Three days before Duke hosts North Carolina on Senior Night, Tent 1 still isn't sure what its theme will be.
The group of 12 students that millions of television viewers will envy in the front row of the student section at midcourt Saturday might coordinate Kangaroo Jack outfits around an Australian theme, a nod to sophomore forward Jack White, or they might dress up in scuba gear. Another option is getting painted as the Blue Devils' retired jerseys, even though there are 13 of those in the rafters and just 12 of them.
"But Danny Ferry gave his to Marvin Bagley, so it works," tent captain Sara Shmueli pointed out.
The outfit dilemma is one of the only pieces of Tent 1's experience that has not been carefully mapped out since long before they set up their temporary home in Krzyzewskiville for the start of Black Tenting Jan. 12, 50 days ago.
Twenty-four groups began tenting on the first day, committing to a six-week tenting adventure to secure the best spots in Cameron Indoor Stadium for Saturday's game. To emerge atop this select group of committed Crazies, it took more than a few nights and countless hours of sleeping outside.
Black Tenting groups do not get a number when they start, since they all begin camping out at the same time. Instead, they are ordered near the end of tenting based half on their score on a historical test of Duke men's basketball trivia and half on their group's attendance at home sporting events—men's and women's basketball games, wrestling matches, tennis matches and others. Ten of the 12 tent members have to sign in at the event for a group to get full credit.
Shmueli, a junior, is used to the nuances of tenting—she was in Tent 3 as a freshman and Tent 4 last winter, both good enough to be in the front row. But eight members of last year's tent graduated, so she assumed the role of tent captain, invited friends and asked them to invite their friends.
The expectations were clear from the outset: every tent member had to commit to pulling their weight with tenting shifts, prioritizing attendance events and studying their share of trivia.
"People were almost scared, not of Sara, but of just messing up, like letting the tent down, letting Sara down," said junior Elise Fernandez, who has tented with Shmueli all three years. "There was a lot of panicked calling and running around."
Their study guide for the test was a 50-page Google Doc Shmueli and her tent-mates have added to over the years, pulling facts from sources like Duke basketball's Wikipedia page, articles and books about the program and the documentary "A Cut Above: 100 Seasons of Duke Basketball," that Shmueli and Fernandez watched together.
The questions they were most proud of getting right this year were the name of the former head coach who still attends every Blue Devil home game (Bucky Waters) and Duke's record in 1994-95, the year Mike Krzyzewski was away from the team for most of the season due to back surgery (13-18).
Of course, there was also the day-to-day grind of tenting the group had to keep up with. During Black Tenting, which runs for two full weeks, 10 people in the group have to be in K-ville during night hours from 2:30-7 a.m., and two have to be there the rest of the day. Those numbers drop to six and one during Blue Tenting, and two and one during White Tenting, respectively.
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Shmueli maintains a spreadsheet to keep track of everybody's hours and adjusts the schedule to make it fair whenever grace is called. Each group can miss one check per tenting period before they are bumped on their second strike, but Shmueli and Fernandez proudly said their group has never missed a check in three years.
That was the easy part this year, though. Tenters were given grace for several days during Black Tenting due to a mid-January snowstorm and lost almost all of Blue Tenting as well due to a flu outbreak. Even in a long tenting season, with the home game between Duke and the Tar Heels taking place on the final night of the regular season rather than midway through February, members of Shmueli's group averaged eight nights in the tent—fewer than it took to be in a Black Tent during last year's shorter season.
But instead of appreciating the time off, Shmueli and Fernandez seemed almost disappointed that their group did not have as much time to bond this season as in past years.
"I like the night shifts definitely, especially during black tenting when you have the shift right before the night shift," Shmueli said. "Maybe from like 10 until 2:30, you really are there with one other person, kind of have to bond over how cold and uncomfortable you are."
Tenting shifts also became a little more comfortable this year thanks to the K-ville common room, complete with carpeting and beanbag chairs.
"I spent a lot of time in there doing work and hanging out. It was super comfortable," Fernandez said. "By the end, it started to smell like trash, but up until like the last week, it was super nice."
That description applies to most of K-ville by the end of a marathon tenting season, but it will be worth it for the more than one thousand tenters who pile into Cameron come Saturday.
And Tent 1 will be first through the door.