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Hilary Howard Gets Little Respect Back Home

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SAN JOSE, CALIF. (AP) — After dishing out seven assists to help Duke shock three-time defending champion Tennessee in the East Regional final last Monday, Hilary Howard expected a heroine's welcome back home in Durham, N.C.

Instead, she encountered a group of kids who found it hard to believe the 5-foot-6 point guard was about to lead the Blue Devils into the NCAA tournament Final Four.

The day after that upset, Howard went to the local YMCA to watch her boyfriend play in a game. Someone came over to congratulate her, leading to questions from a group of young onlookers.

When the boys asked why she was being congratulated, Howard said she was Duke's point guard. The youngsters refused to believe her.

``No, I am,'' she said.

``Oh, you must ride the bench,'' the boys replied.

Howard tried to convince the youngsters she indeed was the starting point guard, ``but after about 30 seconds I gave up and said I'm not on the team.''PECK'S ROLE:Purdue coach Carolyn Peck will be only the second black woman to coach in an NCAA basketball national title game when her Boilermakers face Duke on Sunday night. She joins Vivian Stringer of Cheyney State in 1982.

Peck, who will be coaching her final game at Purdue and moving on to the coaching job with the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA, downplayed that distinction.

``I can't say it's because of the color of my skin that I am where I am, it's because of this team,'' she said Saturday on the eve of the national championship game. ``I hope I can be a good role model for all women, little girls, little boys, not gender specific.''

Her players were not as willing to downplay the importance of Peck's achievement.

``I think it's a tremendous honor for her,'' center Camille Cooper said. ``She's definitely a role model for everyone, especially African-American females. It lets others know they can do the same thing she did with the same amount of work.''

Teammate Michelle Duhart said she also was personally inspired by Peck.

``She's a role model for everyone, but for me being an African-American woman she's exceptional,'' Duhart said. ``She might downplay it, but it's important for any woman to see the success that she has achieved. She's a remarkable woman.''A SPECIAL KISS:After scoring 22 points Friday night against Georgia to lead Duke into the national championship game, Nicole Erickson got hugs and congratulations from her teammates and fans.

But it was a simple gesture from her younger brother, 18-year-old Kirk Erickson, that meant the most to the Blue Devils' shooting guard.

``I got a kiss on the cheek from my younger brother. I thought I was going to pass out,'' she said. ``It was amazing to see him show that emotion.''MISCELLANEOUS:Purdue, ranked No. 1 in the final poll this season, has history on its side. The top-ranked team has reached the championship game six previous times, and has won each time. The other No. 1 teams that went on to win the NCAA title were Louisiana Tech (1982), Southern California (1983), Texas (1986), Tennessee (1989 and 1998) and Connecticut (1995).

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