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Everyone hates Duke ... or so it seems

SAN ANTONIO -- Go ahead. Look closely. Peer deep into J.J. Redick's eyes. Did you see it? Did you see his pupils dilate? Did you see his eyebrows furl? Did you see his fists clench, his once slumping body suddenly sit up straight?

What? You missed it. Well, try again. Just say the magic word and watch the Duke guard's natural primitive instincts kick in.

Villain.

He's one. His coach his one. And his teammates, too. All because of the four white letters they wear across their chest: D-U-K-E.

Perhaps you missed the overwhelming chorus of boos when the Blue Devils took the Georgia Dome floor during last weekend's Atlanta regional. Perhaps you haven't seen the DUCK FUKE t-shirts all across San Antonio. Perhaps you haven't heard the latest cheering fad across the country -- "A! ... B! ... D!" (Anybody But Duke).

Blue Devil bashing has been around forever, dating back to the days of Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. But this year it has reached new levels, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They don't just want to see us lose," he said, "They want to see us get hurt."

Earlier this year, N.C. State player Scooter Sherrill went as far as to say Redick, "acts like he's gay." He later apologized, but it shows the displeasure that everyone -- even opposing players -- have for the Blue Devils.

There's a funny twist, though. The Blue Devils, especially Redick, thrive off it.

"Some of these fans should be the poster children for inhumanity with some of the things they say," Redick said. "They have to be sick individuals. But being the villain is a role I embrace. It's something I feed off of. How can you not?"

Duke is so maligned because it wins. When the Blue Devils (31-5) take the floor against Connecticut on Saturday night, it will be their 10th Final Four since 1986. No school can come close to matching that, with North Carolina and Kansas having six appearances over the same period. In addition, the Blue Devils have won more NCAA titles than anyone over that span, cutting down the nets in 1991, 1992 and 2001.

They won five consecutive ACC tournament titles from 1999-2003 and have reached seven straight regional semifinals since 2004.

And they've achieved it all, the Blue Devils like to point out, the right way. There are no recruiting violations. No rape charges. You never hear about Coach K tossing back Natural Light's with college co-eds. And other than Kansas, no school in the Sweet 16 graduated a higher percentage (68 percent) of its players.

"We've had a lot of success. And we've done it our own way, a good way," Krzyzewski said. "When people do well over a period of time, some people don't like that. We can't do anything about that. It just comes with the territory. And I hope we're in a territory for a long time."

They're the Yankees of college basketball. And their explanation for why people compare Coach K to George Steinbrenner and Redick to Derek Jeter rubs people even worse. Just like the Bronx Bombers, they're perceived as too cocky, too smug.

"We're always winning," senior guard Chris Duhon said. "We're always on top. And people get tired of that. But what they don't realize is it never gets old for us. Never."

This all started back in the early 1990s. There was Laettner's buzzer-beating win over Connecticut in the East Regional final in 1990. The Final Four upset against previously unbeaten and overwhelming favorite UNLV. Grant Hill's jaw-dropping, length-of-the-court pass to Laettner and the buzzer-beating shot that followed to beat Kentucky in 1992.

Laettner was the original Devil, a pretty-boy on the outside and fiery competitor on the inside. He once even stomped on an opponent's chest (Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake). He was booed everywhere he went. And would smugly laugh it off.

But it's nothing compared to what today's players have faced this year. Forget about opposing arenas, forward Shelden Williams said he can't even walk in a mall or down the street in a Duke t-shirt and not be maligned.

"Everywhere I go, they see those four letters and they start yelling stuff at you," Williams said. "Their team is going to kill us. We don't have a chance. This, that. When I came here, I knew it would be bad, but I never expected it to be like this."

Krzyzewski often has to explain why the team his guys are facing, and the crowd they are playing in front of, look entirely different than the one they saw in pregame film sessions.

"It doesn't bother me for me," Krzyzewski said. "I just have to make sure it doesn't bother our team."

Yet when the Blue Devils took the floor here Friday for their one-hour, open-to-the-public practice session, a funny thing happened. Nobody booed. One fan, painted in blue from head to toe, held a massive "Nobody But Duke" sign.

Perhaps it was because the Blue Devils had the last practice of the day and the fans from other teams had already left the Alamodome. Perhaps it was some Texas-sized hospitality. Or perhaps the people down here are smarter than you think and realize that Krzyzewski has lost more Final Fours (five) than he's won (three).

The absence of negativity was a surprise to the Blue Devils. But wear the blue and white long enough and you realize it's only a matter of time until it returns.

Not like they care.

"If you have to be a villain to be in the Final Four," Duhon said. "Then you can call me a bad guy any time you want. And I'll smile and say, 'Thank you.'"

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.