"The crowd and the team were one."
So said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski following a raucous, resounding victory against Notre Dame. The statement was true in multiple ways.
First, the decibel level in Cameron Indoor Stadium flew off the charts. The 469th consecutive sellout game saw glitter and Crazie chants galore in what largely became a blowout. Why?
Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, both members of Duke's 2015 national championship team, returned to Cameron to enjoy the afternoon game against the Fighting Irish. So did Gene Banks, a throwback two-time All-American for the Blue Devils.
Then, the big fish. Just a few minutes into the second half, a timeout was called. It didn't matter who called it, because here came Zion Williamson ambling in front of the Duke bench, surrounded by shouts of joy on all sides. As his image graced Cameron Indoor's Jumbotron, the screams reached heretofore unknown levels, rendering team strategy discussions on either side useless.
It had been nearly a full calendar year since the beloved rim-breaker last took to Coach K Court. It was not a pleasant image then: a broken shoe, a knee injury and a dispiriting loss to North Carolina in front of a former U.S. President. The scene was vastly different Saturday.
"Z walked in, and they went crazy," sophomore point guard Tre Jones said of his former teammate's theatrical entrance. "Timeout got called, they announced all the players. We came out, made a crazy run and blew the roof off. There's no better place to play when it's like that."
Williamson had just played in the NBA's Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend in Chicago Friday evening. His surprise appearance in Durham prompted quick action from the Crazies. They chanted, "Zion, sit with us" and "We want Zion" with reckless abandon, causing the broad-shouldered 19-year-old to bury his head in his arms in embarrassment.
That "Sit with us" chant got the Crazies in some hot water with Krzyzewski when directed at Pittsburgh head coach and former Blue Devil Jeff Kapel last month. Krzyzewski admonished them, yelling "Shut up" to the student section. He had thought they insulted his former player and assistant coach.
Krzyzewski apologized for his misunderstanding in a secret meeting with the students the next day.
Williamson sat next to Cook, a Los Angeles Laker, in the row directly behind Nolan Smith. During all of their team huddles, the current Duke players got a face full of their Blue Devil forerunners.
"I just saw [Zion] smiling behind the bench with Quinn [Cook]," Krzyzewski said. "Two of the great smiles in the history of Duke basketball, those two guys. It says a lot that they come back. For Zion—he played last night. I love the fact that they want to maintain their relationship with this great university. And that's one of the reasons they came here. Not just to play, but to be a part of it and to get that welcome."
Tyus Jones, now on the Memphis Grizzlies, also received heaps of praise. The video that plays on Cameron's Jumbotron before every game includes footage of Jones' 3-pointer to secure the 2015 national championship. When the clip played, the Crazies acknowledged Jones' presence with a hearty yell.
Surprisingly, his brother Tre, Duke's current star point guard, did not have advance notice of his brother's attendance.
"I love playing when he’s able to come," Tre Jones said. "Obviously, with how busy he is, how much he has to travel and things like that, it’s been tough for him to get to games. When he does, it’s always so much fun."
The appearance of those Blue Devil legends seemed to ignite an intense fire under No. 7 Duke. The Blue Devils outscored the Fighting Irish 52-28 in the second half, thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers from just about everyone.
The younger Jones brother, in particular, put on a show worthy of his elder brother. Tre Jones scored 19 points, dished out six assists and pulled down seven rebounds. He did this with remarkable efficiency, shooting 9-of-13 from the field and coughing up only two turnovers.
"Look, we go the way of our leader," Krzyzewski said. "Tre was magnificent, not good. The kid is a special, special guy."
After the game, Williamson, Jones and Cook ventured back into the locker room where they recovered in years past and celebrated the victory with the current squad. Every Blue Devil had something to say about the experience, but perhaps it was sharpshooter Alex O'Connell who put Williamson's triumphant return into words the best.
"It’s amazing to have Zion back," O'Connell said. "It just goes to show you what The Brotherhood is about. No matter how many years you stay, what you do while you’re here, you’re always loved. Everyone always cares for you. You’re always part of the team.”
With all the legends soon to be embroiled in a hectic NBA schedule once again, the Cameron Crazies probably won't get to see Zion's face for quite some time. But the invitation is always open. After all, the team and the crowd are always one. If the Crazies could speak as one, they'd offer the following proposal:
Sit with us.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.