Behind the Bleachers: A Tour of Duke Basketball


Is there a better feeling than returning home?

The first time I visited Reynolds Coliseum, the crowd roared. My father brought me to the red keep to see Matt Harpring and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets play NC State. Going to State games wasn’t typical of our family, he had just won the tickets through the News and Observer. For me, it was an odd opportunity as the flint to my Duke fire was struck in Reynolds when Chris Collins hit a late, game-clinching three pointer over Todd Fuller and the Wolfpack.

So it was here that I gained a comparison to Cameron. At the time, they were the only two stadiums I had visited, so naturally I assumed all stadiums were intimate, loud, and moved beneath my Filas.

Today, Reynolds stands a shell of the pit it used to be. It is still in use but it no longer raises the hairs on the back of your neck. The pack caved to a new and shiny arena with a lucrative sponsorship and the wealthy opportunities of 25,000 seats as opposed to the mere 12,000 of the old hall.

Duke has given in to no such option and sticks by Cameron for the hallowed ground it is. Of course, to keep up in today’s recruiting world the features of an antique stadium must be complimented by a state of the art practice facility.

This week, I was fortunate to take a behind the scenes tour of Cameron and the practice facility. My father joined me, after all, he’s been attending games regularly since his student days and as a season ticket holder since 1975, so he deserved to see what the program he loved had become.

I met Dave Bradley, the man behind Duke Blue Planet, outside of Cameron near the Krzyzewskiville sign and ventured into areas known and unknown.

There is so much to the facility that I’ll surely leave bits out unintentionally. As we walked onto the practice courts, two boys playing a game of 21, a man stood on a lift near the ceiling. Duke is installing cameras at practice much like the kind professional teams are using to develop advanced analytic data for the team. In this day and age, any small edge you can get over your opponent may mean the difference between a top 15 team and a top 5 team. A razor thin difference but a distinct one nonetheless.

We turned and strolled into the great hall sized weight room. It was vacant at the moment but the smell of sweat and pride had only recently left the room. You’ve no doubt seen the room in many of the DBP videos so you probably know of the barbell forest marked by the Iron D of Duke athletics, the very D that now marks center court on Coach K’s Court.

At the end of the great hall, the Belt resides in a glass case beside the pictures of its owners to date; two Plumlees. We proceed on through, past a cardio room off the side of the practice courts, full of high tech treadmills. Dave takes us down to a large, tiered meeting room.

Rows of tables and high back leather chairs, embroidered with the Duke basketball seal, descend down several levels allowing for the team to watch film together or Coach K to conduct team and staff meetings.

We then left the room and wound down hallways lined in the life-sized portraits of Duke basketball greats quietly judging this lowly writer with their printed eyes, asking what I’d done to walk their halls. We traveled the floor level of Cameron briefly into a players lounge where Josh Hairston sat watching a movie, resting from an earlier workout.

“Hi, I’m Josh Hairston.” he said, as if he were greeting an equal. I wish. Our exchange was probably a bit embarrassing on my end so I’ll save that for Dave, my dad, and Josh to laugh at me about.

Feeling the blood leave my face, we turned down a long hallway and into the locker room. My initial reaction was that it underwhelmed but then I began to appreciate the modesty of it all. A quaint, asymmetrical room with walls covered in dark wood lockers and silver name plates, the blue carpet was emblazoned with the same Duke seal that was found on the leather chairs in the meeting room.

And four championship trophies.

Just a team with its shoes, shorts, and victory spoils.

It was nearly overwhelming in its simplicity.

Up, up we shot from the depths of Cameron to a tower that overlooks. It doesn’t cast a shadow over Krzyzewskiville because of the way the sun sets but it is giving the Duke Chapel a run for its money in the “Top Tower On Campus.” Coach K’s office resides on the top floor, to itself, accessible only by a narrow, wood-finished, spiral staircase (or elevator if you’re one of the chosen few). On the second highest floor, the other offices rest with pictures of their families and awards and paperwork, as if it were any other office in the RTP.

If not for a wall sized monument on the south wall to the four national championships, distributed evenly around a glass basketball with a quote from Coach K engraved, you might not know this was a basketball office.

We exited into the open Hall of Fame wing where the memorials stand to each national championship in Duke athletics.

Truth be told, I’ve only walked these steps once in the last two years. After the senior night for Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Casey Peters against Clemson, I walked out of Cameron for what I thought was the last time. I was moving to Northern Virginia and didn’t think I’d be able to go to anymore games. Of course, I couldn’t stay away. My wife and I moved back to the Triangle and I’m all the better for it.

So, perhaps, I never properly absorbed what it was like to sit in Cameron or perhaps it was the fumes from the refinishing of the court, either way the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention to pay their respects. I had returned to Mecca.