Duke basketball viewers across the country don’t understand what it is that drives the Cameron Crazies.
Although this season had a heartbreaking finish, it’s been a journey for many students on campus. For freshmen, this was a sweet entrance to the next years of their lives. For seniors, this team gave them a final memorable year. The season brought a whirlwind of emotions for Blue Devil fans, but the firsthand experience of those who reside here was all the more emotional.
“Being a part of Duke basketball means the world to me,” said sophomore Thomas Williford. “But what does being a part of Duke basketball mean? I will never play in a Duke jersey, nor help coach a team while I’m here. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have an impact.”
The Happy Times
Duke's season-opening blowout of Kentucky truly captured the country’s attention. More than 200 students gathered in the basement of the Gilbert-Addoms residence hall to watch the Blue Devils steal the show from the Wildcats in Indianapolis.
“The sheer numbers that gathered to root on Duke, shouting ‘Let's Go Duke,’ and holding up three fingers every time Cam shot, is one of the things that differentiates the Duke student experience,” said freshman Bella Caracta. “Duke students feel it in their blood. We bleed blue.”
The support from students isn’t just for the team as a whole, but for each individual that wears the school’s name on his jersey.
When Jack White finally snapped a month-and-a-half long 0-for-28 drought from the perimeter against Miami March 2, Section 17, where the Cameron Crazies reside, erupted in cheers in support.
“The whole stadium started chanting ‘Jack is back’ and you could tell instantly that his confidence had gone up,” said freshman Jonathan Yonke. “He went on to make his next two threes in a row as well, and with the whole stadium deafeningly chanting his name, it was amazing.”
The Stressful Times
When Zion Williamson went down with a knee injury less than a minute into the aforementioned matchup against North Carolina, Cameron Indoor Stadium fell silent. Amidst the anxiety that came from watching the game, those in the student section felt an even greater obligation to cheer on the team.
“You get sucked into what is happening on the court and in the student section and you forget about everything else,” said senior Elise Fernandez. “I was just focused completely on the game and on cheering as loud as possible for the team. When Zion was injured my heart dropped but seeing him walk off the court was promising.”
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Perhaps the most stressful scene for Blue Devil fans this season came in the final moments of the matchup against Central Florida March 24, as a tip-in attempt at the buzzer from Aubrey Dawkins circled the rim before eventually falling out of the basket.
“The final seconds of the UCF game were accompanied by a slew of emotions, the most prominent for me being fear and anxiety,” said Caracta. “For a non-student viewer, if Duke lost in those final seconds, March Madness would go on and other teams would advance. For us, Duke students, our season would have been over. While we may not be playing on the court, every single Duke student is on the team.”
The Sad Times
When asking several Blue Devils on campus what the hardest moment they experienced this season was, all responded with Sunday's loss to Michigan State . With two close games that had come before, it was easy to think that Duke would manage to pull off another win in the end.
However, the dance ended over a single point.
When asked about why he thinks the loss affected students, senior Rob Palmisano said “I think it's the fact that you can observe how much the team has grown over the season and then to know that they are good enough to play in a Final Four but have that stripped away from them in the waning seconds of the game.”
The aftermath of the game was hard to watch for some especially when a devastated Tre Jones appeared hunched over and crying in his palms.
“When Tre cried on the court, I’m not sure others felt the pain we felt as students,” said freshman Chris Sheerer. “To watch your classmate, even if you don’t know him, cry over a failure. That’s hard. At the end of the day we’re all here because we’re great at something and we are so invested in one another’s success, no matter who they are.”
So, what is it that drives the true Cameron Crazie experience?
It’s the little things. It’s passing by these young men on campus or sharing classes with them, rather than simply viewing them as players on a screen. It’s being there on the sidelines when the cameras are cut, watching the players stretch and prepare to go into battle. It’s watching them come in as boys with dreams and leaving as men with accomplishments. And finally, it’s being there when the disheartened young players get off the bus after a crushing day to welcome them home to thank them for one heck of a year.