For the past three weeks, Duke has traveled far and wide to face college basketball's most grueling tests. When the dust settled, it was the Blue Devils left standing atop the mountain.
Having reached the sports pinnacle, the only thing left to do was go home.
The 2015 national champions were greeted by thousands of fans for a celebration Tuesday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The welcome-back party featured speeches from head coach Mike Krzyzewski and senior captain Quinn Cook as well as video tributes from the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament run and 68-63 victory against Wisconsin in Monday night's national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"It's great to be home," said a smiling Krzyzewski, flanked by Duke's NCAA championship trophy on his left and the South Regional championship trophy and net from Monday's title game on his right.
With the team's first four national championship banners from 1991, 1992, 2001 and 2010 hanging overhead, Krzyzewski had a chance to reflect on the 39-game journey that will send a fifth national championship banner flying into the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium next fall.
Despite finishing with a 35-4 record, the 2014-15 Blue Devils faced no shortage of adversity on their way to a national title. Duke finished the season with just eight scholarship players after sophomore Semi Ojeleye transferred in December and junior Rasheed Sulaimon became the first player ever dismissed from Krzyzewski's program in February.
Krzyzewski called the national champions standing behind him "a team of believers."
The Hall of Fame head coach went on to bestow the highest praise on the champion Blue Devils, calling them his favorite team in his 35 years at Duke.
"My guys have been an absolute joy to coach," Krzyzewski said. "There's certain things we've done throughout the year to motivate the team, but for the most part this team has motivated itself."
Krzyzewski was quick to single out the performance of freshman guard Grayson Allen in his team's title game victory. Allen came off the bench and scored 16 points, providing the team with the spark it needed when trailing by as many as nine in the second half.
The first mention of Allen's name drew deafening applause from the crowd.
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"All it takes is one person to sometimes ignite something that produces a huge win," Krzyzewski said of Allen's grittiness at both ends of the floor. "It was a chain reaction through our team.... All of a sudden, we were playing defense like we had been playing the entire NCAA tournament."
Following his speech, Krzyzewski turned the microphone over to Cook—the team's lone scholarship senior—who the head coach called as good a leader as anyone who has come through the Duke program.
"Everything that we've been through, people counting us out, adversity—guys stepped up," Cook said, looking up to the four championship banners above his head. "I said on my Senior Night that we weren't done yet.... I think they have to make some room up there now."
Fans began filing into the historic arena at 3:30 p.m., a full 90 minutes before the event was slated to begin. While they waited, the Duke faithful got to rewatch the Blue Devils' championship game victory against Wisconsin on the jumbotron, with scoreboard operators keeping the score updated as the contest wore on.
As the replay of the game progressed, fans found their gaze transfixed to the screen. By the time Duke made its decisive second-half run, the reactions from the crowd were not different from the ones of the nearly 7,000 students that stormed the court in celebration following Monday night's championship victory.
Before the team said its final goodbyes, Krzyzewski told the crowd that he had received a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama Tuesday morning. Although Krzyzewski said the president did not apologize for picking Kentucky to win the national championship and Duke to fall to Villanova in the Final Four, Obama had his fair share of kind words for the newly-minted national champions.
"He said to congratulate the guys not just on the way they play basketball, but how they represent this great university," Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski added that Obama had invited the Blue Devils to visit the White House in honor of their national championship and that Duke has accepted. No date has been set for that visit, but collegiate national champions typically visit the White House during the summer. Connecticut, the 2014 national champions, made its White House trip June 9.