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By Jon Teitel

December 14th

Duke Basketball: My First Time.. in Cameron Indoor


CHN contributor and Penn loyalist Jon Teitel makes a pilgrimage to the mecca of college basketball: Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.

So I checked the Penn basketball schedule a couple of months ago,
And noticed that we were playing at Duke on December 7th.
Oh well, I figured: at least I could watch the game on ESPN2.
Then a couple of weeks ago I get an email from an attorney I work with,
Asking me if I would mind flying down to Greenville, NC, for a case.
I was supposed to fly down on the 5th and fly back on the 6th,
But I asked him if I could fly down on the 6th and fly back on the 8th,
So he made some calls and told me that was okay.
Translation: the office would take care of my hotel and flight,
But I still needed one very important thing: a ticket.
The cheapest one I could find on the Internet was $150,
Which seemed a bit steep for a game Duke was favored to win by 23.
I contacted every Duke-related person I knew, without much luck..
Until I realized that a friend of mine from law school lives in Durham, NC..
And had a guest room I could crash in……
And could get me a ticket for the game……
Because she is the director of compliance for the Duke athletic department!!!!!!!!

I flew down on the 6th, worked on the case the morning of the 7th,
And then drove to the Duke campus that afternoon.
The first stop on my tour was a peek inside the venerable stadium itself.
It’s much smaller than it “sounds”, if that makes any sense.
On TV, the screams of 20,000 fans echo in surround-sound;
In reality, there is only seating for about 8000 or so.
Best of all, there is not a bad seat in the entire house.
When you walk up the ramp to the upper deck, take a look around,
And only have a few TV and maintenance people as walking disruptions,
It really gives you a sense of why people refer to some stadiums as “churches”,
Praying to the basketball gods for the ball to find the bottom of the net,
Looking to the heavens/rafters for symbols of past glory.

A walk down the hall leads to……the hall……of champions.
Mark Alarie’s portrait (the greatest basketball player ever from my high school), Shane Battier’s jersey, Christian Laettner’s sneakers,
The 2001 NCAA Championship trophy
(which I STILL think belongs 3000 miles to the west in Tucson, but we don’t need to relive those bad memories right now),

And a security guard who is a closet Maryland fan!
Outside the stadium sits a line of students dressed in blue,
Killing time on a sidewalk on a cold December afternoon,
Awaiting their chance to receive a golden ticket.
Across the way, a group of 3 Penn students stand next to a policeman,
Perhaps asking him about the local flavor,
Perhaps enjoying the small amount of protection he offers
To a speck of red amongst a sea of blue.
When I head back inside an hour before the game, 2 things stand out:
1. Penn decided to avoid the color blue at all costs,
so they broke out the red road jerseys.
2. The Duke fans are giving the Quakers the full treatment:
jeering, yelling, psyching them out, etc.

Gametime: the bleachers down low are divided into different sections:
Undergrads on the sideline opposite the team’s benches,
Grads behind 1 basket, and a mix of grads/undergrads behind the team’s benches.
I thought that Penn fans were intimidating, but the Dukies take it to a new level,
As EVERY student knows EVERY cheer and EVERY hand motion
If the students study as hard for their final exams as they do for Duke games,
Then they are going to get some really great jobs after they graduate.
1 of the guys behind the basket is wearing a Wojo jersey and a Viking hat:
Rumor has it that he has been a student at Duke since the 1980’s,
Racking up masters degree after masters degree,in an attempt to avoid the real world
And see as many Blue Devil games as humanly possible……
Hey, it’s good to be goal-oriented, right?!?!
As the Penn players get introduced, the Duke fans shout out individual greetings:
For David Whitehurst: “Hi David!”; for Steve Danley: “Hi Steve!”; etc.
The stadium is mostly packed, but there are a few empty seats here and there.
It’s mostly Duke shirts and blue sweatshirts,
With the occasional red dot signifying a Penn fan.
It’s mostly students down below,
With a mix of students, alums, older fans, and families up high.
The athletic department seats up high (where I am) are filled with coaches……
Good coaches: one section to my right is one of the best lacrosse coaches in the country,
And a few rows below me is a national-champion women’s golf coach.

Penn coach Fran Dunphy usually ditches his suit jacket early in the 1st half:
He ends the suspense early by getting rid of it prior to the tip-off.
Penn surprises everyone by getting out to a 6-3 lead:
I know it’s only the 1st media timeout,
but my boys are beating the #1 team in the country……in their house!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Coach K is giving his players quite the earful:
It will be interesting to see if his tactics ever work in the NBA or the Olympics.
The Duke huddle is enormous:
There seems to be more assistant coaches and team managers than players.
The managers are hilarious: a group of college kids in cheap suits,
Whose main purposes on earth are to pass out the Gatorade,
Distribute the towels, and wipe up every ounce of sweat that drips onto the court
(no ball boys here: it’s ball men, ball the time).
Midway through the half, and Penn is hanging around, trailing by a single point:
Everyone knows that this magical ride will end very soon,
But for the moment, a boy can dream of upsets and tears of joy.
And who helps turn the tide for the home team: not JJ, not Shelden……
But rather an old guy in the stands who stands up and waves his towel around.
Best of all is his nickname: Crazy Towel Guy
(all those high SAT scores, and that’s the best they could come up with?!).

Halftime: Penn trails by 10 measly points: I do enjoy a good moral victory!
2 things I noticed during the break in the action:
1. The trough in the men’s room has probably been there since the Dick Groat era.
2. For all of Coach K’s endorsements and shoe deals,
it is stunning to see how little advertising there is inside Cameron.
Fenway Park sold out a long time ago,
And even the Palestra has some signage here and there,
But the focus at Duke is about the 10 guys on the hardwood,
Which, of course, is exactly where it should be.
2nd half: big shock.
Duke pulls away, Penn mounts a late run, and loses by 13 (the line was 23).

The players: JJ Redick is treated like a god by the Cameron faithful.
After watching him torch the Quakers from behind the arc, I can see why:
It looks like every single shot he takes is going in the hoop.
Whenever a Penn player misses a three-pointer,
The crowd serenades him with a chorus of “You’re not JJ”.
Shelden Williams had the quietest 20-point game I’ve ever seen,
Probably because half of his points came from the free throw line,
As the Quaker big men were forced to hack him, 2 or 3 guys at a time.
Freshman Josh McRoberts looked outstanding on both ends of the court,
And I think he will be an All-American if he stays on campus for 4 years.
His fellow freshman Greg Paulus started out okay……
Before picking up 5 fouls in the 2nd half and heading to the bench.
The hustle award goes to Sean Dockery: taking charges, diving for loose balls, etc.
For Penn, David Whitehurst was White-hot, raining down threes in the 2nd half.
Ibby Jaaber tried to run the offense, but had a ton of turnovers.
Mark Zoller was all over the offensive glass……but could not get any put-backs to go.
The Quakers only go about 8 or 9 deep, with 2-3 freshman included in that mix:
It might be enough to win the Ivy League, but it ain’t going to beat no ACC team,
Much less one with a couple of the best players in the country.
Somehow the Quakers outrebounded the Blue Devils,
And were able to get in the lane an astounding number of times,
But they collapsed under the constant double-teaming
And turned the ball over almost every other possession;
Yet the big picture is that they lost on the road to the best team in the land by 13,
Rising to the challenge that lay before them,
And emerging with pride in their hearts and a gleam in their eyes……
Knowing that they stared into the eyes of the undisputed heavyweight champion,
(I mean, we know Texas isn’t disputing it anymore!)
Took their best punches, didn’t get knocked out, and will live to fight another day.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a win:
It was simply one of the most memorable sporting events of my life.


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