Section 17: Taking Care of Business

‘Section 17’ is Crazie-Talk’s weekly feature that lets you, the readers, take a look at what we see from Section 17 of hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.

With the burden of final exams finally lifted, the Blue Devils continued their non-conference schedule with a home tune-up against Gardner-Webb followed by a return trip to the Big Apple to face 15th-ranked Gonzaga. After a tough road loss at Wisconsin and a shaky victory over St. John’s at home, the team made a statement with two blowout victories.

On Tuesday, the Blue Devils played host to Gardner-Webb at Cameron. It was pretty loud in there considering classes were not in session. ESPN announcers Mike Patrick and Len Elmore played up Gardner-Webb’s upset of Kentucky at Rupp Arena two years ago. However, there would be no upset as Jon Scheyer’s career game and ridiculously hot shooting ran those Runnin’ Bulldogs right out of the building. The 113-68 victory was the 74th consecutive victory for the Blue Devils over a non-conference opponent at home. The star of the night was Scheyer, who finished with career highs in points (36), assists (9) and three pointers made (7). He also had the highlight of the night when he grabbed on offensive rebound from the top of the key and threw a lefty, behind-the-back pass to Kyle Singler for a layup-and-1.

The “substitute Crazies,” as Mike Patrick called them, let Andre Dawkins know that he had the support of the entire Duke community in his first game following his sister’s tragic passing in a car accident. Dawkins entered to a rousing ovation early in the first half; after his first basket extended the lead to 44-24 with 3:21 to go, the Crazies exploded by chanting his name in unison. It was certainly an emotional moment for the freshman standout, who had a strong game with 16 points, even though 13 of them came in the second half with the victory well in hand.

Following the easy 45-point victory over Gardner-Webb, the Blue Devils had more of a challenge on their hands with 15th-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday in New York City. The challenge was evident in the first 10 minutes, as Duke scored only 8 points in the first 10 minutes. Nolan Smith and Scheyer then ignited an 11-0 run to help the team pull away in the first half. Then the rout was on, as Duke outscored Gonzaga 45-21 in the second half en route to a 76-41 blowout victory.

Several things to take away from Duke’s victory in New York:

  • These Blue Devils can sure as hell play defense. We are allowing a stingy 60.2 points per game on defense. We force teams to play at our pace and turn them over; the lone exception was Wisconsin, who dictated the pace of the game and never got flustered, turning the ball over only 4 times. Compare that to Gonzaga, who turned it over 18 times.
  • Madison Square Garden really is Cameron Indoor North. There were lots of Duke fans in attendance, even with a snowstorm on the horizon. And Duke does play extremely well in MSG. The team is 6-0 in the last two years in New York City.
  • More about defense, specifically the way the team defends in New York. Derek Glasser, Richard Kuksiks, Bol Kong. What do these three names have in common? This season, the Blue Devils have played and won three games in MSG. Those are the only three players to have made a three-point field goal against us in those games. Arizona State, Connecticut and Gonzaga have combined to shoot 3-27 from three against us. If Kong hadn’t made his three in the final 30 seconds, Duke would have played two consecutive games without giving up a single basket from distance. If the team can bring this type of defense for a true road game, it will fare well in the ACC.
  • Kyle Singler had a career game on the road at Wisconsin, but struggles in New York. Our All-America candidate is shooting 10-31 with 28 combined points in the three games at the Garden. And yet, we have won all three rather convincingly. However, he scores 28 at the Kohl Center in Madison and we lose? Chalk it up to coincidence, as our loss to Wisconsin can be blamed on the Badgers’ execution and our mediocre defense.
  • Jon Scheyer will be first-team All-ACC. Maybe he’ll wear down from playing too many minutes, but he exploded toward the end of the ACC schedule last year. He is averaging 18.2 points (3rd in the ACC) and 5.9 assists per game, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.9-to-1 (that’s ridiculous). We really haven’t had a senior leader like him since the days of JJ and Shelden (no disrespect to DeMarcus Nelson).
  • Gonzaga is not a top-15 team. They might not even be a top-25 team. They have beaten no ranked teams (although they beat Cincinnati, who is currently ranked). I do not see how they even gave Michigan State a game. Even if Matt Bouldin wasn’t suffering the effects of a concussion, what would the difference against us been? Maybe ten points? How did the voters get them up to 15th? Nonetheless, I still think this victory says more about us than it does about Gonzaga. We showed we can defend and rebound with anybody in the country.

Some final musings as we look toward the year 2010:

  • The team has earned a well-deserved break to be with their families during the holiday season, as the schedule will resume after Christmas with a home tilt against Long Beach State on December 29th. The 49ers sure are playing a difficult non-conference schedule that already includes losses to Texas, West Virginia and Clemson. They will most likely get wrecked by No.3 Kentucky on December 23rd before visiting Cameron Indoor. On New Year’s Eve, winless Pennsylvania visits Durham. Really? I would love to play a competitive Ivy League team like Harvard or Cornell.
  • Olek Czyz has decided to transfer from the program. He was never going to get playing time either now, or in the future with the recruiting class we have coming in next year, so we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Even though I was more impressed with our victory over Connecticut, Duke fans should be happy with the thorough beatdown we handed Gonzaga. They may have not played to their level, but we didn’t exactly light the Garden on fire. I don’t think this game told us anything new, as we might jump West Virginia, who had a close call against Cleveland State. All we did this week was simply take care of business.

Sizing Up The Bulldogs

Our Blue Devils take to New York City again this weekend, this time to face another tough opponent in the Gonzaga Bulldogs. This week, we got a chance to speak with Zach and Max of “The Slipper Still Fits,” a terrific Gonzaga Hoops blog, to get a feel of what to expect as the Devils face another difficult challenge. We also answered a few of their questions – you can check them out on their site here.

How will Gonzaga stop Scheyer and Co.? Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Crazie Talk: The last Bulldogs loss came at the hands of a familiar Duke foe in Wake Forest. How did the Deacs play their way into ending one of the longest home win streaks in college basketball?

The Slipper Still Fits: The first thing that obviously impacted the flow of the game was our starting power forward, Elias Harris, getting ejected for an elbow to Chas McFarland’s throat.  When he was tossed, Gonzaga was up nine with two minutes and change to go and had really been dominating the game.  To make matters worse, at the same time Elias delivered the forearm shiver, Matt Bouldin had fouled CJ Harris’ three-point attempt so Wake got five free throws when the dust settled.  CJ made four of five, Wake got the ball, Ari Stewart hit a three, and just like that our lead was down to a bucket.  That sequence was a big reason but I think our play directly after that was just horrendous and killed any chance we had.  In the first half, Wake Forest shot sub-35% from the floor and in the second half they really started the knock down big shots and they just pounded Gonzaga on the offensive boards.  I think they took about ten or so more shots than us which is such a rarity when we are at home.  As you can tell, it is still hard for me to pinpoint the loss on any one factor but rebounding and leadership after that ejection were huge factors against us and, to be quite honest, Wake just made big plays at the end of the game and Dino Gaudio orchestrated it brilliantly.

CT: Gonzaga boasts a bevy of talent on both ends of the ball. Who needs to have a big game for the Zags to pull off the upset?

TSSF: This is one of those questions that could go to almost anyone in our starting five.  If I had to narrow it down to one person I would have to say Steven Gray.  I’ve been following this program for a long time and our site is closing in on two years of operation and I’ve never felt more frustration with a single player.  He’s got all the talent in the world but I’m not sure if he has the personality to bring it together into consistent efforts.  For the first six games, Gray was playing well and if he wasn’t hitting shots, he was doing other little things.  Against Washington State he played great defense but didn’t hit shots and then against Wake Forest he just didn’t do anything.  His importance against Duke is huge because: a) He has to hit some shots and get to the hoop and b) He’ll probably spend some time guarding Kyle Singler.  Gray will give up three inches to Kyle but he’s our best defender with size in our starting lineup.  With that being said, I can pretty much guarantee right now that if Steven has a stat line similar to the one against WSU or Wake, Duke won’t have much of a problem shoving off the Zags.

CT: What do you see as Gonzaga’s most glaring weakness thus far in the season?

TSSF: The thing that has really been driving us up the walls lately is free-throw shooting.  Gonzaga is historically a very sound free-throw shooting team but this year has just been abysmal.  We’re currently sitting at about 68% from the line and a couple of our worst performances have been turned in at home.  The reason why this is such an enormously glaring weakness is because Gonzaga gets to the line almost more than any other team in the nation.  I think the national perception of Gonzaga is like other mid-majors and that is they kill you from the outside but this team is completely inside-out.  They have, for my money, the best post-up guard in the country in Matt Bouldin and then both Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson are excellent at getting to the rack.  Elias Harris and Robert Sacre also draw a ton of fouls but if they continue to shoot at this percentage, teams are really going to start hacking away.  It will be very interesting to see how Gonzaga responds to Madison Square Garden.  With all this youth, I can’t expect the free-throw shooting to get much better but it really could be a key factor if the Zags want to pull the upset.

CT: Ten seconds left, and the Zags are down by one. When the game is on the line, who has the ball in his hands?

TSSF: I’d like to be clever and draw up some elaborate play for Elias Harris or Robert Sacre but that isn’t Mark Few’s style.  The ball will be in Matt Bouldin’s hands unless something crazy happens.  For two years, Mark Few’s play call for late game situations was to just give Jeremy Pargo the ball and clear out but with Matt and Steven, he usually gives the ball to Matt on the outside and lets Gray run around a few screens just in case Matt doesn’t get his own shot.  Depending on who is guarding him, Coach will also sometimes send Matt into the low post and hope for a mismatch because there really are only a handful of guards that can deal with his physicality.  He might not take the last shot, but he’ll decide who does.

CT: Duke has seen a lot of success in Madison Square Garden in recent years, especially in big games. What do you think of Gonzaga’s chances on the big stage? What worries you most about this Duke team?

TSSF: I think most Gonzaga fans had this game penciled in as a loss before the season started.  This isn’t to say that we didn’t believe we had an excellent team but when you consider that we lost four starters from last year and are playing now with seven newcomers, the idea of Duke @ MSG seemed extraordinarily daunting.  However, the more I think about this game, I don’t think the stage will really be an issue at all.  Our second game was in East Lansing against Michigan State where we nearly pulled the upset and this team has constantly came back from deficits against good teams.  Colorado, Cincinnati, Washington State, and Wake Forest all had nice leads on the Zags late in games and this team somehow clawed back in every game and, with the exception of Wake, found a way to win.  For this reason, I’m not worried about the stage affecting this team and that gives us a great shot to pull off an upset.

What worries me the most is three-point shooting from Duke.  Our opponents have been able to get off so many good looks from beyond the arc against us and if we allow Jon Scheyer or Andre Dawkins to get hot from deep, it’s going to be a long night in the Big Apple.  I’m fully expecting Kyle Singler to get his 25 points but if Gonzaga can improve defending the three and not allow a second Duke player to have a big offensive night, it will be a very, very tight contest.

Prediction: I think the Zags take care of business in New York and finally prove they are a legit contender this year in a 79-72 victory over Duke.

We’d like to thank the guys at The Slipper Still Fits for letting us get a feel for Gonzaga! Go Duke!

Video Preview from CBS below:

The Difference Between Coach K and Roy

I’ve always wondered why Coach K is the most hated coach in the country. He runs a squeaky clean program, gives back to his community and profession, is a committed family man, a fervent patriot and a former captain in the Army. He seems, if anything, to be a model American: loyal, honest, hard working, ambitious. I know, I know, when a program maintains a high level of success with a nearly spotless record of conduct, you are hated for your attributes, despised for your lack of corruption. That’s why everyone loved it when the Patriots got caught, and perhaps why Tiger is falling so hard in the media these days.

So when people hate Duke, I understand it as a mixture of jealousy and contempt for success. Notre Dame football is sort of the same way (sort of).  I can deal with people calling Coach K “Ratface” and comparing him to evil dictators and comically spelling his name wrong (making them look pretty ignorant, of course. Irony!). Just as Duke will continue to win at a high level under Coach K, people will hate him for being just so good.

My logical thoughts run askew, however, when I gaze down 15-501 toward Chapel Hill. There resides Roy Williams, one of the country’s best coaches and winner of two national titles at his alma mater.

Short pretext: I rarely “disrespect” teams for being good. As a Duke fan, that’d be hypocritical. I hate UNC with a passion, but could I deny Ty Lawson’s speed, Wayne Ellington’s jumper or Hansbrough’s awkward but astounding efficiency? No. I can’t sacrifice credibility by calling UNC’s stars what they aren’t: bad basketball players. (Sadly, Danny Green’s dance skills didn’t make above list).

But when I gaze dejectedly from the Dean Dome court to the pastel-blue-clad Williams, my eyes contract with rage and hatred swells from my bowels to my brain, my head gets light and the same burning question bursts from my lips: why does everyone seem to love this man?

For Roy Williams is guilty of the same things that makes Coach K the most despised college basketball coach. Here’s a sampling.

Corny Commercials

Remember Roy’s touching story in the Coke ad? That commercial, unlike K’s more direct spots for Chevrolet or Alltel, was forgiven because of its heartwarming message. Roy’s mother worked hard to provide him with a dime so he could buy a Coke (in a old-fashioned glass bottle, mind you) on the way home from school, like his other friends did. As Roy is such an “American Dream” success story, he should be able to take advantage of his fame, and make some money from Coke (although it seems he’s more of a Sprite guy.) He deserves these advertising deals. And that’s fine.

But do people think Mike Krzyzewski was born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Hardly. His parents were working class Polish immigrants in Chicago. Coach’s father even changed his name to avoid racial discrimination when looking for jobs. Nevertheless, Coach earned his place at West Point, played for Bobby Knight, and served in the military. That sounds like the American Dream to me. But K’s commercial appearances are slammed as money-grabs. What gives?

K and Roy even did an ad for Guitar Hero together! Although Coach Knight stole the show in that one.

Profanity and Image

Coach K works the refs hard. Fact. He also curses liberally during games. Check. But Roy Williams, has been guilty of using foul language as well. While “dadgums” and “frikkin’s” are his go-to phrases, the f-bomb has been to known to slip into his lexicon time and again. He also told Bonnie Bernstein, after losing the 2003 national title game to Syracuse, that he “didn’t give a s*** about North Carolina job”. And apparently, he still loves his KU Jayhawks.

These emotional outbursts, of course, are normal. Every coach does it, and some more than others. But hypocrisy runs rampant in the differing perceptions of Roy and K. Roy uses modesty and humility to create his image. (“I’m not the smartest guy around, but I’m not the dumbest either”). By spicing in the occasional curse word amidst all those lovable Southern affectations (“gosh darn it!”), Roy seems like a country boy who happens to be a great coach.

K, on the other hand, exudes professionalism and intensity. Could you imagine him doing something like Soulja Roy? It’d be like John McEnroe buying flowers for a line judge: it wouldn’t fit. But the little quirks that makes Roy so popular somehow reflect badly on the business-like Coach K.

Case in point: after beating Ohio State earlier this year, Roy had this to say about ranting at Marcus Ginyard at halftime:

“I chewed his rear end out probably the hardest I’ve ever got on him,” Williams said of the fifth-year senior. “If I’m going to chew him out, it scares the dickens out of the rest of the team. He’s one of my pets.

One of your pets? Can you imagine the firestorm if Coach K said something like this? Maybe Roy’s “hardness” and shock-and-awe leadership tactics are the key. And that brings me to the final, and perhaps most telling point.

Megalomania

Let’s just go straight to the details of this one, shall we?

Late in the second half of UNC’s 103-64 romp over Presbyterian this past Saturday, Roy Williams heard a Blue Hose fan shouting at Deon Thompson on the free throw line. The heckler called out “Don’t miss it, Deon!” while the senior forward sank the shot. Coach Williams, upset at an opposing fan shouting at his players at the Dean Dome, had the man ejected from the stadium by police officers. Check out the video below, courtesy of WRAL.

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Dan Wiederer of the Fayetteville Observer reported that Roy asked security to check if the man was in the correct seat, which he apparently was. The man was removed on suspicion of intoxication that has not been confirmed as of yet.

But wait a second—why on earth was Roy so bothered by a single fan, chanting a harmless taunt, while his team was up by 40 points? The Presbyterian Blue Hose now stand at 2-8—hardly a serious opponent or a rivalry game. Roy had no reason to get so fired up.

Shouldn’t a coach of an ACC contender focus on his own damn team? This incident is evidence of Roy’s megalomania and absurd shows of power. It’s one thing to call your player a ‘pet,’ or cite Michael Jordan and James Worthy as players better than your struggling freshman. Or to permit your star point guard to gamble on a team trip, or denigrate a former recruit in a book, then in a press conference, for ‘lying to you’ and choosing another school. Those are just coaching moves, right?

But to orchestrate the ejection of a harmless fan, especially when your team is dominating, is absolutely over the top! He actually looked at this guy and said, “Yeah, I’m talking to you!” before gesturing towards security. What, did the guy pull a DeNiro?

Wiederer’s original blog post wondered how the media would react if Coach K had pulled a similar stunt as Roy. The answer? It wouldn’t have happened. While the cavernous Dean Dome is pretty tame in such cupcake wins (do the wine and cheese make fans sleepy?), Cameron is loud and rocking for nearly every game. So it’d be hard for K to hear any taunts, innocuous or otherwise. Nor would he react. He’d be too busy, you know, coaching his own damn team.

And from personal experience, there are always opposing fans heckling Duke players on the line. My personal favorite was during the Montana game last year when a chubby kid yelled “You will not make the basket” before every Duke foul shot in an eerie monotone. Strange.

Ramifications

Is the media coverage of Roy’s mental weakness outburst a chink in his armor? Likely not. UNC fans will go on loving Roy and defending his every move. Like Coach K, he’s brought his supporters wins, banners and discounted Bojangles. Well, they don’t share that last one, but you catch my drift.

In a world where fans constantly forgive athletes and coaches for their wrongdoings, it’s nice to support a top-flight program with minimal controversy and an upstanding leader. While Roy continues to make a show of his power, Coach K will continue working hard to win—with class.

And remember everyone, when you’re in the Dean Dome, do as the cool people do: shut your mouth, and let the dad gums echo throughout the stadium.

Section 17: Growing Pains

‘Section 17’ is Crazie-Talk’s weekly feature that lets you, the readers, take a look at what we see from Section 17 of hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Well, the end of the semester is upon us. It was quite an eventful week for Duke fans. Our Devils fell to the Badgers in Madison on Wednesday but bounced back at home against St. John’s on Saturday. Meanwhile Duke students collectively realized that final exams begin…tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Miles throws down...with authority! Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Of course, the team also has to take exams, hence the week-long layoff before the Blue Devils take on Gardner-Webb at home next Tuesday. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This past week has left plenty to be discussed and plenty to be desired from this team in the four games before conference play begins in January.

Duke got beaten on both ends of the floor against a tough, well-coached Bo Ryan squad on Wednesday night.  Wisconsin threw the first punch, and Duke just couldn’t recover. Trevon Hughes carved up the Duke defense for 26 points, and it seemed like  the only offense Duke could run was through Kyle Singler, who had a career high of 28 points. Uber-frosh Andre Dawkins played one hell of a game, going 4-4 from three point land, singlehandedly bringing Duke to within one. But with no answer to Hughes, very little production down low, and a few uncharacteristic miscues from Scheyer and Singler at the end of the game, Coach K and Co. suffered their very first loss in the ten year history of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Saturday’s home test against St. John’s was a completely different matter. As Coach K walked onto his own court, he personally let the students know that this game was not to be taken for granted. Mason Plumlee made his first career start alongside his brother in Cameron Indoor, and Duke looked very, very good in the first twenty minutes of play, jumping out to a 40-24 lead against the best squad St. John’s has had in a while. But basketball is a game of two halves, and this occasion was no exception. Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas started for the Devils, while the brothers Plumlee remained on the bench for the majority of the second period. Slowly but surely, St. John’s made their way back into the game as Duke failed to score for an extended period of time, cutting the lead down to four. Stall ball ensued, with K playing four guards and Lance Thomas for the final ten minutes of the second half, and the Devils hung on to win by single digits against a team they looked to be absolutely dominant against earlier in the afternoon.

And while a relatively close win in December is a win nonetheless, there are a few things that need to get fixed if this team wants to make a serious run in March.

  • Enough Small Ball. It’s been Duke’s demise the past few years, and there’s no excuse for this team to suffer the same fate. This team six players over 6’8. Six. This is the biggest Duke team…ever. But in the past three games, Coach K has reverted to small ball, with three guards (Scheyer, Smith, and Dawkins), Kyle, and Lance – a lineup that we’re all too familiar with –  and one that hasn’t had success in March. While this does cause some matchup problems on the offensive end, that advantage is negated by the fact that this lineup is extremely ineffective for interior defense. Meanwhile, it also negates the aforementioned fact that this team has six big guys, the most talented of which – Miles and Mason –  seem to be stuck on the bench. And after listening to this postgame interview with Mason, I don’t think he’s too happy about it.
  • A Go-To Team? Coach K said in a press conference earlier this season that this squad doesn’t have a “go-to player”, it’s a “go-to team”. But while the “Big Three” have emerged as the leaders of the team, they haven’t had much support (except for Andre, but I’ll get to that later). Singler, Scheyer, and Smith have taken over 75% of the Duke’s field goal attempts in the past four games, while logging an average of at least 35 minutes between them. And while the best players on a team should be taking the most shots, it’s also important for those players to be taking the best possible shots. Against SJU, the Big Three shot a combined 15-43. Duke has been a jump-shooting team for a long time, but as I’ve said before: for the first time since Shelden Williams, Duke has a legitimate post presence – or three. For this team to have a balanced attack (or a way to put points on the board when shots aren’t falling), the guards have got to find a way to feed the post effectively. Even though Lance and Zoubs have had some excellent games thus far, very rarely do you see this team look to them as primary scoring options. Instead, Duke is essentially a three man team on offensive when LT and Z are on the floor, where the seniors do most of their damage on the offensive glass (Zoubek is at the top of the ACC in offensive rebounding). But while the two seniors bring energy and defensive intensity, the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly could provide a jolt to this offense. Granted, Mason and Ryan still need to get acclimated to the college game, but combine Ryan’s marvelous high-low passing skills with the Plumlees’ athleticism, and you finally have legitimate offensive weapons in the paint.  All in all, it’s imperative that this team exploit its strengths and run offense through the low post. While this team can be lethal from long range, it will be very, very difficult for opponents to defend this team if the perimeter guys start feeding the big men on a more regular basis.
  • Dre’ All Day – Andre Dawkins is a man. Babyfaced he may be, but he is a cold- blooded assassin on the floor. His gutsy performance on Thursday was one of the best by a Duke freshman in a long time. But as good as he was on Wednesday, he only finished with 2 points on 1-5 shooting on Saturday. Why? While Andre does need to get more aggressive in terms of creating his own shot,  it looked like guys weren’t really looking to get him the ball. Case in point: on one of the last possessions of the St. John’s game, Scheyer came up with another ridiculous block on a Red Storm breakaway. He proceeded to outlet to Nolan, who led the break and saw Andre wide open in the lane. Instead of dishing it out to Dre for the easy jam, Nolan slowed the pace, crossed up his defender and slammed it home himself. You can check out the play here. Just watch for Andre. Cameron erupted, of course, but standing there I knew it would have been even louder had the kid finished the play. Nolan had already had a great game, but Andre really didn’t have many opportunities. His only basket of the day came when he showcased his “alarming” athleticism as he elevated and got to the rim, only to have his dunk attempt altered into a layup. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Andre Dawkins is Duke’s next superstar shooting guard, and he needs to get the rock in his hands. Period.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love this team, and it has a lot of potential. Jon has been almost perfect at the point (six assists, no turnovers on Saturday), Kyle has played like the All-American he is, and Nolan has cemented himself as a vital cog in the wheel that is K’s motion offense. But it’s obvious that adjustments need to be made, and it’s better to struggle and learn now than later. Everyone knows that championships aren’t won in November or December.

Here’s to hoping this week will give the guys time to rest, both mentally and physically, so that they can get geared up to play with full steam ahead.

Cheers.

[12/7/09 7:32am] Edited to add:

Our deepest sympathies go out to Andre Dawkins, as he lost his sister in an accident on Saturday. Please keep your thoughts and prayers with Andre and his family during this difficult time.