Duke’s 1-2 Punch, Each Delivered With a Left Hand

Duke’s 1-2 Punch, Each Delivered With a Left Hand


Duke is not the only recent college team to feature a pair of dominant lefties. From 2014 to 2016, the 6-10 Domantas Sabonis and the 7-1 Przemek Karnowski gave Gonzaga a left-handed, twin-tower frontcourt. And one of the more prominent college basketball teams to feature a pair of lefties was St. John’s in the mid-1980s, with Chris Mullin and Walter Berry.

That lefty duo led St. John’s to the Final Four in 1985, a feat Williamson, Barrett and Duke hope to match shortly. The former Georgetown coach John Thompson, whose team beat St. John’s in a national semifinal that year, said the Mullin-Berry combination might have been a tad more challenging to cope with because of their left-handedness. And Thompson knew all about defending lefties.

As a player with the Boston Celtics, he was often assigned to guard Russell, the game’s most successful left-hander, during practices.

“Russ was great no matter what, but I always thought it gave him a slight advantage,” said Thompson, who broadcasts tournament games for Westwood One Radio. “You are so used to covering a guy’s right hand, and then he goes up with the other hand, and it might give him that split-second he needs to finish.”

Thompson also believes lefties have a slight advantage on defense, too, for the same reason. Opponents are not used to facing them.

Hill, who played 18 seasons in the N.B.A. and in three national championship games with Duke, said left-handed players often gave him headaches. “When you are facing an elite left-handed player, you have to be really focused and locked in and guard them a little differently,” he said.

Covering a superstar like Harden or Ginobili was never easy, he said. But even some left-handed role players, like Thaddeus Young, in particular, caused him grief.



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