, hey, we're staying in a pretty good place. Unfortunately, the bus rolled right past this hotel and about a half-mile down the road to another hotel. You could say we were kind of disappointed. It's real nice to stay here this year. I think anything compared to this palace would be a step down."
Last year, not only did the Blue Devils blow a 17-point second-half lead to lose to Kentucky in the South Region championship, they apparently did not enjoy staying at the Radisson Sandpiper resort just a few fastbreaks from the Don CeSar.
"The regionals were not really run very well as far as accommodations," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Players should be treated the best from each team, I don't care what their seed is."
Krzyzewski said he selected the Don CeSar for its service as well as its opulence.
"It's close (to Tropicana Field)," Krzyzewski said. "Any place you stay here, the sun is going to be shining and you're going to see water. You might as well be in a place where they're going to take care of your needs real well. Especially, the families have a chance to really have a great Final Four experience."
Krzyzewski said he wasn't as consumed with the history of the Don CeSar, which has housed such notables as President Clinton, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the New York Yankees.
"Right now I'm busy trying to figure out how to stop Mateen Cleaves on the fastbreak, more so than who stayed in (my) room," Krzyzewski said.
FULL CIRCLE: As the Duke bus passed Tropicana Field, guard William Avery said he began to believe the Blue Devils had returned to atone for last year's loss to Kentucky in the same building.
"Without a doubt, it's going to be in the back of our minds that we left there not winning," Avery said. "We want to go out of there Monday night with the nets around our necks and the trophy in our hands.
"I think this is a great place to be, especially with what happened last year. God put us in this position again. Hopefully we can turn it around and walk out of that locker room with smiles."
Battier echoed those feelings:
"I said to myself, the Lord put us in this position for a reason. Last year, we came down here and fell just short. We're in a position now to amend for all those wrongs."
FILM STUDY: Battier exited the team bus with a video camera upon arriving at the Don CeSar. He said he is making a short documentary on the Blue Devils' trip to the Final Four.
"This my film debut," Battier said, jokingly. "So hopefully one day when I'm winning an Oscar, I can come back and say this is where it all started.
"I own the rights to this story, and hopefully, it'll turn out all right. I took some guys messing around and being goofy ... just stuff."