SDBB: An Inside Look at the “Countdown to Craziness” Weekend

DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 22: Cameron Crazies and fans of the Duke Blue Devils cheer during Countdown To Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Thanks to a friend of Simply Duke Basketball, we have a rare opportunity to see what this year’s “Countdown to Craziness” weekend was like …

Bill Wheeler, a Fuqua School of Business graduate, and his lovely wife, Marcy made a weekend of the event. We thank them for this very special insight …

Around 9PM, Friday night, my wife and I drove to the Washington Duke Inn and ate at the Bull Durham bar.  As we approached the turn in to the hotel, we could not help notice a new multilevel parking deck near completion on Cameron Boulevard.   The bar was filled, yet we found two barstools in the corner.  We talked to a Waitress and Manager about the number of patrons.  They thought there was a Lacrosse reunion, and that “Countdown to Craziness” brought in the late evening patrons.

As we left the bar, we could not help notice 2 towering men standing in the foyer. It was Jeff Capel and Nate James.  I got my wife to follow me a few feet down the hallway, and told her who the men were.   Of course, I wanted to ask them some questions, but I realized they need their own relaxation, so we drove back to our off campus motel.

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Saturday morning, we visited the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and at Marcy’s suggestion, we took in an afternoon horseback trail ride in Hillsboro.

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As we drove onto campus and turned right on Towerview Drive next to the Sanford School, we could not help but notice another new building with open glass, the Health and Wellness Center.  We parked and walked towards “K’ville” around 4:30 pm.  “K’ville” was alive with inflatable bouncing machines, a DJ, face painting and a gathering of Cameron Crazies.

We stopped to talk to a Security Guard and she gave us a brief tour, describing changes to the outside of Cameron.  As we waited to enter the front of Cameron, one fan voiced their displeasure of the new Cameron look. Yes, I agree the nostalgia is gone.

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The wooden arches just below the stone portico are gone and wooden doors are now enclosed.  Just after the second set of doors is a separate set of stairs to enter a new Iron Duke’s Champions Club.  My finances left me short to contribute the minimum annual for that club.

As we entered Cameron, some fans next to us said they did not like the new look of the Cameron entrance.  Yes, we agreed …

As we walked through the doors, security gates and staff greeted each fan.  It reminded me of entering a local Court building, yet with today’s threats we had some sense of comfort.

Congrats to the Duke staff for this improvement !!!

DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 22: Duke student and Chinese yo-yo specialist Felix Kung performs during Countdown To Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

The pre-team entertainment ranged from Felix Kung “The Yo-Yo Guy”, who is actually a Duke student … 30 seconds to make 4 baskets for $10K … Pizza box throws from the 4 corners of the gym floor, to the JC Devils doing a modern dance, etc.

As the Duke Navy ROTC entered the gym with the American flag, all the Duke “A- Cappella” singers gathered on the opposite side of Mid-Court and did a great job of singing the National Anthem.  It was a special moment with the blue horn lights shining and all the fans standing.  Thank goodness I didn’t see any “Kolin ‘dis-respectfuls.'” !!!

The gym floor was used as a projector screen for video and laser introductions of the team and players.  This was similar to last year and each player got great appreciation from the crowd.

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From there the scrimmage felt a little anti-climatic.  The audio sound may have been changed for the player intros and it was not readjusted making it difficult to hear announcements for the rest of the evening.

DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 22: Chase Jeter #2 of the Duke Blue Devils moves the ball against Marques Bolden #20 during Countdown To Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

The Blue and White teams played 2 – 10 minute periods.  Freshman Jayson Tatum showed great slashing and scoring ability.  To my surprise, Chase Jeter seemed to have the upper hand in guarding Marques Bolden for 15 of the 20 minutes.  Amile Jefferson appeared to be hungry and scrapped for every loose ball.  At one moment towards the end of the scrimmage, a hush came over the entire crowd as Grayson Allen ended up spread-eagle to block a pass and collided with Amile’s legs near mid court sideline.  Fortunately, Amile was able to walk off without injury.

DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 22: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on during Countdown To Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Sean Obi and Harry Giles did not make it to the floor   We know about Harry’s continued knee problems, and later discovered that Obi had had knee surgery this summer.

In past years, the star player for either the Blue or White would have been swapped to the other team for the 2nd Period.  That was not done this year, leaving this fan with the need to see more games before determining the real caliber of this 2016-17 basketball team.

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Bill Wheeler has a wonderful story about his connection to Duke Basketball.  

Look forward to our Bio on him sometime soon !!!

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Thanks for joining us for this very special report …

Please, as always, feel free to comment on our thoughts, either here, or at out Twitter site:

@SimplyDukeBB

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Simply Duke Basketball: 100 Days Ago … A Retrospective of the 5th Duke National Championship Season

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Just about every organization is evaluated for their 1st 100 Days, but we’re going switch things up a bit.  

It has been 100 days since Duke won it’s 5th National Championship.

So, lets now join Ro Shiell and Bermuda Bob look back after

“Sleeping on it for 100 Days” 

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Query #1

Which championship run was more dominant, 2010 or 2015 ???

Bermuda Bob:

I think that they were very different teams.  The 2010 team was dominated by Seniors, who were more seasoned, more versatile, and, I believe, played a tougher schedule to the Finals.  They won the ACC, led in a bunch of stats, won the ACC Tournament, and then the Big Dance.

This 2015 team had plenty of ups and downs, had far less seasoning, was not very versatile inasmuch as everyone had well defined positional responsibilities, and was not nearly as dominate in the ACC as the 2010 guys were.  This 2015 team surprised a lot of experts.

Ro: 

The 2010 team only found themselves after Brian Zoubek was inserted into the starting lineup in January. This team was beating everyone straight out of the gate. There were some similarities though.

The 2010 team was dominated by upperclassmen while the 2015 team was carried by Freshmen, but both teams got better when there was a defection or two. Elliot Williams was meant to be a star at Duke.  He transferred   surprisingly, just before the start of the season, leaving many with an underwhelming feeling of the upcoming season.  Williams was meant to be the starter at Point Guard (probably one reason he didn’t hesitate to stay as he preferred off-guard), and left only Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer in the Backcourt.  That prompted Andre Dawkins to leave high School early, however tragedy would befall the saviour-to-be when his mother was hurt and his sister killed in a car accident on their way to see Duke play.  This forced Coach K to use a tight rotation which worked out brilliantly.

The 2015 team dropped down to “eight” after a disgruntled Rasheed Sulaimon was expelled.  Maybe there is a pattern here. Coach K wins with a tight rotation.  This doesn’t bode well for the upcoming season though.

Query #2

What was your most memorable play from the Big Dance ???

Bermuda Bob:

I think that play in the Wisconsin game where Grayson got that loose ball and began to take over.   Up to that point, I thought it was anyone’s game.  Quinny & Matt we’re cold as ice, “Oaks” & Justise had 4 Fouls, and Grayson was so solid and inspiring that the tired Wisconsin guys were flummoxed.

It was the reason why Duke had to create the “One Shining Moment Award” for Grayson at the Annual Awards Banquet.  

Ro:

Most of the games in the tournament were over pretty early, except for the Final Four and Championship game (the Utah game was also close but Duke was in control).  Duke’s play in the waning minutes was pretty inspiring. First Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones eroded a 9 point lead by the Badgers, that inspired Okafor, who reentered the game.

Okafor picked up 4 Fouls and was relegated to the Bench early until just under 3 minutes left on the clock.   Coach K took a chance and inserted the Center back into the game.  There was a sequence when Okafor scored 4 Points on 2 offensive rebounds.  On one occasion “Frank the Tank” held his shoulder’s down, but Jahlil executed a brilliant spin move in the paint for a “plus one,” though he would miss the free throw.  On the other end he played Kaminski straight up one-and-one and blocked his shot cleanly.

By the time that sequence was finished, Duke had retaken the lead, however the Badgers hadn’t gotten to the Final Four without a fight.  They looked to storm back, but Tyus Jones was not going to be denied a championship, something he prophesied a year earlier.

Query #3

What was the most heartbreaking loss of the season ???

Bermuda Bob:

Things were off to a bad conference start with back-to-back losses at State, and then Miami at home in January.  Then Coach K outsmarted Rick Pitino in their house and the ship seemed to be righted.

Then came the Notre Dame game.  It was a turning point for the team, they lost a hard fought game, and Rasheed was thrown off the team the next day.  It is when the saying “8 is Enough” got a new meaning, inasmuch as Duke now only had 8 scholarship players on the roster.   It was when those kids realized that if they wanted to fulfill their dream of a National Championship, they had to become men.  

Ro:

Up until January, Duke looked like a Final Four team.  There was a feeling that they were on a collision course with an undefeated Kentucky team, never mind that ACC rival Virginia was undefeated at the time.  The struggle with Wake Forest, in the previous game, was ignored and put down to fatigue and then there was the first loss to NC State.  A setback, but there was still optimism, better to lose now than later, or it was due to that dreaded Freshman “wall.”

Then the following game, Miami happened, and the wheels literally came off the cart.  The defense that looked vulnerable against bottom feeder Wake Forest, was subsequently exposed by NC State.  They got totally hammered by Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium, snapping a 41 game home winning record. The Blue Devils immediately moved from a team with teething problems to a broken one.  

Query #4

What was the most inspirational win from the past season ??? 

Bermuda Bob:

Easily, the Virginia game right after the Notre Dame game, then the trouncing of Notre Dame 8 days later at Cameron.  It was beginning of Duke winning thru February and didn’t stop until they got caught napping against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament.  12 games in total, then another 6 to win the National Championship.  

Ro: 

The game that showed that Duke was a national contender was the victory at Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.  After that the sky was the limit, if a Freshman laden team can beat a previously Final Four team on their own home turf.

The most inspiring game was not a victory but a loss to Notre Dame.  After losing back-to-back games to NC State and Miami, Duke was in limbo. They rebounded to beat Louisville and St. John’s on the road, and PITT at home, but they didn’t have the same fire they previously had where they broke teams early and cruised to victory. Those 3 victories were the grind it out types.

Then they went to Notre Dame, who were 8-1 in the ACC play at the time, while Duke stood at 4-2.  This was a really big test and Duke pushing the Irish right down to the wire until Jerian Grant made a few clutch (lucky) plays.

After that game the resounding feeling among the Duke squad was that they could have won.  Then there was the unfortunate dismissal of Sulaimon. Next game was against undefeated Virginia, on their home turf. It was a tough victory, that game Duke got their “mojo” back, propelling them on a 12 game winning streak.

Query #5

All season we lamented Duke’s lack of perimeter defense and rim protection but in the tournament, they seemed to turn this around.  Have you ever seen a bigger turn around ??? 

Bermuda Bob: 

In modern Duke history, I’d have to say that the way the 2010-11 Team reformulated their chemistry after the injury to Kyrie Irving.  They changed the way they played, won the ACC Tournament, and were awarded a #1 Seed, but were sent to the West Region.  Unfortunately, their formidable efforts went down the drain when Irving suddenly proclaimed himself ready for play, upsetting that chemistry, leading to the slaughter by Arizona in the Sweet 16.

As we now know, he got back on the floor by convincing Coach K he was staying for at least another year, but was really looking to be drafted #1.   

Ro:

These Freshmen were clearly talented, and were a complete fit for each other. Everyone assumes that they just turned up, won, then headed to the NBA. That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Coach K has really earned his respect with how he masterminded this 5th NCAA Championship.

Throughout the tournament no Duke player was consistent offensively, but collectively their Defense prevailed every game.  If anyone had suggested in early January, that Duke would win a championship based on their Defense, they would have instantly been medicated on the spot and taken away.

This was a remarkable turnaround and the Duke coaching staff has to be given credit for such a miraculous job. Justice Winslow was the chief operator on the Court, with Matt Jones, and especially in the Championship game, Amile Jefferson.

Okafor maybe a terrible pick-and-roll defender but he can straight-up defend the Post.  Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones realised that on their own. They may struggle to stay in front of their mark but together they were lethal.

Query #6

Throughout the season, who do you think was the most unappreciated player ???  

No faire picking Grayson !!! 

Bermuda Bob:

I think it’s a tie between Amile and “Plums” … These guys are different inasmuch as Amile is more of the “strong, silent type” where “Plums” was high energy in his play and “pumping up” the team and the fans !!!  Imagine someone who could pump up the Cameron Crazies more than they already are, but “Plums” did it !!! 

Amile was the benefactor of double teams on “Oaks” on the offensive side, but more often than not, he was deft on the defensive side.  Later in the season, he was asked to play the Pivot at the Foul Line, and work the “pick-and-roll” or “dish-and-drive” ... something he had not done before.  I never saw anything but positive captaincy from him, as he used that incredible wingspan to his advantage.  His stats bespeak him as the solid, dependable presence that allowed the team to “click” !!!

“Plums” had the more difficult task of spelling the guy who was in his presumed position way back when he accepted his Red Shirt.  He did it with the class and verve of the gentleman he is !!!  How often did we see him excel on both sides of the Court in 2-3 minutes, only to be set back down at the next TV Time Out ???  I never once saw anything but leadership and acceptance of his role, all while fist pumping and shouting encouragement to his teammates !!!  I look forward to seeing more of his trademark thunderous dunks in his last season at Duke this year.

Ro:

We didn’t see Grayson Allen that much, so I agree that Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are worthy candidates here.  I would also add Matt Jones to that equation, however they will all come up short next to Quinn Cook.

For 4 years we have all lamented the faults of the Senior Captain.  At one point there were grumblings that he should transfer, but Cook withstood the criticism.  He was even upstaged multiple times by Freshmen, but Cook kept coming … kept plugging away.

He suffered some embarrassing defeats in the NCAA tournament.  Twice, he was a part of teams that lost in the 1st round (actually 2nd round but first game in the tournament), which is very un-Duke-like. Can you imagine the nightmares he must have had before the tournament started ???

At this point, I would bombard you with stats and facts but that would be pointless here because I am referring to Cook’s game off the court. How he was able to be a shining example to his teammates.  His end of year speech at the Duke banquet will always be memorable, especially when he turned to his Head Coach and said the following:

“You called me and my mom into a meeting and you were brutally honest, but you gave me confidence I could lead these guys,” Cook said to Krzyzewski. “From that day on, I didn’t want to let you down. I made it my agenda to be the first one at practice and the last one to leave.”

How much did this 5th Duke Championship mean to you ???

Did you celebrate then wake up the next day wondering if, or hoping, next season’s team can repeat this, essentially moving on immediately ???

So you may have followed Duke for years. You probably saw The Shot and Shane Battier’s Block but this 5th Championship probably doesn’t mean as much to you as it did to Quinn Cook.  No player has suffered such heart breaking losses at Duke (other than Jeff Capel, but Coach K didn’t coach that team).  He was injured so that doesn’t count) in Coach K’s time like Quinn Cook did.

Cook has had a lot of love since the season wrapped up, but it isn’t enough. This is what sports is about … triumphing over adversity.  He started his career at Duke as a bench warmer, and lead the Blue Devils to a Championship his Senior year.

Query #7

What is the single most solitary aspect of this team that you will always remember about this team ???

Bermuda Bob: 

I believe that right from the start, this team always gave the impression that they genuinely liked each other, wanted to play together, and left their egos at the door.  They seemed to double-down on this attitude after the dismissal of Rasheed, which led many to believe that he was more of a detrimental distraction more than was reported.

Ro:

This team will always be remembered as the first non-Kentucky “one-and-done” squad to win a Championship.  This will be a shame because there is more to this team than that, however that’s how people will remember it.

Query #8

This team marked the first time Coach K won it all with a team dominated by “one-and-done” Freshman.  

Do you think of this as a pivotal impact point on the balance of Coach K’s career ??? 

Bermuda Bob: 

I never thought I’d have to admit this, but yes it does.  I am as happy as any other Duke fan that they won the National Championship, but it came at the cost of capitulation.  I only hope that a “2-and-done” scheme may be adopted by the NCAA/NBA in the not too distant future.  I’d even be happier if the MLB version were adopted.

Nonetheless, my hat is off to Coach K for managing these youngsters, and to them for winning it all !!!

I wish them the best in their individual futures.

Ro:

Why should it ???

The man has won in 4 decades, under different rules, and different cultures. Surely that is more of a testament to his staying power and flexibility.

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Thanks for sharing this retrospective of Duke’s return to glory !!!  

We welcome you comments either here on on our Twitter site at:

@SimplyDukeBB

CountDown to “CountDown …” – Assistant Coach Nate James

 This Article by Bermuda Bob

Simply Duke Basketball - 2014 Profiles - Nate James Collage

Very often, the overlooked member of Coach K’s support ensemble, Nate James played from 1996 to 2001.  As part of the 2001 National Championship team he was known as a defensive warrior. He brought his defensive intensity to his work outs and weight training.  It would be that vigor that would bring him back to the Duke sidelines in a different role.

Unfortunately, that verve would find him injured in his Sophomore season and Red Shirted. Because of this, he would eventually become the only player ever to be a member of five (5) regular-season conference season championships.  He was a Co-Captain in both his Junior and Senior years, the latter being a National Championship, when he earned ACC All-Defensive honours. It is his defensive prowess that often overshadows his 1000+ career points.

The eternal “role player” type of contributor, Nate’s name was passed over in the NBA Draft, so for the next eight (8) years, his Passport saw more action than he did.  He toured Europe from the Netherlands to France to Hungary to Poland and Bosnia. Add to that Brazil to Japan to the Philippines and you can imagine what his Frequent Flyer account must have looked like.

When Johnny Dawkins left for the Head Coaching job at Stanford in 2008, Coach K brought Nate in as a strength and conditioning coach.  The next year he would be named an Assistant Coach which means he became the first person ever to be part of a team that won National Championships as a Player and a Coach at Duke.

Since then, he has welcomed Jeff Capel and Jon Scheyer back to their Alma Mater.

Nate has been credited with working with Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas in their Championship season and just about any player who excelled defensively since 2008.  I’m sure his contributions to Duke basketball make him a valued member of “the family” and causes us all to hope he stays in Durham for quite some time !!!

He earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology with a Minor in African -American studies.

He is married to Bobbi Baker-James and they have a son named Nathaniel Drake James III