The Carolina/Duke Visit: I Can Now Die a Happy Man
This past weekend I enjoyed a trip down to North Carolina to take in the University of Wisconsin football team’s road game at UNC. Or at least that’s what I let people believe. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy watching a college football game or two on the weekend, but if I’m hanging out in the heart of North Carolina, essentially a basketball version of Mesopotamia, odds are that my first thoughts are not about a game involving an oblong ball. After all, it’s a well known fact that football was only invented in order to give basketball fans a constructive way to ramp up their energy in anticipation of basketball season.
Okay, so that last sentence was a blatantly implausible lie, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I just enjoyed the greatest ever basketball-related weekend that didn’t involve anyone actually playing or watching a basketball game. You see, it seems that even when the season’s not in session in North Carolina, everyone’s got it in the back of their minds. And of course, it’s not every day that I get to walk around the Duke and North Carolina campuses. All that said, there wasn’t much that could have prepared me for all that would happen by the end of the weekend.
The first piece of basketball excitement, which was set up beforehand as a key part of the weekend itinerary, was a stop at Duke’s famed Cameron Indoor Stadium. This, however, was not the standard stop off to look at the outer doors in awe—my friends and I were heading inside on a mission to infiltrate the cult that is Duke basketball. Okay, maybe we were just going on an incredible private sight-seeing tour in one of the nation’s most interesting basketball arenas, but it seemed more grand than that. How do I get opportunities like this? Let’s just say that I know people who know people. I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.
The tour took us through a variety of places that I would not have dreamed of seeing five years ago during the only other occasion that I have had to set foot in Cameron. At one point my friends and I even spied Johnny Dawins, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, Duke’s assistant coaches, walking toward the stadium (sadly, our attempt to “accidentally” run into them when they entered the building were unsuccessful).
The tour then culminated with the best two parts. First, we stopped in on the holding room that the Duke players stand in before they run onto the floor for games. The walls adorned with various awards (Shane Battier has won roughly 17 Chevrolet National Defensive Player of the Year awards) and the wooden floor decorated with a Duke logo, one of my friends aptly noted that this was “the most intense room ever.” Indeed, as my friend went on to note, there could be few places in the country more exciting to be than in that room just minutes before a Duke-UNC game. Of course, since this room opened onto the arena floor, our next step was to check out Coach K Court. I was so awed to be standing on the court that I was initially reluctant to actually set foot inbounds, and did so only after one of my friends took the plunge. Eventually I sauntered around to several areas on the floor, which will likely lead to annoying the crap out of various friends as we watch Duke games this year and I point out “I stood there, you know.” My friends and I then proceeded to sit on the bench, slap the floor, and take a quick handful of pictures as four of us wearing Wisconsin gear drew odd looks from various workers. It was all over in less than 5 minutes, but the experience is one that I’ll remember for life. Someone turned out the house lights just moments after we left, but we didn’t care—we’d just seen everything that we needed to. It was time to decompress and watch some football.
And so I thought that my weekend of basketball glory was over. Not so, however. While touring Cameron was a known activity beforehand, it had completely slipped my mind that UNC, as reigning NCAA basketball champions, would have to honor their basketball team with a ring presentation ceremony at some point in time. What better time than at halftime of the Wisconsin football game? And with that, I got to sit through a halftime presentation that included an all-Carolina-highlight version of One Shining Moment. The team and it’s coaching and support staff were introduced, and all I could do was smile and clap. It was as if they’d planned it so that I would be there to see this. Perhaps my only disappointment was that my favorite player in the nation for roughly his entire college career, Sean May, was unable to be in attendance. I guess you can’t have everything, though, and after all I’d gotten, I didn’t need anything else to be wildly happy.
So that’s my incredible non-basketball, basketball weekend. I’ve glossed over numerous great moments including friends trying to talk to Tarheel fans about former Wisconsin high school product and Carolina basketball alum Joe Wolf, or my friend looking at me at the end of our flight home and noting “I can’t believe we had a Frank Seckar conversation this weekend,” in reference to a brief bar room conversation on the former Wisconsin high school star. You’ve heard the key points, though, and I sure that you’ve heard enough to know that I can now die a happy man. Thanks to all involved in the weekend, and I’ll see you again during the season.