Year in and year out, Duke basketball is considered one of the strongest in Division I. But Monday, the Blue Devils practiced in front of what head coach Mike Krzyzewski called the “best team in the world”—the U.S. Military.
Having served as a West Point cadet, Krzyzewski paid homage to a contingent of troops by spending Sunday night at the Fort Bragg military base in Fayetteville, N.C. with the team participating in physical training Monday morning and conducting basketball practice at the base Monday afternoon.
Being in such an environment gave the team a taste of true leadership in action. “Coach [Krzyzewski] is great at teaching [leadership],” assistant head coach Jeff Capel said. “But sometimes it’s always good to hear a different voice or to see it in action.”
The team not only saw it in action, but they also experienced it first hand. Sleeping on bunk beds on the military base, the team woke up at the crack of dawn to go through physical training with the troops. The workout included a two-mile run, an obstacle course and leadership drills. The rigors of the military’s training proved to be challenging for the team.
“I have a lot of respect for these guys,” freshmen shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “I thought our basketball workouts were pretty hard, but their physical training is something serious.”
The leadership activities were equally beneficial for the team and also mentally taxing.
“It was different,” junior forward Josh Hairston said. “It was team building and we learned a lot about ourselves.”
The actual basketball portion of the trip was more enjoyable for both the players and troops alike. The team went through a 90-minute practice Monday afternoon with several hundreds of troops in attendance at Funk Gymnasium.
“These are the people that put their lives on the line everyday,” Hairston said. “Just being with them has been very humbling.”
The end of practice was devoted to the troops as many had the opportunity to participate in practice by teaming up with the Duke players in shooting drills.
“It was outstanding,” said Sergeant First Class Bradley, who participated in shooting drills with the team. “It’s something I’ve never seen before with Coach K orchestrating the whole thing.”
The troops were unable to see much of senior shooting guard Seth Curry, who warmed up with the team but did not actually participate in practice due to a leg injury.
Redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee did not even suit up for practice as he is out for six to eight weeks with a left foot injury.
Despite being bit by the injury bug early just days into the season, the team’s trip has boosted camaraderie and togetherness through the unforgettable stay with the troops.
“It was a great experience,” Sulaimon said. “And we’re coming together strongly as a team.”