7:30 p.m. Madness

Hard to believe it’s been six full years since Duke Basketball last had a nighttime practice to kick off a season.

(Harder for me to believe it’s been six years since I was a freshman here. Also, sadder.)

(And while we’re on the subject of things that are hard to believe, what’s the deal with Countdown to Craziness starting at 7:30 p.m. and ending at 9:30 p.m.? I know that the NCAA allows teams to practice at 5 p.m. on first Friday following October 15 each year, and that there’s no real reason to have the first practice of the season at midnight, but 7:30 Madness is lame. Scheduling the first public practice of the season from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. is something that a shuffleboard league in Boca Raton would do. Sure, it’s possible that more fans will come to an earlier event, but if they’re not excited enough about Duke Basketball to come out at midnight, then maybe we don’t even want them there. Maybe the basketball program scheduled it for 7:30 p.m. so that we would have to call it Countdown to Craziness instead of Midnight Madness – well, if that’s the case then I’m not buying in. I’ll call it what I want to call it, which is Midnight Madness.)

(Wait, maybe they scheduled it for 7:30 p.m. because Matt and Kim would only come to campus if their concert started at 9:30 p.m. after the basketball practice. If that’s the case, then I’m on board with the start time. Matt and Kim’s music was on Gossip Girl.)

(I’m still going to call it Midnight Madness.)

Anyway, despite all of my complaints, I’ll be there tonight. And you know why? Two reasons: (1) I’m excited for basketball season; and (2) the last Midnight Madness was fantastic. I know, because I was there.

Let me set the scene. In 2003, Midnight Madness was called A.M. Mayhem, and practice started at midnight. I was a freshman, and it was going to be my third visit to Cameron (I had to check it out during Blue Devil Days, and there was a Duke Basketball 101 thing for freshmen during the first week of school where they taught us all the cheers). I was pumped.

I went early with a few friends, and we sat in Krzyzewskiville. We watched the Duke-Arizona NCAA Championship game from 2001 on a big screen outside and wondered how many national championships Duke would win in our four years. (None.)

Finally we made our way inside. We stood there for a while, and then the lights went out for what seemed like a long time. Finally, a spotlight came on illuminating center court and Jason Williams, standing there on crutches.

It had been only a couple of months since his near-fatal motorcycle accident, and everyone was shocked to see him. For the next few minutes, the whole place went berserk. Then we broke into his “J-Will, J-Will, rock you” cheer (to the tune of “We Will Rock You”), still the best cheer I’ve heard, ever. It was haunting.

Williams spoke for a few minutes about the team before handing the microphone off to Coach K. The rest of the night was just a regular practice. They did lay-up lines, a three-on-two fastbreak drill, that drill where they stand in a box and pass to each other, a brief five-on-five scrimmage. There were some forgettable contests involving the students. At the end, Coach K had all of the students come onto the court to take a “team photo.”

When I look back on six years of games in Cameron, the J-Will scene is easily in the top four moments – right up there with beating Carolina in 2005, Lee Melchionni kissing the court on senior night, and Sean Dockery’s half-court shot in 2006 (which I predicted before the game) – and it was just a practice.

Here’s hoping Coach K has something just as good put together for tonight. I know I won’t miss it.


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