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The Court Jester : Ferry’s the Name, Practical Jokes Are Just Part of His Game

Times Staff Writer

Those noted practical jokers, Danny Ferry and Quin Snyder of the Duke University basketball team, are at it again.

But the dastardly duo, leery of one another after more than 3 years of playing and rooming together, have combined forces this time.

“The freshmen think it’s a tradition that they carry the seniors’ bags on road trips,” said Ferry, laughing at the rookies’ gullibility. “From the gym to my hotel room and back. Of course, it’s never been done before. Initially, it was only going to be for one game, but they went along with it so well that we had to keep it going.

“You can’t write about it, though, because it’s still going.”

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Sorry, Danny, but some people just can’t keep secrets.

Anyway, freshmen Brian Davis, Christian Laettner and Crawford Palmer might not mind as much when they learn that Ferry is partly responsible for the ruse.

After all, they and the rest of their Blue Devil teammates are counting on Ferry, a 6-foot 10-inch All-American forward, to carry Duke to the Final Four.

The top-ranked Blue Devils have already been there twice in Ferry’s 3 seasons, which seems about right for a player who was all but programmed for success almost from the time he was born 22 years ago in Bowie, Md.:

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--Ferry’s father, Bob, is vice president and general manager of the Washington Bullets and a former player who spent 10 seasons in the National Basketball Assn. Danny has attended Bullet practices since he was 6. His godfather, Gene Shue, is coach of the Clippers and a former Bullet coach.

--Ferry and his older brother, Bob, who played at Harvard after passing up a chance to play at North Carolina State, both played for legendary coach Morgan Wootten, who has won more than 800 games at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md.

--And Danny now plays for Mike Krzyzewski, who has fast become one of the most highly regarded coaches in the country. When UCLA fired Walt Hazzard last spring, its first call was to the 41-year-old Coach K, who politely told his Bruin suitors that he was quite content, thank you, on Tobacco Road.

“I don’t deny that I’ve kind of been raised with a silver spoon,” Ferry said. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had great teachers, and a mother who drove me to school and to all the summer league games. But, while someone can show me how to shoot, I’m not going to be able to shoot unless I practice.”

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Obviously, he has worked at his craft.

So economical and fundamentally sound is Ferry, in fact, that when he scored 58 points Dec. 10 against Miami, setting an Atlantic Coast Conference record, nobody seemed to notice until it was announced afterward.

Ferry shot only 26 times in Duke’s 117-102 victory. He missed his first, but grabbed the rebound and scored. He then made 22 of 24.

He also had 7 assists.

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“I’ve never coached a kid who has done that much in a game and been so efficient in doing it,” Krzyzewski said.

Whether through pedigree or diligence--and probably more than a little bit through both--Ferry has learned his lessons well.

Though certainly not the most talented, he is probably the most valuable and versatile player in college basketball.

As a sophomore, Ferry accomplished a first for an ACC player, leading the Blue Devils in scoring, rebounding and assists. Duke reached the round of 16 in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament, where it lost to Indiana, the eventual champion.

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In each of Ferry’s 3 seasons at Duke, in fact, the Blue Devils have lost in the NCAA tournament to the eventual champion.

In his freshman season, which some considered a disappointment because he was little more than a role player on a senior-dominated team that won an NCAA-record 37 games, Duke lost to Louisville in the championship game.

And last season, when Ferry more than fulfilled his promise by being named ACC player of the year over the more physically gifted and certainly more heralded J. R. Reid of North Carolina, the Blue Devils reached the semifinals before losing to Danny Manning and Kansas.

This season, Duke is 6-0 and Ferry, playing only 26 minutes a game in what have mostly been Blue Devil routs, is averaging 24.2 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. His .609 shooting percentage is superior to his career percentage of .464, and he has also made 8 of 16 3-point shots.

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Statistics alone, though, don’t accurately measure Ferry’s worth.

Ferry’s NBA upbringing has taught him how far he can go with a style that has been described as both physical and foul. His picks have left many an opponent black and blue--and sometimes red.

Last season, Kenny Green of Rhode Island called the angel-faced Ferry the dirtiest player he had ever faced. Others have lodged similar, if less inflammatory, complaints.

“I think, honestly, people say that because they look at me as not having a whole lot of athletic ability in terms of running and jumping, so they figure I must be doing something to negate that,” Ferry said.

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Ferry does it well enough through positioning--and a well placed shove here and there--that he probably will be either the first or second pick in the NBA draft next summer, according to Marty Blake, director of scouting for the NBA.

What sets Ferry apart from other players his size are his court awareness, his selfless style and his passing ability.

His passing ability is such, in fact, that in terms of his knack for setting up his teammates for easy shots, “he may be the best big man to come into the league in 10 years,” Blake said. “He’s not as good a passer as Magic Johnson, but Magic’s on another planet.”

In Blake’s opinion, only Pervis Ellison of Louisville, a 6-9 center-forward, might be drafted ahead of Ferry next summer.

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In Krzyzewski’s opinion, Ferry’s court sense is second to none.

“There’s not a big guy playing college basketball in the United States who has a better feel for the game,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know who’s the best player in the country, but in terms of understanding the game and seeing things on the court, there’s nobody better than Danny.”

It was Krzyzewski’s willingness to exploit that talent, and not pigeonhole Ferry as strictly an inside banger, that drew Ferry to Duke. Krzyzewski employs a motion offense that might free Ferry for a layup one time down the court and spring him for a 3-point shot the next.

Krzyzewski is comfortable having Ferry take either, and Ferry is grateful for the opportunities.

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“I’ve always thought of myself as a versatile player, and there’s no other place in the country that would have given me such freedom,” Ferry said. “I don’t want to be a guard, but I don’t want to be a center, either.”

As the national high school player of the year in 1985, Ferry was the subject of a spirited recruiting battle between Duke and North Carolina, which did not go unnoticed by the knowledgeable crazies who fill Duke’s cozy Cameron Indoor Stadium.

When brother Bob and his Harvard teammates showed up for a game in Cameron 4 years ago, the older Ferry was greeted with a standing ovation.

“We want your brother,” chanted the crowd.

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Bob was touched by the rare show of affection for an opposing player, but not so much that he couldn’t dream up a clever prank. When he was announced as a starter over the public-address system, Bob sent a black teammate, Kyle Dodson, out onto the floor in his place.

For one of the few times that anyone can remember, the Cameron crowd was struck dumb.

Danny Ferry’s productivity notwithstanding, similar pranks have become as much a part of his legacy among his Duke teammates.

Teammate Snyder seems to have held his own in that regard, especially on the night that Ferry moved the car that Snyder was driving while out on a date. Ferry tied cans to the bumper and wrote on it, “Just Married.”

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The problem for Ferry was, it was his car. He had only lent it to his roommate for the night.

Once Snyder located the car and realized what had happened, he drove it to the store and bought several boxes of Oreo cookies. He and his good-natured date then split the cookies in half and stuck them all over Ferry’s car.

Still, Snyder said he has recently joined forces with Ferry because, when it comes to retribution, Ferry doesn’t know when to stop.

“When it comes to practical jokes, he’s a superpower and I’m more a Third World nation,” Snyder told the Washington Post.

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Ferry wields similar power on the court.

Krzyzewski, though, believes that Ferry will be even more effective in the NBA, where zone defenses are forbidden and the passing lanes are wider. The ever-alert Ferry, he said, would be a godsend to a taller center.

Krzyzewski envisioned Ferry piling up assists during the Olympics last fall on passes to David Robinson.

Ferry, though, was knocked out of the running last summer when he injured his right knee in a pickup game less than a week before the final tryout camp.

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After tests revealed that, because of the injury, he had lost about 25% of the strength in his right leg, Ferry met with Olympic Coach John Thompson, who told him it wouldn’t be fair to the other players to have him hanging around while he recuperated.

Ferry agreed, packed his gear and left the team.

Watching the Games on television was difficult, he said, “but (being cut) was the best thing for me in the long run.”

He didn’t play again until he returned to Duke in September. And not long afterward, he tweaked his knee again and had to sit out for 3 more weeks.

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It was the threat of a more serious injury that prompted Ferry, at the urging of his father, to protect himself this season with an insurance policy underwritten by Lloyd’s of London and worth more than $1 million.

Ferry seriously considered joining the NBA last spring, when he probably would have been among the first five picks in the draft.

Krzyzewski was among those who advised him to wait.

“I thought he needed to spend a year as a target,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he needed to go through a year where guys would put up his picture and say, ‘I want Danny. I can make my reputation tonight.’ That’s a little scary, but I told him that was his next step.”

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Krzyzewski said he welcomed a stronger and more confident Ferry to practice last October.

“I just thought that staying in school was the best thing for me,” said Ferry, who could have graduated last summer with a degree in political science. “I thought I could improve a lot this year.”

And maybe pull a few more pranks on his teammates.

Last summer, Ferry was embarrassed by Snyder as the Blue Devils traveled through Spain with the national teams of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. As Ferry slept, open-mouthed, during a flight, Snyder stuck shredded pieces of napkin on Ferry’s tongue, creating the effect of flags flapping in the breeze every time Ferry exhaled.

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Noting that the Soviets and Czechs enjoyed it as much as any of Ferry’s teammates, Snyder said: “It was one of those jokes that crossed international lines.”

So far, though, Ferry has yet to seek revenge against Snyder.

“That’s what scares me,” Snyder said. “He could strike at any time.”

That very thought has crossed the minds of Duke opponents.

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