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The most wonderful time of the year

Chronicle File photo 
Then-junior Nolan Smith highlighted the inaugural Countdown to Craziness in 2009.
Chronicle File photo Then-junior Nolan Smith highlighted the inaugural Countdown to Craziness in 2009.

When I was a little kid, I would wake up on Christmas morning at around 3:30 or 4 a.m., shake my parents awake, then rush downstairs with them in tow to check out the loot left behind by Santa. This early morning tradition was repeated every year, with the exception of a couple of memorable nights when I didn’t even sleep, so convinced that I could hear reindeer hoof-steps on my roof.

As I got a little older, though, that wake-up call started to get pushed farther and farther back. One year it became 6 a.m. Another year it was an hour later. Soon, it was 9 a.m. Last year it reached a tipping point, when I woke up around just before noon and watched an episode of Sportscenter before joining the family in the den. That Dec. 25th, I decided with some finality, that it’s just harder now to be excited about something when you first open your eyes. I guess I’ve grown up.

There is one exception, however, to this rule. There is one day during the year when I wake up and hit the ground running. When I wake up on this particular Friday morning, I feel like I did on those Christmas mornings of my childhood.

It represents the start of basketball season—the day of Countdown to Craziness. I’m unapologetically excited, but I wasn’t always thrilled to see this event.

Countdown to Craziness is a relatively new phenomenon at Duke, beginning three years ago under rather inauspicious circumstances. The celebration began, in part, in response to the increasingly festive Midnight Madness celebrations at schools like North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgetown. Greg Monroe, a 6-foot-11 center who Duke recruited heavily, famously committed to the Hoyas directly after seeing Jerry Rice “Crank That” at the program’s Midnight Madness. And Monroe was not the only top recruit to have sealed his commitment to one of those three schools soon after attending their midnight celebrations.

Duke, which only had a relatively bland Blue-White game, had nothing to offer to compete with the pyrotechnics, Soulja Boy and overall atmospheres exhibited by the competing schools’ events. And even when Duke hopped on the bandwagon, I thought they had waited too long and it would just seem like the school was copying its competitors.

So, I was a little apprehensive before the first Countdown to Craziness three years ago. How could a “Midnight Madness,” whose very start time—7 p.m.—felt wrong, succeed when other schools had already perfected the event?

Oh me of little faith.

Countdown to Craziness turned out to be an incredible amount of fun. It gave us one of the defining moments of that national championship year—Nolan Smith coming out to Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” then bringing down the house in a dunk contest where he wore a Johnny Dawkins jersey and the requisite 1980s era short-shorts. It gave Duke an energized fan base for the start of a season that always features boring, blowout games. And it gave Duke a worthy alternative to Late Night With Roy, Big Blue Madness and the others. Countdown to Craziness is one of the best times of the year—a time of optimism and excitement.

This year, I have a lot to be excited about. I’m excited to see if Seth Curry can ably take over point guard duties, and if Austin Rivers will be able to fit in the rotation as quickly as Kyrie Irving did last year. I’m excited to see if Ryan Kelly can continue the solid play that he showed in China. I’m excited to see if Sloan from Entourage will, in fact, end up making an appearance to talk about conflict minerals, as had previously been rumored.

(Sidenote: I already have my conversation with the actress mapped out. First, I compliment her on the brilliant story line of the last three seasons of Entourage (“Vince’s narrative arc was Godfather-good, Sloan”), then I congratulate her on a job well-done judging the dunk contest (“Good call naming Tyler Thornton winner, Sloan, I know you have a thing for the shorter guys”). And then, to further get in her good graces, I throw my iPhone against a wall (“See, I don’t like conflict minerals, either!”). From there, it’s a simple matter of deciding when to hold the wedding in Paris.)

But I digress. Friday is not about whether one of Maxim’s Top 100 will make a trip to Durham—it’s about the start of basketball season.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year.


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