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Letter From A Duke Fan

Thomas asked us to publish this, and we're not sure we could have said it better
Dear Fellow Duke Fans:

First of all, thanks to Boswell, Julio, James, and the rest of you who make DBR possible. The quality and effort put into DBR never ceases to amaze me. We have indeed come a long way since the days of Prodigy !

Like so many of you, I have been a lifelong Duke fan. I have been as fanatical and vociferous as anyone. For as many of my 50 years as I can remember, I have celebrated and grieved the ups and downs of Duke basketball. Fortunately, we’ve had far more successes than disappointments.

My purpose for writing is to hopefully share a perspective that ( I am actually a little embarrassed to admit) has been developing within me over the past few years. And that is a better appreciation of the youthfulness, vulnerability, and humanity of the players who wear the Duke uniform.

I had planned to write during the season, especially with all the talk about Shavlik Randolph and his career, and kept putting it off. Now that the season is over, and we are all dealing with the celebration of our UNC friends, it seems more fitting now anyway.

Three years and a half years ago my family and I had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii with the team and the Iron Dukes organization for the Maui Invitational. We have many wonderful memories from that trip. But the most vivid that stands out is the almost child-like enthusiasm of the players at the hotel pool…. Chris Duhon with a big plate of fries and a burger…Casey Sanders coming down a water slide on his back, all seven feet of him…These were 18-22 year olds, who always conducted themselves politely and mannerly, just having fun. I wondered at the time how often they get to do “normal things” and feel under less pressure. We treat them so adult-like, but they are really so very young.

Then in the summer of 2003, I participated in the inaugural Coach K Academy. I won’t bore you who did not attend with the details of this fantasy-come-true. What I do want to share, at the risk of sounding a little silly, is something that happened to me. I hope the relevance is not too much of a stretch.

Prior to the camp, probably like all the participants, I was a little nervous. Would I be laughed at? Would Coach K throw me out of the gym? Would I be banished to the end of the bench? I decided that at age 50, and my days of playing in Card Gym and the IM Building long behind me, I would try to do two things. I would hustle, and I would shoot free throws well. It’s not like I had much choice, really. Being in fairly good shape, injury-free, and a runner, I played and practiced prior to the camp, and shot lots of free throws. Lots of free throws. During the 3 months before camp, of my last 1000 free throws, I made 887. Honest. But what did I do at camp? Well, in my first game, of course with no screaming fans, no Speedo Guy, no pressure except the critical eyes of Coaches Collins, Gminski, and Dunleavy, I went 0 for 6 from the line. Bricks…I mean, real bricks. I did bounce back, and made a few free throws, and our team won the championship… despite me.

Now… I know that shooting in the driveway and in Cameron are very different, and the K Academy and ACC competition are light-years apart, but I experienced in some small way what every player must go through at one time or another. I was fairly good at something, or thought I was, but under the least bit of pressure I had trouble performing. I remembered the late Dick Devenzio once lamented how the very same shots that went in and seemed easy in high school just did not in college.

Finally, this past August my son enrolled at Duke as a freshman. I had told him how impressed I was with the organization skills and maturity of the student-managers at the K Academy. So in his first month of school, he actually explored the possibility of becoming a manager on the team. He concluded that despite his academic abilities and preparedness, this was indeed a challenging and demanding position and one for which he may not yet be ready. Looking back on his first year of college, and the usual trials and tribulations of that experience, I am even more in awe of varsity athletes, and managers, and what they deal with off the court. I am keenly aware of the pressures faced by my son; I cannot fathom what Demarcus Nelson’s freshman year was like.

So what’s my point? Maybe I am getting soft. Or maybe I am showing my age. What I hope is happening is that I better appreciate now the fact that these incredibly-gifted and bright players for whom we cheer, and whom we criticize, are in the end, young people just starting on their journey. Young people, the same age as my son, who are going to miss free throws and make mistakes, and are dealing with issues which we will never know about. Oh, I will still scream, and utter a few profanities, and have unrealistic expectations at times. After all, I am a Duke fan, and we expect to win and be the best. We should pull hard and loudly. But I hope I, and maybe a few of you if you think it applies, will just from time to time, as a turnover is made, or an easy basket is allowed, or a player for whom we had such high hopes doesn’t quite live up to his billing, will envision Casey Sanders going down that sliding board laughing and having fun, just like a college student should. I hope I will be a more understanding and patient fan.

Thanks for reading, and Go To Hell Carolina !