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Notes On The Banquet

Gift from a reader - enjoy!

This year’s Duke Men’s Basketball banquet (held, April 21st), compared to last year’s, was short, but short only in length, not in the emotions at display.

I walked into the upper level seats at Cameron just in time for the program section of the banquet. As I ensconced myself in a lonely seat that directly faced the stage, I couldn’t help but wonder, how I have always experienced a sort of Pavlovian jolt, getting accustomed to the dimly lit, basketballless, banquet-related ambience of a stadium who’s sights and sounds during the course of the season, always evoke a powerful sense of nervous excitement.

Coach K took the stage very soon. One of the first things he did, pointing to Ewing’s table, was to pull out a whistle and blow it a couple of times, pausing in between to call a technical foul on Daniel Ewing. I guess the feeling of enduring all those questionable technical fouls on Ewing, was so frustrating that he had to give vent to it somehow ­ the audience responded well.

He then very calmly expressed his indignation over the recent hubbub surrounding his commercials. He talked about recruiting in the ‘BC and AC’ periods, just as he’d mentioned it to his former players, where BC stood for ‘Before Commercials’ and AC for ‘After Commercials’.

Mrs. K briefly took the stage, before the announcement of the awards, to talk about the research she had done concerning why people seem to hate Duke a lot. She did not mince her words in expressing her displeasure towards a reporter’s description of JJ as a jerk (by the way, everybody who followed, addressed JJ as, ‘the jerk’), and more so towards a ‘Chronicle’ reporter, who had not only written a harsh column about Coach K but reportedly had asked some inane questions at a post-game press conference. She concluded by saying that her research revealed two things: not everybody hates Duke and that the Duke basketball family should continue to do what they do.

Since most, if not all of you, by now, must know the details of the awards, I’ll try not to be redundant. I will say a few words about the player’s expressions, though. JJ, I thought was very matter-of-fact, and happy receiving his two awards. Shelden had, what I’ve now come to realize, his characteristic solemn look. Shav on the other hand was beaming, I want to say, ( ‘Wojo’ took care to mention that Shav had the team best number of charges taken, despite being sick for a month), and yes, there was a definite increase in the intensity of the applause for Shav relative to any of the other awardees. Daniel had his wonderful smile and the much talked about (Reggie Love, Coach K’s daughters, Coach K and Duhon from last years banquet speech) debonair look. It was great to see Lee, Reggie, Patrick Davidson and Patrick Johnson, all happy while being recognized for their superb efforts. Joe Pagliuca, by the way, was announced as going to the London School of Economics on a summer!

The awards ceremony over, Coach K, took the stage again, to talk briefly about the last season. When I say, this was probably his best coaching season that I’ve witnessed, I speak, using a mere five basketball seasons as a frame of reference, but many people who’ve been following Duke basketball forever and a day, seem to think the same, clearly adding a lot of credibility to the claim. And Coach K, like he has already mentioned a couple of times towards the end of the season, acknowledged that this has been the most satisfying and fulfilling season in his 25 year coaching career at Duke. He said, this was the best team that he has coached, ever ! Now, that’s a strong, strong statement coming from a man who has achieved unparalled success in the modern era of college basketball.
He defined the success of a team, as the ability of the individual team members to reach their potentials, he said, this team did so, more so than any of his previous teams and hence was the best. He talked about how everybody, including the coaches and staff stepped up, he made particular mention of Ross Perkins’s sacrifice of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start an ACC game in favour of the team’s success, he also mentioned Pat Johnson’s courage to play despite a dislocated shoulder, and then, Patrick Davidson’s high-spirited performance against Wake (he added, how dare the other team think that he shook the line up because of them; a team, he then said, achieved success by reacting to itself, not to others).

Once he was done summarizing the season, Coach then, proceeded to introduce his senior players (before Coach K took over the reigns, the previous Duke coach, apparently had a guest speaker at the annual banquet in lieu of the current tradition of letting just the seniors speak). Coach described Reggie, as an invaluable member of this year’s team, singling him out as the only player with NCAA championship experience. Reggie’s speech was short and sweet, he thanked his parents, all his team members and coaches, and particularly thanked the medical staff who worked with him tirelessly while he tried to recuperate from a broken foot. He also said that he was somewhat apprehensive of his situation, during his freshman year, when he apparently saw Wojo foaming in his mouth, talking to Carlos Boozer. And to Wojo’s defense, Coach K didn’t quite buy that story.

The grand finale was Daniel’s speech. During his introduction, coach started objectively by emphasizing the fact that it meant a great deal to be the winnigest player in NCAA division I basketball , and then he became somewhat emotional as he looked at Daniel and said that he was going to miss him. He also added that he could see himself instructing his future players to play like Daniel.
I have enjoyed seeing all of the Duke players on the court, some more so than others, however, there have been only two players, so far, for whom I’ve cheered the most: Chris Duhon and Daniel Ewing. Given that, the end of this season was tough knowing that I was never going to see Daniel in a Duke jersey again. Senior day at Cameron, struck a few soft emotions, and then seeing him here at the banquet was no exception. Since, Daniel has never really been the emotional type, his speeches being short and to the point, there was no reason to expect anything different at the banquet, esp. when he started his speech by saying that he was going to be as brief as Reggie. But gosh! was I in for a surprise or what ?!! The young man was so sincerely grateful, to his coaches, the staff, his teammates, his parents, his brothers and his girlfriend, so much so, he broke down while thanking each and everyone of them, he sincerely did. Just to see someone, cast himself aside and thank his s!
urroundings was truly a quintiessential display of great character and heart.
On to a few details, Daniel talked a bit about his trust in God, he talked about how a single phone call from Coach K changed him from being this kid who wanted to tour the many Universities that were recruiting him, to forgetting about it all, and committing to Duke. He mentioned a letter that Wojo had given him on Senior day that meant a great deal to him; he was very appreciative of the people who took special care of him by cooking him home-cooked meals (including Coach Collins and family); he light heartedly referred to Coach Dawkins as Coach Talkins, the man who had a proclivity to engage in lengthy conversations, he added that despite the few disagreements that they had had over after-practice workouts, the coach clearly had a largely constructive influence on him; and then as he thanked his teammates individually, he specifically mentioned how grateful he was to the Blue team that constantly strives to make the White team better; he had a lot of words of encouragemen!
t for Shav, recognizing his injuries and illnesses and wishing him the best (he did take a dig at him by enquiring about a girl he was kissing); he had a lot of kind words for JJ, esp. with regards to all the problems he and his family have had to endure with regards to bad fan behaviour, he acknowledged JJ being a good co-captain in terms of taking the blame for the team’s failures, he said he thought JJ was very deserving of all the recognition that he gets; he talked about the great relationship he has with DeMarcus and how the two of them are similar in many ways; he told us how Sean and he, since high school days were mistaken for brothers, he thanked him particularly for sacrificing some of his talents in the best interests of the team; and finally when he got to his parents he did mention how his mother’s illness really put him through a rough phase.
At the end of the talk, Coach K fittingly announced that, nobody could have described the spirit of the season better than Daniel just did, he added that he had never seen a smile that connected to one’s heart better than Daniel’s and wished that his grand-sons would develop something similar. And thus, ended the banquet.

As I walked out of Cameron for the final time as a graduate student, the last five years of basketball, all of its trappings and emotions included, marched by me: the exciting wins, and the bitter defeats, the great players, and their performances, Coach K and his crew, the long campouts, and the Cameron experience …..and at the end of it all, there was one poignant feeling that was left, a feeling of invigoration, a feeling that had a very positive impact, not just as a source of entertainment, but also, on me as a person, and my academic career here at Duke - something that I chose to acknowledge in my thesis.

Go Duke!