Madness Milwaukee-style Pt. III
“I think first and foremost of those memories was winning,” Mike Dunleavy said. “To come out of there on top was great. You’re not going to have a bigger thrill than that.
When thrust under the spotlight, there are those who attempt to hide, others who seize the moment and others still who let fame get the better of them.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. became the middleman in that gallery back on April 2 of 2001. And largely because of the performance he delivered, Duke University defeated the University of Arizona 82-72 in Minneapolis, Minn., to win its third NCAA men’s basketball championship.
Duke was clinging to a tenuous 39-37 lead early in the second half when Dunleavy took center stage. The sophomore forward knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers to trigger an 11-2 run by the Blue Devils. He later sank back-to-back baskets to give his team a 54-48 lead with 12 minutes, 58 seconds to play. He scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half to help his team secure its 35th victory of the season against just four losses.
Eleven years later, Dunleavy, who spent much of his boyhood living in Milwaukee while his father, Mike Sr., was playing for and later coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, is in his first season with the franchise. And the Mikes have become the first father-son combination to play for the team in its 43-year history.
Mike Jr. entered the National Basketball Association as a lottery pick – the third pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
He has overcome a series of injuries to enjoy a productive nine seasons in the NBA and has been a valued contributor in his Milwaukee homecoming, averaging 12.6 points in 26.6 minutes per game, shooting .496 from the field, .438 from long distance and .830 from the free-throw line..
But some of the most unforgettably fond memories of his life date back to that night in Minnesota 11 years ago.
“I think first and foremost of those memories was winning,” Dunleavy said. “To come out of there on top was great. You’re not going to have a bigger thrill than that.
“It was a special time for our school and our team. It was something I’ll never forget.”
At the time, Dunleavy was probably wishing he could forget the way his evening started out. He shot only one for six in the first half of the title game.
“I just remember things being slow in the first half,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot going on for me.
“In the second half, I just kind of got it going. I got in that zone."
He certainly did, hitting his three consecutive treys within less than a minute.
“I guess I picked a good time for it – the second half of the national championship game,” Dunleavy said. "It couldn’t have been any better.”
Mike Jr. is grateful that he was able to share his moments of triumph with his family.
“To have my while family there was a thrill,” he said. “My dad was coaching the Blazers at the time, but he was able to fly in for the game.”
The enormity of the Final Four and the hype surrounding it did not faze Mike Jr.
“I guess at that age, I really didn’t think about it too much,” he said. “Yeah, you’re in a dome, there’s a ton of people there and you know the whole world is watching, but when you get on the floor, you’re concentrating on the plays and doing your job and you live the moment.”
He figures the many basketball experiences he shared with his father helped him take the big stage for the first time without being starstruck or intimidated. More than anything, though, he simply wanted to embrace the experience.
“I think being around the game with my dad helped,” Dunleavy said, “but there’s nothing like a Final Four. It’s so unique with the one-and-done format. It’s just such a great tournament, too, to be able to go through and win. It was a lot of fun.”
Dunleavy and his teammates, who included Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Jay Williams and others, immediately became even bigger men on campus than they had grown accustomed to being.
“There was a big party for weeks ... months,” Dunleavy said. “I really enjoyed it. The students loved it."
Dunleavy enjoys every opportunity he gets to relive some of his team's "shining moments.’
"Some of my teammates that I still see today still reminisce about it all,” he said. "It’s tough getting together with people because everyone has different personal lives, and then you have the NBA players with their schedules.
"But when we do get together at Duke, we definitely go out and reminisce and tell funny stories. The best part about the whole deal is the journey – the journey you went through with your teammates to come out on top. It was great.”
Dunleavy, in spite of his title-game heroics, was not named the 2001 tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. That honor went to his teammate, Battier.
Dunleavy and his teammates followed up their title conquest with another successful run the following year. He averaged 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, was named a first-team National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American, and Duke put together a 31-4 campaign.
That season marked the completion of Dunleavy’s collegiate career as he entered the NBA Draft. His was asked if his decision was influenced by what he and his Duke teammates accomplished in his sophomore season.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “If we hadn’t won the national championship, I would have come back for my senior year. But having already won a title, having the opportunity to go high in the draft was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Dunleavy will always treasure his NCAA tournament championship ring, but there is something else he will value even more.
“The ring is a nice piece to have,” he said. ‘But everything you have upstairs – the memories – that’s the best part of it all."