A number of familiar faces were sitting behind the Duke bench Saturday—2015 national champions Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones as well as former forward Mason Plumlee.
But it was a more unexpected guest appearance on the Duke sideline that might have been the most meaningful to the Blue Devil program.
Jeff Capel Jr., father of Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel III, joined the Blue Devils for their game against Wake Forest as he fights his battle against ALS. The younger Capel penned a piece for the Players' Tribune in late January, discussing the impact that his father's diagnosis has had on him and his family during the past 10 months.
ALS is a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and eventually leads to the inability to initiate and control muscle movement. There is currently no cure for ALS and the condition often leads to death within two to five years of diagnosis.
"I didn’t want to publicize it or anything like that, but asked Jeff, ‘What do you think? First of all, would you be okay with it?’ He said, 'Yeah' and I said, 'I’d rather you put it by your father, but I’ll extend the formal invitation,'" Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Saturday's game. "Jeff got back to me and he said, ‘I think it’d be okay.’ It’s better for us to text with him and he wanted to text. He was excited—he even used emojis, which shocked Jeff."
Capel Jr., a former Demon Deacon assistant coach, worked as a collegiate head coach for a little more than a decade with stints at Division II Fayetteville State then Division I sides North Carolina A&T and Old Dominion. Capel Jr. then worked as an NBA assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers during the 2000s.
After the current Blue Devil assistant played in Durham in the mid-1990s, Capel Jr.'s other son, Jason, played four seasons for North Carolina.
In his article last month, the younger Capel said that he broke down crying in Krzyzewski's office as he told Krzyzewski of his father's illness. After the game Saturday, the Blue Devil players presented Capel Jr. with the game ball. It was not the first time that Duke has raised awareness for ALS this season—the Blue Devil and Tar Heel coaching staffs donned ALS Association lapel pins for the teams' matchup Feb. 9, a tradition Duke's coaches have continued recently.
And for the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, adding another assistant to his staff—at least for the day—was a unique occasion.
"It was special," Krzyzewski said. "For me, I didn’t realize how good it would feel to see father and son on the bench. It’s a great moment—not a good moment, it’s a big-time moment, so I’m glad he was able to be with us."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."