The last time the Final Four gathered in Seattle, a high school junior named Quin Snyder finagled his way onto the Kingdome floor, where he attempted to legitimize his presence by grabbing hold of a sign that read: “Where’s the beef?”
It certainly could not be found on the scrawny Snyder, who nevertheless was the state high school basketball player of the year.
As he stood there along the baseline, watching Georgetown play Kentucky in a semifinal game in 1984, Snyder must have envisioned himself one day leading his own team onto college basketball’s center stage.
“No, not really,” Snyder said. “I think I got kicked out. I was more worried about how to get back to a decent place to see the game.”
Don’t get the impression, though, that Snyder’s homecoming this week as Duke’s starting point guard is not the fulfillment of a boyhood dream.
An academic All-American, Snyder can read a calendar.
And when he realized that the Final Four would return to Seattle this year, “It started out as a joke among my friends and me, fantasizing about what it would be like to come back and finish up my career in Seattle.”
Fantasy has become reality.
Snyder and his Duke teammates will meet Seton Hall Saturday at the Kingdome in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
Snyder isn’t likely to play a starring role, but he probably will display the same type of moxie and ingenuity he showed in 1984, when he bought a seat in the upper deck and wound up in the front row.
And he’ll also probably show the intelligence and leadership qualities that at one time attracted the college game’s top recruiters to this upscale Seattle suburb, a basketball hotbed in the middle of Lake Washington. Why else would they have flocked to this wooded enclave?
“Oh, he’s cuter than most players,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters last week. “My wife made me recruit him.”
Larry Brown might have received a similar ultimatum. Snyder dates Brown’s oldest daughter, Kristy, a senior at North Carolina.
Neither Krzyzewski nor Brown, though, recruit with an eye toward improving the look of the team picture, or the family album.
“He’s a very conscientious kid,” said Brown, who recruited him for Kansas. “In building about their teammates. And that’s Quin. Sometimes, he’s conscientious to a fault. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, worrying about everybody else.”
Consequently, perhaps, his own statistics have suffered.
Snyder, afflicted recently with migraine headaches, has made only 41.9% of his shots and averages only 7.2 points and 6.3 assists a game. His value to the Blue Devils is measured in intangibles.
Said former SMU Coach Dave Bliss, whose Mustangs were burned by Snyder for 12 assists last season: “Snyder is like Bucky Dent on the (1978) Yankees. You don’t notice him, but he’s always doing something to beat you.”
Snyder beat it out of town four years ago over the objections of Washington alumni, winding up 3,000 miles away in Durham, N.C.
“It does seem kind of strange that a kid from Seattle would end up in North Carolina,” Snyder said, “but recruiting is pretty broad-based these days. They’ll find you no matter where you are.”
That’s especially true when you are a two-time state player of the year, as was Snyder, and your team is ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today and wins the state championship in your senior year, as did Mercer Island.
Snyder was groomed for success from an early age by Ed Pepple, whose program at Mercer Island High is the envy of the state.
Pepple is the state’s all-time winningest high school coach, and oversees the Little Dribblers, a youth program in which zone defenses are not allowed, “so that the players learn to move their feet,” said Snyder’s father, Gary, who is an assistant principal and athletic director at the high school.
Snyder made a sixth-grade team as a fourth-grader, and two years later led a group of island all-stars to a national championship in Dallas. By the time the high school team completed its run through the state tournament in 1985, Snyder and his teammates had played together for as long as seven years.
Snyder was the most heavily recruited player in the state, and such an influential leader that Krzyzewski was taken aback by remarks made by other students as he walked with Snyder across the Mercer Island campus.
Every comment seemed to end with: “Right, Quin?”
Finally, Krzyzewski turned to his recruit and asked: “Doesn’t anybody do anything around here without your permission?”
Few do, it turned out.
Snyder was attracted to Duke, he said, by the camaraderie among the players, and has worked to instill it among his current teammates.
Danny Ferry calls him the glue that binds the Blue Devils.
How did the University of Washington let him him get away?
Snyder’s mother and father are both Washington graduates, and former Husky Coach Marv Harshman said he hadn’t seen a better high school player in the state in almost 40 years. Harshman, though, was eased into retirement at about the same time that Snyder was wooed out of town.
A replacement for Harshman had not been named and so, in the fall of 1984, Washington put a freeze on scholarships.
“For the UW, it was bad timing. But it was excellent timing for Quin,” Pepple said.
And for Duke.
Snyder didn’t play much as a freshman behind Tommy Amaker and Johnny Dawkins, but he was a part-time starter as a sophomore and a full-time starter last season, when he averaged 8.3 points and Duke reached the Final Four.
Used mostly on the wing as a freshman and sophomore, Snyder has seen his role adjusted to where the Blue Devils do virtually nothing offensively without first going through their point guard.
Even after he fouled out last week in the Blue Devils’ 85-77 victory over Georgetown in the East Regional final, Snyder gathered his teammates for a few final instructions before taking his place on the bench.
Snyder considers himself an extention of Krzyzewski. “For me to understand what he’s thinking is a tremendous benefit to me. If I know what he’s thinking, I have a pretty good idea of what we need to do on the court in order to win.”
As the buzzer sounded last week, Snyder and Krzyzewski embraced.
Snyder was headed home.
To the Final Four.
Two years ago, Keith Smart of New Orleans made the winning shot in the Superdome as Indiana beat Syracuse to win the NCAA championship.
Can Snyder duplicate the feat?
According to the Mercer Island Reporter, his homecoming is “the Quintessential ending to a storybook career.”
To Snyder, it’s business.
“We’re not going there for a vacation,” he said.
Nor to sit and watch, and hold up silly signs.
The only way he’ll be kicked out this time is if Duke loses.