Duke fans turned out to Club Cameron—a nickname bestowed upon Duke’s historic stadium by head coach Mike Krzyzewski—even before they knew if Ryan Kelly would play Saturday against Miami.
Then the club starting hopping in a way it hadn’t all season when the White Raven was introduced as a starter, headlining his first act since reinjuring his foot Jan. 8 against Clemson.
Kelly—nicknamed the White Raven in reference to his high school, Ravenscroft—scored a career-high 36 points in No. 3 Duke’s 79-76 win against the No. 5 Hurricanes. Although it seemed as if Cameron Indoor Stadium could never get louder than the moment he was introduced in the starting lineup—to the surprise of the Cameron Crazies—each of the seven 3-pointers in his comeback performance only built on that fervor.
“That place was rocking,” Kelly said. “It was nice that it was for me, but they were unbelievable all night.”
Although Saturday’s excitement peaked with Kelly’s performance, it began even before fans knew he might play. Students began waiting on line for the game last Sunday and were allowed to tent—a tradition usually reserved for the North Carolina game—starting Tuesday night.
“What a cool thing for so many students to camp out again,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “This has been one of the best years.”
Last year’s Cameron Crazies were the center of talk about how the athletic department was selling tickets to the student section because of low student attendance.
Krzyzewski was the first to put a name to the vigor among this year’s fan base, dubbing it “Club Cameron” even before a record number of tenters showed up for the first and most rigorous phase of the tenting process to gain entry to Feb. 13’s North Carolina game.
And the relationship between Krzyzewski and the Crazies has become increasingly interactive. Although interactions between the two are nothing new, the closeness of this year’s connection was evident in the win against the Hurricanes.
After Miami’s Durand Scott crashed into the photographers following a missed layup, the Crazies booed the referees for blowing the play dead with the Blue Devils pushing the ball in transition. Krzyzewski, though, demonstratively motioned that the crowd should quit its complaining because a player was injured.
“They responded to Coach. Coach told them to relax because [Scott] got hurt, and they relaxed,” sophomore point guard Quinn Cook said.
But at other times Krzyzewski gestured that they should get louder, conducting their orchestra of cheers.
“They were phenomenal—probably better than the North Carolina game,” Cook said. “Their intensity—they were with it for 40 minutes. When Coach gave them the pump-up, they pumped up. That’s why they’re the best fans in America.”
Cook also takes an initiative with the Crazies as the player who most regularly exhorts them to turn up the volume.
Cook brought back a fan-favorite move against the Hurricanes when he slapped the floor after hitting a 3-pointer with 1:56 left to give Duke a 10-point lead. A number of Blue Devils followed suit, including Kelly, who gave the floor two slaps.
Floor slapping on defense is a hallmark Duke tradition, perhaps made most famous by former player and current associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski. The Hurricanes mocked the tradition when the teams met in Coral Gables, Fla., as Miami cruised to a 90-63 win and slapped the floor when leading by 28 in the second half.
“I just looked at Wojo, and that was Wojo’s signature thing…. It’s just something that slapped in my head,” Cook said. “We’ve been getting reminded of that game on Twitter and in public—everybody telling us to slap the floor against them. But we weren’t going into it looking for revenge. We just wanted to come in and get a win, and I coincidentally did that.”
When Cook did it, he knew that it would send the crowd into a frenzy.
“The fans love it. My Twitter followers love it. They always want me to bring it back,” said Cook, an avid Twitter user. “When I did it against Presbyterian my freshman year, they were just saying they wanted to see it every game.”
The youngest guys on the team have especially embraced their inner Crazie. Freshmen Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon are often the first to pound each other’s chests—something usually Josh Hairston is known for—and get the team excited.
The Blue Devils have just one more home game this season, senior night Tuesday against Virginia Tech. If Duke wins, it will finish the year undefeated at home. Before the team lost an uncharacteristic three games at home last season, it went undefeated on Coach K Court in both the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
Kelly’s performance-of-a-lifetime helped keep that intact Saturday, and the fact that he did it after missing 12 games just gave the Crazies one extra thing to cheer for. The surprise of his return helped pump people up too.
“They were spectacular,” Krzyzewski said. “Not as good as Ryan, but right at the next level.”