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A pass through the last nights of Coach K's K-ville

Krzyzewskiville has become a permanent part of Coach K's legacy.
Krzyzewskiville has become a permanent part of Coach K's legacy.

The name on the sign in front of Krzyzewskiville will be the same next year, but the man himself won’t be inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

I know that the tent city will still return. The Cameron Crazies didn’t get their names for no reason. But in the days leading up to the last night of the tenting season, I realized the finality of all of this: No Duke student will ever sleep outside in a tent again to see Mike Krzyzewski and his squad take on North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

I’ll admit I’ve also gotten caught up in the allure of all of this the past year. The national championships, gold medals and memories make that easy to do. I don’t know Coach K well outside of talking to him in press conferences and my 72 hours of fame after a brief exchange we had after a game a year ago, but I don’t think even he could have had the faintest idea that his legacy would grow to this.  

K-Ville is almost impossible to explain to someone unless you’ve done it yourself. I tried to break down the tenting experience for a friend of mine by showing her on FaceTime—it doesn’t work. 

There’s something about Coach K or Duke or a combination of both that convinces hundreds of students to sleep outdoors in the frigid Durham winter nights every year. I can’t pretend that I know what it was like to tent in K-Ville during Coach K’s final season, but I was there for the last two nights of it all—it’s not hard to see why students do it. 

***

There are Lucky Charms sitting on the table instead of the usual Math 401 homework. We’re in the study area, which in K-Ville is the massive white tent in front of Cameron equipped with outlets, chairs and tables. 

“I should be studying, but it’s the last night,” senior Ashley Wang says as she scoops some cereal in the early hours of Friday morning.

Wang has been Blue Tenting, the longest and most extreme phase this year,in K-Ville for 13 nights, longer than her friend sophomore Anthony Salgado who was just in his third. Her tent has the best wifi in K-Ville, something that comes as a precious commodity when you’ve been tenting since Jan. 23. 

Salgado’s tent is two lamp posts away from the study tent. You measure by lamp posts in K-Ville, not feet or yards. 

This was the last normal night of Krzyzewskiville. Twenty-four hours after this moment, Duke would have it’s “P-checks” night when every tenter comes to K-Ville and has to be present for three of the five line monitor checks while simultaneously taking part in a party that would go on to the early hours of the morning.

Salgado, Wang and company had given up on the thought of sleep that night. Salgado even procrastinated on writing his paper. He knew he’d be up all night anyway.

“I’ll trade you two goldfish for one marshmallow,” Salgado says to Ashley. 

They share their K-Ville stories with me. Like that time after the road Virginia game when some tenters made cheeseburgers on the quad between the grassy patches. The chefs tried to give Paolo Banchero a burger, but the star freshman declined. They ran out of buns by the time Wang got hers, but the cheese and onions on top made up for it. 

“Do the Wordle,” Wang says to her friends. Salgado pulls up Octordle on his computer, and just comes up short of getting all eight right. 

Four tenters walk into the study tent at close to 2 a.m., equipped with take-out boxes and yellow jacket Coors. Two new items to go along with the calculator, computer chargers and coupon for Zambrero littered across the tabletops. Other students sit silently, typing away on whatever project that was important enough to bring them out of the warmth of their own tents. 

Salgado says he’ll miss K-Ville a little bit. All his Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were hit. And of course, that one bathroom in the corner of K-Ville that isn’t a Port-a-Potty goes a long way. 

“This feels like a freshman year common room,” Salgado says.

***

Hundreds of students pack as close as they can to the stage Friday night and Loud Luxury performed in front of them all. I sat on the curb across the parking lot from the food trucks, mesmerized by the countless hands in the air. They bear an eerily similar look to what the student section looks like when an opposing player tries to inbound the ball.

“Yo, make some noise for Coach K,” Loud Luxury says. The crowd roars, then RL Grime’s “UCLA” plays. I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it. I didn’t get to ask Loud Luxury if they were taking a side in the Mike Krzyzewski-John Wooden debate, but to be fair, Wooden never had a small portion of UCLA’s campus turn into a tent city every winter.

The concert carried on, and students filtered in and out of the crowd the entire time. Some opted to hang out by the food trucks and dance in the parking lot instead, while others waited for their order from Gussy’s, Bon Fritay Hatian Food Truck and Sister Liu’s Kitchen. 

Students laugh, hug and dance. When the concert ends with a healthy “F–k UNC” chant, a sea flows out of the gates. Two guys lost their shirts, but they and everyone else knew exactly what direction to go in. It was time to head to K-Ville for the biggest party of the year. 

***

I walk through K-Ville and take it all in. Depending on what region I’m in, I can hear a different song. Pizza boxes with Coach K’s face that ESPN handed out are spread everywhere and the ESPN tent by the staircase said it all: “Where else can you get a degree in Die Hard?”

I walk back to the study tent and it is once again filled with students, but this time with less laptops and more fun. 

Between the study tent and the first row of K-Ville tents, a group of people gather. It is time for the semifinal game of the K-ville street ball tournament. 3-on-3, call your own fouls, first team to 15 points. 

The game went back-and-forth just like a lot of the games played 30 feet over and indoors do, and the crowd was almost just as electric. The announcers were a little different from ESPN’s typical crew of Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas, but a line monitor calling the game on his bullhorn delivered: This is Cameron Outdoor. 

Airballs were met with raucous airball chants, and if one of the teams’ loyal fan bases didn’t like a foul call, they made sure the other squad knew it. 

It finally came down to a 14-13 contest. Sophomore Chris Tsai rose up from where the elbow would be if the court had paint and banked in the dagger to reserve his team's spot ("their tent is named HallMark Williams") inside Cameron for the championship game. 

The rest of Tsai’s tent (and a few other fans) dog-piled him and lifted Tsai up on their shoulders. 

“You come to Duke to win championships,” Tsai told me after I met up with him and his teammates Sunday night to talk about the win. 

Just minutes later, the court was almost empty. The tenters flocked over to their respective line monitor for the first P-Check of the night, and carried on festivities for hours.

I came back to K-Ville around 3 a.m. that night. It was a ghost town, silent except for the rustle of the tents, the light murmur of some leftover students and the rogue can that clattered onto the floor. 

***

Less than 48 hours after K-Ville was at its peak, everything came down. 

The walkways were filled with pillows, mattresses and tarps as every group began the breakdown process. I trekked through K-Ville again, trying to picture how these two patches of grass would look when the last group was finished.

I ran into Salgado, suitcase in hand, as he gathered the last of his belongings. I made my way toward Cameron Indoor Stadium and talked to the group that the rest of the other tents envied: tent No. 1. 

Senior Rebecca Bell is the team captain of the tent that has become known as Dunk-a-gon Alley, and after being tent No. 68 their freshman year, they were determined to go above and beyond this year. 

“We’re kind of witnessing the end of an era,” Bell said as she plucked the bungee cords off the tent and carried hand warmers out. 

Bells’ tent mate,senior Rachel Mundaden, started to break down the homemade Quidditch decorations, but opted to leave that duty to the other tent members who were yet to get there. 

They showed me the craftsmanship of some of their engineer friends, who used a highlighter as a linch pin to hold up the electronic candles that floated above their tents. And they laser-cut signs that read “Dunk-a-gon Alley,” a keepsake they all hope to have when they go their separate ways after graduation. 

“It’s so bittersweet,” Mundaden said of it all. 

Senior India Haber walks up to lend a hand too. There is lots of laughter as the three tell me about their K-Ville experience, and especially about the tremendous turnaround from tent No. 68 to tent No. 1. 

Bell continues folding the tarps while several other tenters from other groups toss the remaining pieces of scrap wood onto the pile of pallets next to the K-Ville basketball court. 

I walked back to K-Ville around 11 p.m. that night. More tents were taken down, and Dunk-a-gon Alley was reduced to wooden pallets and spare plastic. 

I knew everything in K-Ville would be gone soon, not to return until next year when the tenters would be sleeping outside to see a different man and his squad take on North Carolina. 

A Coach K pizza box sat on one of the chairs remaining. “Voted best pizza in K-Ville 42 years in a row” is what the box said. 

I suppose that’s the way it always will be. 

Editor's note: This article is part of The Chronicle's Coach K Commemorative edition. Please click here for more content. 


Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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