I never realized how bizarre a ritual Senior Night is until I actually experienced it from the perspective of a senior.
Senior Night feels like attending a living wake, celebrating people, times and journeys that are not yet over but are so close to ending. For the team, it's the end of the season. For the fourth-year fans, it's the end of an experience. And for everyone else, it seems, it's the wonder of what it's like to be in the shoes of the honorary guests.
People tend to pour all their energy and emotion into endings, as if it will help them be remembered better-just ask J.J. Redick, who spoke to the Cameron Crazies through tears in 2005 after he lost to North Carolina on his Senior Night, or Greg Paulus, who was presented with a precautionary box of tissues by Nolan Smith after Tuesday's win over Florida State.
Ask Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green or Bobby Frasor, all of whom will be itching for a victory Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill.
Or, if you'd like to ask someone you hear from a bit more regularly, you could just ask me.
You see, when I cover this weekend's game in the Dean Dome, it's not just Senior Night for the Tar Heels and their fans. It's my Senior Night, too.
I know it's tenuous at best for a Blue Devil to say she's having her own end-of-career celebration in the most hostile of enemy territories. But to be frank with you, I wouldn't want to finish my sports reporting career anywhere else. It's fitting that the last game I likely will ever cover is a Duke-North Carolina contest in March-a game that, as always, is highly anticipated and also one in which the Blue Devils enter as underdogs.
The last four years have been up-and-down for Duke Basketball. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone on campus to say otherwise. But I'd like to think that covering this team as a reporter, columnist and editor proved to be as much of a growing experience as the players went through themselves.
Duke and I, we haven't always been perfect, but I'm hoping Sunday could go well for us.
It is with this end in sight that I'd like to offer a last will and testament of sorts on the season so far and how I think Senior Night in the Dean Dome might go down.
The first order of business is to give credit to a person whom I tend to shy away from praising directly: head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
I remember sitting in the Madison Square Garden press box for Duke's contest against St. John's Feb. 19 when the starting lineups were announced and responding with visible shock when Elliot Williams' name blasted throughout the arena. While the freshman reportedly had a breakout performance in practice that week and was highly touted coming into Duke, it still takes guts to completely restructure your starting backcourt in late February when you're already a top-10 team.
Since the night Williams was elevated to starting status, the Blue Devils have gone 5-0 with gritty road wins at Maryland and Virginia Tech. If Williams and Jon Scheyer, the new starting tandem, can prove themselves as stronger defenders against tougher backcourt players, this team has a much better chance to advance further in the Tournament than it did only a month ago, particularly given that defense hasn't always been Duke's strong suit in conference play.
In fact, the Blue Devils sport the third-worst field goal percentage defense in the ACC, with conference opponents shooting 44.6 percent against them this season.
Sunday could serve as a harbinger of defensive looks to come when Williams and Scheyer have to find a way to contain Ty Lawson, who dropped 25 points on Duke in Cameron Feb. 11 and has scored more than 20 in three of five contests since with no signs of cooling down.
Trust me, I know it's a tall order to take down the No. 2 Tar Heels on their Senior Night. I was at Late Night with Roy this fall, and my eardrums were near-casualties to the raucous standing ovation Hansbrough received emerging from the tunnel. I can't even imagine what the crowd might be like Sunday.
But I was also in Cameron when Hansbrough was a more scrawny, less cocky form of his current self and led his team to victory over then-No. 1 Duke to steal a final home win away from Redick and Shelden Williams.
After four years, I am not quite sure how to end this one-there's this pressure to get the clincher just right. Then again, I know a bunch of guys ready to board a bus to Chapel Hill Sunday who probably know exactly how I'm feeling.
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