CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Scotty Thurman was a few weeks past his 18th birthday when he was charged with taking the load from Corliss Williamson, figuratively and literally.
Williamson was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and McDonald's All-American in 1991-92. Thurman was rated among the top 150 prospects in the country, but his Ruston, La., home was off the recruiting path.
The prominence shifted when Williamson injured a foot in the preseason and missed 13 games. On the court, Thurman became the Razorbacks' scoring leader. Off it -- specifically in his dormitory -- he kept his 6-foot-7, 245-pound roommate from ballooning to the 300 range.
"He's a big eater, and the coaches assigned me to watch what he [Williamson] ate," Thurman said. "He'd wait until I fell asleep, then he'd order out for pizza. It was hard on me, because when he was hurt I had to carry his luggage everywhere."
Thurman's scoring average dropped from 17.4 last season to 15.9 this season, but he said he's a much better player now. When Arkansas plays man defense tonight, he'll probably guard Grant Hill, and if Thurman comes close to the kind of work he did on Arizona's Khalid Reeves in the semifinals, the Razorbacks will be tough to beat.
"Corliss is the No. 1 option that I was last year," Thurman said. "I know both worlds. I've had to develop other aspects of my game."
Thurman is a well-rounded kid. At Ruston High, he was the president of the student council and played the tuba. His grade point average exceeds 3.0, and he's on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. His dad, who played at Grambling in the mid-1960s, and mom made him do his homework before he could go out to play, and he received some negative reinforcement from older brother Al, who's doing jail time for a drug-related offense.
"My brother was in and out of trouble when I was younger," Thurman said. "I'm not proud that I had to learn some things from what my brother went through."
Should Duke beat Arkansas, the Blue Devils probably won't throw the upset in the faces of the Razorbacks. They'll save their best trash-talk for Myrtle Beach.
After graduation -- Arkansas rooter Hillary Rodham Clinton reportedly has been lined up as commencement speaker -- Duke's new degree-holders will head for the beach. Grant Hill, Antonio Lang and Marty Clark, the seniors who could become the first players to earn three NCAA titles since UCLA won seven straight from 1967-73, hope some fellow alumni also show.
"Myrtle Beach is supposed to be for seniors, but it seems everyone shows up," Hill said. "Christian [Laettner] and Bobby [Hurley] come. They still think they're college students. When we go to the beach, I'd like to have that [a third NCAA title] over them."
Laettner and Hurley, of course, were the most prominent players on Duke's 1991 and '92 title teams. Most likely they have heard what Mike Krzyzewski had to say about Hill yesterday.
"He's the best player I've coached," Krzyzewski said. "Laettner told me that when he was a senior. Bobby has said it. I don't think I'm hurting anyone's feelings. There's no question Grant is the best."
Hill was an impact player as a freshman, while Lang's role has grown through the years. For good or bad, he'll finish in the spotlight tonight.
With Cherokee Parks hobbled by a knee injury, Lang will have to stop Williamson. The Blue Devils put the clamps on National Player of the Year Glenn Robinson in their Southeast Region final victory over Purdue, but Lang said that Williamson will present a different challenge.
"We matched up better against Glenn because he's an inside-outside player, and Grant matched up with him," Lang said. "Most of Williamson's points come inside. The last guy I played against like that was Rodney Rogers [of Wake Forest]."
The Duke seniors are 18-1 in NCAA tournament games. The only loss came in the second round last year, when Lang didn't score in an 82-77 loss to California.
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson won't go big or small with his starting lineup. He'll go sentimental.
Ken Biley, a senior guard from Pine Bluff, was a semi-regular for the Razorbacks the past three seasons, but his minutes dwindled when the talent level in Fayetteville improved. His only start of the last two seasons came in his final home game March 5, but along with Hill and Williamson he'll trot out during the pre-game introductions.
"Ken has been an integral part of our program," Richardson said. "He's probably the hardest-working kid on the team. My heart is telling me what to do."
Reeves, the Arizona guard who might have shot his way into the NBA lottery, had 137 points in the tournament, the most since Georgia Tech's Dennis Scott had 153 in 1990, also in five games. . . . The Razorbacks' mugging of the Wildcats began with the mascots. The Fighting Razorback and Wilbur the Wildcat were engaged in a planned pregame tussle when the latter suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Arizona student Devin Elliott had to pass his costume to a cheerleader. . . . Krzyzewski's seven Final Four victories are the fourth-highest ever.