DURHAM, N.C. — The smell of Cameron Indoor Stadium, on the campus of Duke University, is distinctive. The old wood in the stands is worn, and the arena is so intimate and well-constructed, you couldn’t find a bad seat if you tried. Outside, the infamous barrage of students camped out in Krzyzewskiville don’t mind the sub-20 temperatures at night. But many of them were not there for the Notre Dame game, but for the North Carolina game … on Feb. 18.
Saturday, Feb. 8, meanwhile, was my first Duke game at Cameron, and I didn’t know what to expect. I had visited during an AAU Tournament and played there during a basketball camp, but that was different.
In the pantheon of college basketball arenas, four stand out: Cameron; Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas; Rupp Arena at Kentucky; and Assembly Hall at Indiana. Cameron is the smallest. The crowd is led by the students, aptly deemed the “Cameron Crazies,” who work together to distract the opposition while vehemently rooting on their beloved Blue Devils. Their well-synchronized blend of “Let’s go, Duke,” “More than double” and “Hi Jerian” during the opposition’s starting line-ups have become patented “Crazy” chants.
Saturday, in a top-10 matchup versus a Notre Dame team that had beaten it 11 days before, Duke was in rare form, even for its mighty standards. A 42-7 first-half run ultimately resulted in a 90-60 win that surprised even the most ardent of Duke fans. “That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen from a Duke team, ever,” my friend Dan Levitan, a 1970s Duke grad and longtime friend of Coach K, told me. “Incredible.”
The ebbs and flows of a basketball game — and I’m not merely talking about one at Cameron — happen at any level. The game is a beautifully random sequence of events, made even better by the sensational blend of athletes that play it. For fourth-ranked Duke, its slew of talented athletes this season is sensational, as is its distinct home-court advantage. In fact, during college basketball’s modern era, no program has enjoyed a better home-court record than the Blue Devils have.
Krzyzewski isn’t just a coach these days, but an institution. The framework of the entire university is shaped by his program, and in turn, by Cameron Indoor itself. Etched in my memory is the slate of banners that hung in the rafters, one after another after another. Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, and Krzyzewski’s latest accomplishment — 1,000 career wins, an unprecedented feat and a banner that rightfully hangs all by itself.
After the game, I headed toward the media room to watch his post-game press conference. Local reporters peppered him with questions about his trio of freshmen, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. I listened to his answers, which were filled with insight and intellect. But I watched Krzyzewski too. I watched how he digested each question, an all-time great still just as invested in winning as he was in 1980, his first year in Durham.
“It was almost perfect,” the 67-year-old head coach said of his team’s execution in the 30-point drubbing over Notre Dame.
For this fan, though, a day spent at Cameron was indeed perfect.
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