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Duke men's basketball's run through NCAA tournament is a family affair

<p>Kylia Carter, Wendell Carter Jr.’s mother, has been one of the most recognizable faces at every Duke game this season in the family section behind the Blue Devil bench.</p>

Kylia Carter, Wendell Carter Jr.’s mother, has been one of the most recognizable faces at every Duke game this season in the family section behind the Blue Devil bench.

OMAHA, Neb.—As Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski headed to the podium Thursday afternoon, a familiar face trailed just a few feet behind him.

“Just in case you don’t know who he is,” said Mickie Krzyzewski, holding a placard with her husband’s name.

At every game, Mickie is never too far from the Blue Devil bench—except at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where she sits in the upper bowl alongside her daughters and grandchildren, all of whom are frequent attendees.

For Duke, “The Brotherhood” has become a common refrain, recognizing the family-like connection that the team shares with one another after many months together—both on and off the floor. But this group of Blue Devils also seems to have particularly strong bonds with their true families as well.

And in high-pressure situations such as the NCAA tournament, any extra comfort can prove influential, especially for a group of 18- and 19-year-old freshmen.

“It means a lot [to have my family with me],” freshman Wendell Carter Jr. said Thursday. “They’re always there to have my back. They’re going to cheer for the team, and just to hear their voices in the stands sometimes gives you that good little feeling.”

Carter’s mother, Kylia, might be the most recognizable parent of any Duke player. She and her husband moved from Atlanta to Durham in order to attend all of the Blue Devils’ games, and Kylia Carter is usually just a few rows back from the Duke bench decked out in her blue lipstick, blue chewing gum and blue pom-poms.

The Carters traveled to Pittsburgh last weekend, but they were far from the only members of the extended Blue Devil family to make the trek to the Steel City. 

Grayson Allen’s parents, William and Sherry, were in the stands along with Marvin Bagley III’s dad, Marvin Jr., and a whole group of Gary Trent Jr.’s family that included his mom, his two uncles and his cousin.

For Trent, even just a small energy boost is noticeable when the people he loves are in the building to support his team.

“It just feels good,” Trent said. “You can hear all the families cheering you on, no matter what’s going on, so it feels great having my family there giving off positive energy.”

Unlike his first-year teammates, Allen has been around the block. A senior playing in his fourth NCAA tournament in as many seasons, the Blue Devil captain said he never looks up into the crowd to find his family—at least until the game is over.

That said, he acknowledged similar sentiments to both Carter and Trent.

“It’s amazing to have [my parents’] support,” Allen said. “I’m very locked in and focused on our team, but it’s really nice having their support to travel all the way out here, and really that whole parents’ section is a nice thing to have.”

Of course, every player’s family expands just a bit when they join the Duke program. Krzyzewski’s oldest daughter, Debbie Savarino, organizes all of the team’s special events, and many of the head coach’s grandchildren hang around the team when they’re on the road away from the gym.

You can call it a brotherhood, you can call it a family, you can call it whatever you like—the Blue Devils are as close as can be.

“All of [Coach’s] daughters, all his grandchildren, I’m around them so much, talking to them so much,” Allen said. “They’ve really become my Duke family here, and it’s been awesome, especially with everything I’ve gone through.”

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