KNOXVILLE, TENN. — KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Cherokee Parks, all right. Parks his big frame into the middle of the lane and puts your offense into neutral.
Cherokee also Blocks and Rebounds and Takes The Charge.
You wondered if The Chief would fall in line with Duke's march of big men -- Alaa Abdelnaby, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner? He doesn't. He just stands there, like centers did way back when. That's fine with the Blue Devils. He might be out of step, but he and they are heading toward a familiar time. It's called April.
Parks, the junior from Marina High, sent back more stuff than a picky food critic last night in the NCAA Southeast Regional semifinal. He blocked five Marquette shots. In the first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, he blocked 10 Clemson shots. Last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., he blocked five in two games.
zTC He also threw in a little offense while Marquette wasn't looking -- a young genius named Grant Hill had them a little distracted -- and Duke won yet another Sweet 16 game, 59-49. A victory over Purdue tomorrow, and Duke goes to its sixth Final Four in seven years.
"I've always looked at myself as a pretty good shot blocker," Parks said later. "I usually get my share. I was just trying to play solid defense, because they have some big guys, and they just kept going to them."
"We've got faith in him," said Hill, who was typically discussing others, in the wake of his own spellbinding 22-point night.
"Antonio Lang and I know we just have to play solidly on the defensive end. Just hold our position. We don't have to foul. We know 'Chief' is there to block everything, and Erik Meek is, too. It's great to play with somebody you have that much confidence in."
It's a little startling to hear that, considering Parks was known as the California Airhead during his first two years at Duke. Unfortunately, his play sometimes fit the cliche. He never really bought into the eight-day-a-week basketball commitment Mike Krzyzewski requires, and Laettner never quit reminding him he was an unworthy freshman.
But this season, Parks made second-team All-ACC and averaged 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. He upped his free throw percentage to .772, and blocked 63 shots.
Parks got the Warriors overthinking, early in the second half. He pumped Jim McIlvaine into the upper reaches of Thompson-Boling Arena, and scored to put Duke ahead, 32-28. That helped erase McIlvaine, the nation's leading shot blocker, from relevance -- as did Hill's magnificent driving dunk a few minutes later.
But on the defensive end, Parks was just as clever. Anticipating the blocked shot, Marquette's Roney Eford put his head down and drove hard. Parks never moved, taking a charge for the 11th time this season. That leads Duke, and in this case it allowed Hill to put Duke ahead by six on the other end.
"Well, I've got the True Blue award for leading the team in charges taken," Parks said with a grin. "So I wanted to lengthen my lead. I guess I was being kinda selfish there."
Assistant coach Mike Brey applauded as loudly as anyone. He knew Parks would bring the rejections to Duke. He didn't know about taking the charge.
"That's one thing he couldn't do two years ago," Brey said. "He's learned just to stand his ground. But he's always been a great natural shot blocker.
"In fact, we let him do things on defense that we never let Ferry and Laettner do. We let Cherokee play behind guys sometimes, because we know he has the quickness and the instincts to get there and get the block.
"It's great to see guys like that mature. It's a great part of the business for us. I've been watching him play since he was in the 10th grade. I've spent a lot of time in that Irvine Marriott."
Duke has been silently running toward the tournament. While the college basketball intelligentsia was preoccupied with defending champ North Carolina, Krzyzewski assembled a corps of three-point shooters around Hill and Parks.
Defensively, the Blue Devils hold opponents to .420 shooting overall, and .289 behind the three-point line. And they probably played more top-end games than anybody but Missouri this season. All five teams that beat Duke (North Carolina twice, Wake Forest twice and Virginia) made the NCAAs.
The Devils were also smart enough not to try to replace Bobby Hurley. New year, new team.
"We don't always get the credit we deserve for our defense," Coach K said. "They don't get the turnover numbers. But this is one of the best defensive teams in my 14 years. We rely on Grant's overall defensive ability and Cherokee's shot-blocking ability."
Afterward, Brey approached Debe Parks, Cherokee's mom, and said, "Hey, thanks for sending him to us."
Not that Brey and the rest of the Blue Devils don't roll their eyes sometimes. In St. Petersburg last weekend, Parks announced he was going to catch some rays one day "to get a good base," then sun himself the next day so he would resemble "a bronze god."
He's still human, but now the prize is gold. And much more often than not, Cherokee Wins.