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A fairy tale I never imagined

A week or two after Duke won the men’s basketball national championship in Indianapolis in April 2015, I was in my room at my childhood home 10 minutes from campus when I googled future Final Four sites.

I still wasn’t 100 percent sure where I wanted to go to college when I saw that the 2019 Final Four would take place in Minneapolis my senior year. I was well-versed in Duke basketball history and also mildly superstitious, knowing that Duke only ever wins in a city that ends in “-apolis.” It seemed like a sign that the stars were aligned for a storybook ending. I decided to come to Duke. A silly thing like that helped me make the best choice of my life.

I went through the motions of a national college search, wary of going to school so close to home, but I think my decision had actually been predestined for many years. Most 10-year-olds in the mid-2000s spent their free time reading Harry Potter. I read The Encyclopedia of Duke Basketball cover to cover. Name any book about the Blue Devils, and there’s a good chance it’s sitting on my bookshelf. I knew I would enjoy the basketball scene at Duke as a student, but I couldn’t have anticipated how it would shape my experience here.

I suspect something would have guided me to The Chronicle eventually, but I was lucky to have an early catalyst. The TA in my freshman seminar—Ryan Hoerger, the sports editor at the time—went to the White House to cover the 2015 national champions’ visit a couple of weeks into classes my freshman fall. Needless to say, that seemed pretty cool.

That’s all it took to dive into this labor of love, letting my life revolve around The Chronicle for most of my four years here. Ask me about my favorite weeks of college, and by extension, my life, and they’re all Duke sporting events I covered—the 2017 ACC tournament, 2019 ACC tournament, 2017 PK80 Invitational and 2018 Athens Regional in the NCAA baseball tournament.

It culminated with a weekend in Washington to cover the NCAA men’s basketball East Regional a month ago. As I took my courtside seat on press row before the Blue Devils tipped off against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, I thought about that night in my room in 2015, before I had ever heard the names Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

Everything I had imagined about 2019 was coming true. Duke appeared to be the best team in the nation, featuring the most electric, charismatic college basketball player in recent memory. One more win, and the Blue Devils would be en route to Minneapolis.

Of course, it didn’t happen. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston dribbled out the final seconds of a one-point loss for Duke a few feet away from my seat. 

Not all fairy tales have the ending you expect, but being there to cover that game in person was a different kind of storybook finish.

I didn’t go to Minneapolis like I thought I might when I was 17, but I did cover games for The Chronicle in New York, Portland, Washington, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, South Bend, Clemson, Atlanta, Louisville, Detroit, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Shreveport.

I was a credentialed reporter three straight years for the men’s basketball ACC tournament, the best sporting event in the world for a fan growing up in North Carolina, and the Blue Devils and Tar Heels happened to meet in the semifinals all three times. Duke’s win against North Carolina this season was one of the most memorable in the rivalry’s history, and its run to the 2017 championship with four wins in four days was unparalleled.

There’s a glass-half-empty view that I’ll graduate as part of only the fifth class since 1986 never to see a men’s basketball Final Four appearance as Duke students. That’s not how I’ll look back on my four years. It ignores all the special games, characters and moments I’ve seen along the way.

I never thought I’d be on the court live-tweeting Duke cutting down the nets after two different ACC championships. I never thought I’d have the chance to interview Mike Krzyzewski and some of the most talented players in the country about my favorite sport.

Sure, I never saw a national championship as a student, but don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve been the luckiest college kid in America.

Hank Tucker is a Trinity senior. He served as sports editor of The Chronicle’s 113th volume. He wants to thank Ryan, Amrith, Mitchell and Michael for sharing many of his favorite moments on press row with him and always being available to text or argue in person about Duke or the Red Sox. And he may never have met any of them without the love, support and lifelong brainwashing mission his parents successfully executed as Duke alumni themselves.

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