Five Views of a Fifth Championship

Looking at one great acheivement
May 1, 2015

THE VIEW FROM CAMERON

In the future, we’ll see a merging between the virtual and the actual. Are we players in the real world? Or are we players who just act as if we’re in the real world?

In Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Duke-Wisconsin game, the future arrived. The game was up there, on the giant scoreboard. But the game might as well have been down there, on the floor of Cameron, just below the concession stands with their (real-world) $8 box pizzas.

And the crowd goes wild. (Photo by Megan Mendenhall)

And the crowd goes wild. (Photo by Megan Mendenhall)

For the occasion, Cameron was a students-only zone. With a show of coordinated chaos, they indulged in their heart-pumping, stadium-shaking, noise-making up-and-down bounce. They wore blue wigs, devil horns that glowed, and T-shirts that carried supportive statements: “Blue Devil Basketball Never Stops,” “You Can’t Handle The D,” and (in a reaching back to past glory) “Laettner 32.” In a sea of blue, one spectator sported an orange- and-yellow costume. “I’m a giraffe,” she explained.

Pregame, as the Channel 3 (“On Your Side”) camera surveyed the crowd, student responses were appropriate to the stimulus: They waved, they made faces, they recited the virtues of the team. With the playing of the national anthem, they sang along, badly but exuberantly.

During the game, as players approached the free-throw line, the students sometimes traced the path to the basket with their extended arms. And sometimes they gestured with wild abandon—depending, of course, on the team attempting the free throw. As the score veered in and out of Duke’s favor, they sounded the familiar chant: “Let’s go, Duke!!!” You just can’t record that without an arsenal of exclamation points.

A high-schooler, visiting Duke as a prospective student (an even more committed prospect by evening’s end), was in synch with one crowd ritual: adamantly exercising his iPhone to unleash “tons of pictures” for his friends. Phones fired away around the final score, 68-63. There was more bouncing, a lot of hugging, shouts of “This is insane” (“this” referring either to the game or the celebratory aftermath), the rushing of the Cameron floor, and the grabbing of instantly printed newspapers with a “National Champions” headline.

The action shifted to the bonfire and the sacrifice of dorm benches—maybe a sign of spontaneous joy, or maybe the carrying out of a familiar ritual. A news helicopter hovered high above. One student called out, “Hello, helicopter!” What was that goofy greeting all about? It didn’t matter. It was just a night for feeling good. 

- Robert Bliwise

INSIDE A PLAYER'S MIND

On the morning of Monday, April 6, Grayson Allen woke up thinking about bubonic plague.

This was twelve hours before he became that Grayson Allen, before he came off the bench to resuscitate a Blue Devil team suddenly gone lifeless and lead Duke to its fifth national championship in basketball. This was when he was just Grayson, a nineteen-year-old freshman, the eighth man on an eight-man team, and, on the biggest day of his Duke life, a kid with homework.

“I had a paper due for my Medieval Christianity class,” Allen recalled later. “I wanted to get it done by Sunday, but it was kind of hard to carve out the time.”

Hard because the Final Four, an event built around 120 minutes of college basketball, is as heavily orchestrated as a diplomatic summit. Since arriving in Indianapolis five days earlier, Allen and his teammates had been shuttled between press conferences, team meetings, meals, and photo opportunities. The agenda relented only at night, when many of the players gathered in a hotel suite to play video games. Allen had cut out early on Sunday evening to work on his paper, a review of a novel set in England during the time of the Black Death, but at midnight he put it aside to get some sleep. Or at least try to.

“I lay awake for probably an hour,” he says. “I was remembering watching Duke play in the 2010 national championship game,” which was also held in Indianapolis. “I was in eighth grade, and I knew I wanted to play for Duke. To be in the same place, playing for the championship, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Until then, Allen’s first year at Duke hadn’t been much of a fairy tale. Though he arrived with less fanfare than teammates Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow, Allen was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in Jacksonville, Florida. His ambitions rose as high as his thirty-seven- inch vertical jump could carry him. Yet in the Blue Devils’ first twenty regular-season games, Allen played more than ten minutes only three times. When Duke faced its eventual championship-game foe Wisconsin in December, he never got off the bench.

That made Allen’s heroic role in the final even more astounding. The freshman scored sixteen points—including eight during a one-minute, nine-second flurry in the second half that erased most of a nine-point Wisconsin lead. Within two days, Allen would have 50,000 new Instagram followers. A few snide columnists pegged him as “the next great Duke villain.”

But on Monday morning, all that was a fantasy as remote as fourteenth-century England. Reality was a hotel room, an open laptop, and the quiet click of keys as Allen completed his paper. After filing the assignment, he e-mailed his professor, Katharine Dubois ’89, to say he hoped the class would be able to watch the game. Dubois assured him they would, “with probably more exclamation points than I would usually use in e-mails to students or colleagues,” she says. “But I am a Duke grad, after all.”

Dubois’ class meets on Monday evenings, from 6:30 to 9. That night, she let the students out early so they could get to their game-watching destinations, none of them imagining that their absent classmate was about to become a legend. Not even Grayson Allen.

-Michael Penn

ON THE BEAT IN INDIANA

A Coach K embrace (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

A Coach K embrace (Photo by Jon Gardiner)

The cardinal rule of press row is very simple: No cheering. So as a student journalist seated in the south end zone of Lucas Oil Stadium, I was likely one of few Duke students who watched the final seconds of Duke’s 68-63 win against Wisconsin tick away with a straight face. When the final buzzer sounded, I finished my work on my laptop, closed the lid, and walked to the edge of the raised court for the trophy presentation, passing the quickly emptying Badger student section and trying to imagine the delirium raging inside Cameron Indoor Stadium 600 miles from Indianapolis.

During the ceremony and ensuing press conferences, I kept my thoughts from showing. But internally, the heart-thumping from the tense final minutes was starting to die down, and the realization that Duke had won was starting to sink in.

For Quinn Cook, the win was vindication. The senior captain finally captured the banner he had been chasing for four years. For Final Four Most Outstanding Player Tyus Jones, whose nineteen second- half points brought the Blue Devils back from a nine-point deficit, it was just one of many shining moments in a dynamite freshman season.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski always has preached doing things “together,” and this year’s team completely embraced that message. In watching the players’ season-long evolution from press row, I was struck by their focus and willingness to deflect praise to their teammates, even on a team loaded with freshman stars destined for the pros. Outside pressures did not affect the way they talked and did not affect the way they played all season long. None of that changed when Duke got to the biggest stage of all: the Final Four, where we in the media fully exhausted our list of questions during four days of endless pregame and postgame availability. As Justise Winslow said in the days leading up to the South Regional in Houston, Duke treated its weekends in March like “a business trip,” and the Blue Devils returned to Durham having sealed the deal.

I left the media room around 3:30 the next morning—at which point the on-campus festivities had probably moved on from the Main Quad bonfire—to get a few hours of rest before driving back to Durham. I’ll continue to strive for objective reporting, but it sure would be nice to be back next year.

-Ryan Hoerger

ALUMS TUNE IN AROUND THE WORLD

More than 200 alumni pinned their game watch locations to a "Global Cameron" Google map.

More than 200 alumni pinned their game watch locations to a "Global Cameron" Google map.

Jessica Gaither Vandett M.S. ’07 was in Banner Elk, North Carolina, cheering on the Blue Devils with her dad and five-year-old daughter, Zoë. During the last Duke championship win in 2010, Vandett was in the neonatal intensive- care unit at CHI St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock, Arkansas, with Zoë, who was delivered at thirty-three weeks. That night, as Vandett watched over her sleeping daughter, she cheered on the Blue Devils to victory with one of Zoë’s neonatologists. “We felt she was a good-luck charm,” Vandett says. And on game night this year, a healthy, strong Zoë worked her magic again. “She cheered her heart out,” Vandett says.

Michael Pelehach ’10, a Fulbright scholar who teaches English in Silistra, Bulgaria, was in Bucharest for one night, catching a plane to Greece the next morning. The Blue Devils were playing in about four hours, so he ordered two cups of coffee to go from a bar close to his hostel—for later when he woke up for the game—and tried to get a little sleep. “I set three alarms to make sure I was wide awake in time for tip-off at 4 a.m.,” Pelehach says. And he was. The next morning, a groggy and happy Pelehach chatted with another hostel guest. He had stayed up all night before rushing to the airport. “Oh, that was you!” the guest said. “I heard a bunch of clapping and yelling at ungodly hours last night!”

Liz Clarke Glynn ’07 and her husband, Declan, were preparing to board a plane home to Washington after a whirlwind trip that included a family wedding. The plane did not have in-flight Wi-Fi, so Glynn, in her Duke shirt, was hoping the flight got delayed. Throughout her time in Australia, Glynn had streamed the NCAA tournament games successfully from her smart phone—including the Final Four from atop the Blue Mountain range in Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia. She commiserated with a fellow Duke fan on board. She appealed to the flight attendant, asking for help nudging the captain for the score. But it was radio silence until Glynn landed in the U.S. “As we started our descent, I got my phone out and had it prepped and ready to go to find out the score,” Glynn says. “Once I knew, I couldn’t stop smiling and was so excited! It got me through the long customs process in a great mood!”

-Christina Holder

MERCH MADNESS

Jim Wilkerson spent the night of the championship at home watching the game with family and friends. Right at the buzzer, amid shouting friends and a howling beagle, the director of trademark licensing and store operations for Duke University Stores texted one of the apparel suppliers: “Print ’em!” His message was the green light to start printing championship shirts.

By the Numbers

130 employees worked at the Duke Store the day after the game (40 more than usual)

10,000 customers bought gear the day after the game

$1,000,000+ in revenue from championship gear sales

15,000 T-shirts purchased in the first 24 hours after the game

-Elizabeth Van Brocklin

  • Christina Holder M.Div.'13 the DAA's assistant director of communications.