Duke University’s freshly crowned NCAA champions were treated to a raucous homecoming Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Coach Mike Krzyzewski proclaimed this 2015 basketball team his favorite.
The Blue Devils landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport from Indianapolis by mid-afternoon Tuesday. Their charter plane was greeted with a gigantic water arch sprayed by the airport’s fire department.
Soon the basketball heroes emerged at their home court to a thunderous welcome from a crowd that had watched a replay of Monday night’s win against Wisconsin on the big screen. With little pieces of net tied to their National Champion ball caps, the players lined a stage, arm in arm, and soaked up the moment.
“These guys have made my senior year magical,” said Quinn Cook, team captain and the only player to speak at the event. “Magical.”
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All the familiar rituals were performed. The band played “Devil with the Blue Dress On.” Coach K appeared at the podium, prompting the fans to wave their arms in mock religious worship. In a new twist, the winningest coach danced an almost-jig when the loud speakers thumped with Duke’s traditional pre-game song, “Everytime We Touch.”
‘And then we won’
Krzyzewski recounted the second half of the game when Duke was down by nine, with some players in foul trouble. Then freshman Grayson Allen single-handedly turned the momentum, the coach said. The Cameron crowd went nuts.
After a bit more game rehash, Krzyzewski stopped, saying only, “And then we won.” The crowd went nuts again.
He also gave the fans a peak inside the pre-championship locker room motivation, showing a video of season highlights that ended with the Duke stars with the words “The Time is Now” written on their arms.
“Our team has been a team of believers,” Krzyzewski said, attributing that confidence to the tight relationships formed among players and coaches. “We’ve been one.”
The coach had earlier received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama, who invited the Blue Devils to the White House. “He did not apologize for not picking us for his bracket,” Krzyzewski joked.
The Cameron celebration capped a day of exhilaration at Duke, where crowds pawed through piles of National Championship T-shirts at the Duke University Stores. Final Four merchandise – produced before the Blue Devils’ championship victory – was already marked down to 50 percent off.
Anna Torre, 21, a junior from Paradise, Utah, was stocking up on gear for her sister, brother and alumni friends. She had watched the game at Cameron the night before.
“It was like the UNC game on steroids,” she said.
The whole thing seemed like a dream, she said, when she woke up Tuesday morning. “Coming to campus and seeing all this. ... Wow, that really happened!”
The store unloaded deliveries of the newly printed T-shirts at 6 a.m., said Carlos Fernandez, a supervisor at the store. “We have a continuous order, because we don’t want to run out,” he said.
The biggest seller was the replica of the black shirts worn by players Monday night as they cut down the nets after the heart-pounding game.
A close second was the “I was on the Quad” design – a reference to the bench-burning party that has become the signature basketball celebration event at Duke.
Unity and energy
Anamika Saha, 23, grabbed one of those before she boarded a bus for New York City, where she works as a medical assistant in a pediatric clinic. The 2013 grad had been in the Washington area to watch Saturday’s semifinal game with friends. After Duke’s win, she decided to hop a bus for Durham, where she watched Monday night’s championship.
Saha had been at the 2010 win in Indianapolis when she was a student, so she had missed the boisterous bonfire then. Not Monday.
“The unity, the energy, the excitement,” she said. “I’ll never forget that. It was totally worth taking this trip.”
Saha’s brother wasn’t in quite as good a mood, she said.
He’s a student at Wisconsin.