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Why we care

Senior Matt Pun, pictured middle in the “Quinn’s Cooks” hat, served as sports managing editor.
Senior Matt Pun, pictured middle in the “Quinn’s Cooks” hat, served as sports managing editor.

The first time I cared about Duke sports, I was six years old.

With National Player of the Year Elton Brand back in Durham for his sophomore year, the Blue Devils boasted a lineup with four soon-to-be first-round draft picks and looked unstoppable.

In fact, they had been.

Duke had won 32 straight games and had already tied the NCAA record at the time with 37 wins for the season. Looking for his third national title, Coach K had one of his most talented teams yet.

And I wanted nothing more than for Duke to lose.

I loved the UConn Huskies. I spent hours playing on a little Fisher Price hoop in my basement, pretending I was Khalid El-Amin, Richard Hamilton or Souleymane Wane, and with the Huskies in their first national championship game, everyone in my family was excited. I’ll never forget the excitement from when they “shocked the world” in the words of El-Amin.

It wasn’t just about it being Connecticut’s first national title; it was about taking down Duke. Unbeatable, unstoppable Duke.

Little did I know that a decade later I’d be packing my bags to head to Durham for four years.

The second time I cared about Duke sports, it had nothing to do with Mike Krzyzewski.

One of the first things I did as a freshman was join The Chronicle. I had written for the sports section of my high school paper and wanted to try it out at Duke, and after going through training, I cautiously picked up a story: a women’s soccer recap against the College of Charleston.

I had seen the team blow out Texas A&M 7-2 a week earlier and as I settled in to the press box above Koskinen Stadium, it took just five minutes for freshman Kelly Cobb to find the back of the net. The Blue Devils won 3-0, putting everyone in high spirits for my first interviews after the game.

With one of the team’s beat writers unable to cover most of the games that season, I had the opportunity to keep coming back and I was hooked. Sophomore Natasha Anasi stepped in to the backline following her teammate’s ACL tear and anchored a defense that would register a school-record 16 shutouts. Cobb, who grew up in Chugiak, Alaska, and had dealt with sun poisoning in her first weeks in Durham, fit seamlessly into the Duke offense, setting first-year scoring records with 11 goals and eight assists. And to clinch the regular season ACC title in Raleigh, Kim DeCesare made one of the most impressive hustle plays I’ve ever seen, sprinting from outside the 18-yard box to clear a loose ball from rolling into an open net just as it reached the goal line.

I will always be grateful for the chance to tell these stories—stories of fellow students who have devoted so much time to pursue what they love, stories of seasons and careers turning on an injury or an NCAA ruling and stories of how teamwork and dedication can ultimately pay off as the eight-man rotation on this year’s championship men’s basketball team showed.

But, here, sports aren’t just a venue for inspiring stories or, as some outsiders might believe, another opportunity for Duke students to brag.

Before coming to Duke, I had heard about the Cameron Crazies and Krzyzewskiville, but it wasn’t until I was walking through the main quad on a tour, hearing stories of bench burning and tenting that I realized just how much this campus loved its basketball team.

School spirit wasn’t the only reason I decided to come to Duke, but I can’t imagine my last four years without it.

That first Carolina game when Austin Rivers buried the Tar Heels and we thought the only appropriate reaction was to start a bonfire on East.

The time when the White Raven made a triumphant return to Cameron, erupting for 36 points to avenge a cringe-worthy loss to Miami.

The pain that came from not only witnessing Kevin Ware’s grotesque leg fracture but also seeing the magic run out for Mason, Seth and Ryan.

The inevitable Lehigh and Mercer jokes whenever I strayed anywhere outside of Durham with some Duke gear on.

The weeks spent sleeping outside with some of my closest friends year after year despite paying for a warm and dry dorm room just a few hundred feet away.

And that last night in Cameron, making our way down to the court for one last celebration.

Sometimes, it really does seem crazy how much Blue Devil fans care about their basketball team.

One of my friends told me that she viewed basketball like religion—she doesn’t believe in it personally, but she respects it. And I completely understand why some of my classmates get frustrated with how much basketball can dominate the schedule.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There aren’t many events at Duke that bring out students by the thousands, but as many of my fellow Crazies have told me, basketball season gives you an opportunity to be part of something bigger, something with a history, and something that will last long after we’re gone.

To close, I’ll leave you with one final story, from my three-time tent captain and one of the Craziest I know.

“I didn’t immediately find my place at Duke.... Basketball changed everything. There was nothing unnatural about Cameron—it was effortless perfection. I didn’t know any of the chants; I didn’t understand why we put our hands up during free throws; I didn’t yet feel the significance of ‘Every Time We Touch.’ But I still felt like I was, for the first time at Duke, a part of something bigger than myself. I stood next to students I had never seen before and would never see again, and that didn’t matter—we were Crazies together. Basketball matters to me because it gave me an identity, and, most importantly, it gave me an identity that placed me in unity with others. It was raw passion; it was hoarse voices; it was sore feet at the end of every game. It was worth every last rainy night in K-Ville, because it meant that I was a part of Duke.”

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