Using a borrowed student ID, I was able to sneak into the student section of one of the most revered venues in all of sports. I had prime courtside seats to a marquee matchup between the top-ranked team in the country, the Duke Blue Devils, and the then-No.7 Virginia Cavaliers. For a day, I was one of the Cameron Crazies, the large contingent of Duke students famous for their enthusiasm and fanaticism (usually shown by their constant, incessant bouncing during games).
The whole experience, from beginning to end, was unforgettable. We headed to the game around 4 p.m., which I considered insanely early given the 8:15 tip-off time. But as I soon found out, things are done a bit differently at Duke. By the time we arrived at Cameron, the line was already hundreds of people long.
And this wasn’t any ordinary line. It snaked from the entrance of Cameron (which is across the street from the westernmost residential dorms on Duke’s West Campus) around some other athletic buildings, doubled back on itself, and ended up running along the outdoor tennis court complex.
Students brought lawn chairs, books, cards, food and some kid even had a TV. Then again, I really couldn’t think this display was crazy because I could still see a few tents out on the lawn (named “Krzyzewskiville,” in honor of Duke’s legendary head coach). The tents, it should be noted, were left over from the Maryland game, when students camped out for days for the chance at a choice courtside seat.
Once inside, I was amazed by Cameron’s small size. On TV, the court seems huge and the wall of students and fans appears even bigger. This illusion is probably owed to the fact that the main TV camera is perched several stories above the court. Even realizing this, though, the impact of Cameron's cozy confines can’t be overstated.
This feeling of awe probably orginiates from my experiences at Harvard games. Lavietes Pavilion, our 2,195-seat facility, would barely be able to hold just the student section of Cameron. In addition to that, there is an upper level of 7,000 more seats of alums and locals who shell out big bucks to watch amateur kids half their age play basketball for free.
We settled into our seats in the student section, which is comprised of ten long wooden planks that run along the length of the court (recently renamed “Coach K Court,” again in honor of the one and only Mike Krzyzewski). It was ninety minutes before game time, but the student section was almost packed. I looked up at the championship banners and the retired numbers in the rafters and had to pinch myself.
As the players came out for warm-ups, I was again probably smiling moronically like kid during his first visit to Toys ‘R’ Us or like a guy watching his very first life-altering episode of “Baywatch”.
My stream of consciousness thinking went something like this: Holy crap, that’s Carlos Boozer…wow, he looks huge even compared to the other players…hey look, it’s Mike Dunleavy…I could have sworn he was lankier in real-life…oh well, he still looks goofy…who is that, number 30…must be Dahntay Jones…he’s damn smooth with his J, but looks a little too disinterested to really root for…hey, it’s Chris Duhon…didn’t he graduate last year?
And then there was Jason Williams, the consensus All-American and almost assuredly this season’s National Player of the Year. Next year, he will make more money in one season of NBA play than I will in my lifetime. But I don’t say this begrudgingly; Williams is actually one of the few who genuinely deserve it.
After warm-ups and right before the tip-off, the entire student section got on its feet and remained standing all throughout the game (halftime is the only time it is appropriate to sit).
Right before the ball is tipped, the famed bouncing begins. Now, I will admit that it took a little getting used to as I initially lost my balance and nearly jumped into the row in front of me. But once you get the hang of it, bouncing around with 2,000 of your closest friends on a wooden plank never felt more natural.
The game itself was intense and showcased everything I could have hope for. The first half was tight, with Virgina holding the Blue Devils to 35 percent shooting from the field. It even looked like the Cavs might give Duke a scare, fighting to a 42-42 halftime tie.
But the second half was an entirely different story. Duke blew up from the field, draining 67 percent of its shots, and capitalized on Virginia’s foul troubles to outscore the Cavs 51-29 in the second half. The final score, 94-81, didn’t accurately reflect the thrashing that had been unleashed by the Blue Devils.
And boy were there huge plays along the way. Williams was Jordan-esque in the first half as he elevated from just inside the free-throw line and threw down a halacious dunk. Boozer also sent the crowd into a frenzy with both of his rim-rocking efforts.