A huge overreaction has given the endangered Cameron Crazies another excuse not to show up, so it’s now up to Duke basketball’s overreactor himself to repair the vital relations with a huge gesture.
Neither side was in the right. Neither was totally in the wrong, either. And both sides had good intentions. Undeniably inexcusable, though, was the fact that Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his young fans were on opposing sides in the first place.
This has been an escalating issue in recent years. Just go back and look at Krzyzewski’s reprimand last season after the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd cheered N.C. State in jest for surpassing 24 points — the Wolfpack’s total in a loss two weeks prior.
First, as Krzyzewski explained on Tuesday night, following the 79-67 home win by No. 9 Duke (17-3, 7-2 ACC) over Pitt (13-8, 4-6 ACC), the student section shouldn’t have treated the first half as “some cutesy little thing where we can just bounce a ball around and giggle.”
On the flip side, Coach K shouldn’t have lost his cool with the college kids — in front of ESPN cameras — for chanting, “Jeff Capel, sit with us!” With under a minute to play before the break, as a Pitt player was at the charity stripe, the Crazies were obviously just trying to treat the Panthers second-year sideline-roamer — a former Duke basketball player (1993-97) and assistant (2011-18) — as if he was a coveted recruit in attendance.
Understandably, however, seeing that Jeff Capel was in actuality an opposing coach — in his first return to Cameron as such — his mentor evidently misunderstood either the words or intent of the chant. One could easily view “sit with us” as a disparaging message — with the implication that one should stop trying — to a man whose team trailed, 43-30, at the time.
In response to whatever his ears thought they heard, Coach K went so ballistic in the heat of the moment — repeatedly jolting his arms while screaming, “Shut up!” — that official Mike Eades intervened by guiding the 72-year-old back into the coach’s box, thereby at least temporarily protecting the fans on the other side of the court from the furious fella.
As soon as the buzzer sounded to end the half, Duke’s 40th-year legend marched over to the center of the Cameron Crazies — i.e., those who were first in line to get in, suggesting they are the most committed student supporters — and gave them more than an earful. From a few feet away, Coach K essentially gave 30 or so of them a verbal spanking, by pounding his chest while explosively shouting, “He’s one of us!”
Though countless Duke basketball fans on Twitter were right to excuse the game’s all-time wins leader for his actions in light of the tragic death on Sunday of his former player, Kobe Bryant — they won gold together at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics — Coach K definitely didn’t do the Duke basketball family any favors by unnecessarily and unprofessionally broadcasting his grievances to the entire world.
He also probably didn’t help matters much by inserting into his postgame apology a non-apology (and GoDuke.com is also not helping by neglecting to post the comments alongside all his others):
"“I don’t know if I made a mistake on that, but I’ve never heard another coach’s name yelled out in the middle of the first half when we’re in a war with a team. So I don’t know if they were saying, ‘Come sit with me’…I thought it was something personal. I apologize to the students for that. I don’t apologize for the timing.”"
Coach K continued:
"“You shouldn’t say that in the middle of the first half in an ACC game…We gotta fight. We gotta have people who are adamant about it. Once I heard his name…again, I’m not gonna go say, Will you please tell me exactly what you’re doing, so it’s a mistake on my part. But I’d rather make the mistake in protection of my guy. And then I went just at the end of the half and said, ‘Look, he’s our guy, he’s our guy.’ That’s it. So I apologize, you know, but let’s think of a different cheer.”"
OK, let’s do that. Now that we are all aware of what all shouldn’t have happened on both sides, let’s talk about what should now happen to ensure ill feelings don’t fester to the point of another eruption that further splinters the two sides…