In what has been the most topsy-turvy college basketball season in memory, Sunday was an unexpected shot of normalcy.
For once, the easy answers came from a basketball standpoint. The Blue Devils were beaten by a better team—the nation’s best team, in fact—which was riding a 13-game win streak. Louisville has the nation’s most efficient defense in over a decade, according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, and no one needed a computer to see how flustered Duke became under the relentless waves of full-court press and perimeter defense. The Blue Devils also had no answer for the Cardinals’ high-ball screen offense, which time and time again allowed Peyton Siva and Russ Smith to get into the paint with relative ease.
This time, though, the answers don’t bring consolation for me.
As I think any Duke student can attest, being a Cameron Crazie isn’t about about knowing the Xs and Os, or understanding the difference between a pick-and-roll and a pickle roll. The team is a lightning rod for the community at large and brings together a broader swathe of students than anything else.
So for me, Sunday brought back a wave of Duke basketball memories that were completely detached from the sport, the defining experiences of my college career all held together by a single common thread.
Looking back, I was surprised at how few of my fondest memories were directly related to the basketball itself. I had little understanding of how basketball served as a unifying catalyst when I chose to come here as a high-school senior—I just liked basketball. But today, as I write this less than 24 hours after the conclusion of my on-campus Duke basketball experience, here’s what I’ll remember most:
I’ll remember the first night of black tenting, when three Eagle Scouts struggled to erect a tarp that could house 12 people. If only we’d known it would be hosting 24 tenters by the second night.
I’ll remember the walk from Giles to the Marketplace just minutes after the Blue Devils had beaten Baylor to advance to the Final Four, when my friends and I could finally discuss out loud what had consumed our minds all weekend: How were we getting to Indianapolis?
I’ll remember Googling pharmacies from the lobby of a Holiday Inn next to Lucas Oil Stadium as a friend, suffering from Buffalo Wild Wings-induced food poisoning, continued to reassert—between heaves—her intention of going to the national championship game that night. She made it.
I’ll remember not being able to hear the band play during the under-eight minute media timeout at the 2011 home game against North Carolina because the crowd was still reacting to Ryan Kelly’s 3-pointer, which had capped off a 16-point comeback.
I’ll remember sitting in the New York Public Library at 10 a.m., trying to capture in writing what Coach K’s 903rd win would mean in the greater picture of college basketball, all while the three of us Chronicle staffers tried to chug enough coffee to shake off the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call that morning.
I’ll remember nearly destroying the back room at Satisfaction’s after Austin Rivers’ dagger silenced the Dean Dome—then sitting in the Chronicle office until the wee hours of the morning putting together the next day’s print section.
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And finally, I’ll remember sharing the Duke basketball experience with my parents. First, my mom’s Cameron Indoor Stadium initiation (Parent’s Weekend notwithstanding) when the Blue Devils played Ohio State last November, when we sat in the last row and spent most of the game bent over trying to see under the broadcasters’ structure. Then, several months later, she came back with my dad to see Duke-North Carolina from slightly less obstructed seats.
There are also a host of other, smaller memories that will stick with me: post-game trips to the Loop for milkshakes, tents collapsing under rain and snow and covering games from press row at Cameron Indoor, to name a few.
And sure, I’ll remember a lot of the basketball, too.
But if it were just about the basketball, I wouldn’t be able to use the team as a convenient excuse to stay in touch with friends as we move away from Durham this May.
And if it were just about the basketball, I wouldn’t have some of those friends to begin with.
And if it were just about the basketball, well, it wouldn’t be Duke.