The energy was clear all day around campus, and when things began inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, it became even clearer—the Blue Devils were ready to roll.
Exactly 587 days after an 89-76 win against North Carolina, Duke welcomed the Cameron Crazies back home, albeit for what amounted to a 24-minute instrasquad scrimmage. However, the night did give the Blue Devils—a collection of faces old and new—a chance to send the already buzzing crowd into a frenzy.
“Our game is supposed to be played in front of fans,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s indoors, it’s intimate, they’re right on the court. I mentioned the word feel; there’s no way you felt Cameron last year, no matter how hard the two teams played.”
There was Paolo Banchero, the gem of this year’s recruiting class, displaying his polished and pro-ready skill set, along with an affection for G Herbo in his player walk out. There was Wendell Moore Jr., who looked comfortable as an occasional floor general and vocal leader of the bunch. There was even some walk-on-inspired excitement, as Spencer Hubbard, Keenan Worthington and Stanley Borden entered the action late to raucous cheers.
But all that was just part of the atmosphere, the prevailing narrative from the night. There will be 19 other opportunities for Duke to play on its home floor this year, but there was only one opportunity to get this season started.
By all indications, that opportunity was not wasted in the slightest. From an introduction video that featured Lebron James, to the entire Blue Devil roster coming out of the middle of the bleachers in Section 17, Duke was playing to its audience all night.
“No matter what arena, if it's packed, that's part of the game,” Krzyzewski said. “The feel of the fans and what it does to the home team, the visitors and the officials. It provides a human element and it should heighten you. Our guys were really excited when they came back in, I just talked to them for a little bit, they were so darn happy to play in front of people.”
For the players, the environment hit home, particularly considering only four—Moore, Worthington, Joey Baker and Michael Savarino—were part of the program during that matchup with North Carolina 19 months ago, right before everything changed.
Even Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams, the lone holdovers from the 2020 recruiting class, had to wait until Friday for their grand introduction to the Cameron experience.
“It was tough,” Roach said on his freshman year taking place in an empty home gym. “Just to be able to have this year, and for it to be Coach K’s last year, all the Cameron Crazies, I know they’re excited to get out there. So the energy is second to none, you can’t even describe it.”
Plus, with parents in the house, the night seemed like a family affair from the start. So not only could they show off to students and fans alike, but the Blue Devils also got the chance to show off in front of the people that have been at their respecitve sides through it all.
“I had my mom, dad and my grandma and grandpa on my mom’s side there, it was crazy," Banchero said. "They raised me, so seeing their baby being on this stage in front of this crowd, I can’t imagine how they feel. I know I feel proud of them being my parents, all the work we put in growing up is paying off."
The season will technically get started in just over three weeks in Madison Square Garden, but in earnest, Krzyzewski's send off campaign began Friday. Which made it fitting that the Cameron Crazies were finally back, ready to get the party started.
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Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.