The following is an account of my experience at K Academy—a four-day fantasy camp that gives participants an inside look into Duke’s three-time national championship basketball program. 58 players from around the country attended this year’s camp, held July 29th – August 1st. From opening day tryouts to Sunday’s championship tournament, we played games on Coach K Court in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coaches at the camp included 19 former Duke players, as well as Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Thursday July 29th
When I arrived in Raleigh Durham airport at around 1:15 p.m., I was anxious and excited. I had visited Duke’s campus and Cameron Indoor Stadium once before, but now I would get the chance to actually play on the same floor as my heroes.
All of the camp attendees–players–stayed at the four-star Washington Duke Inn & Golf Course (http://www.washingtondukeinn.com/) located on the Duke University campus. I arrived at the hotel and picked up my basketball gear, including shoes, customized jerseys, shorts, backpack, and laundry bag. I quickly changed and boarded a van to Cameron with my fellow players.
When we arrived at Cameron, I sat on the side to stretch and tried to take it all in. With the wood, the floor, the banners, and all of the history, Cameron is one of the most special places in all of sports.
At about 2:30, Coach K was introduced and welcomed everyone to the camp. All eyes were focused on Coach K as he introduced the coaches–all former Blue Devil greats, including National Collegiate Players of the Year Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Jason Williams. Coach K recounted the events of last year’s K Academy and was genuinely appreciative of his former players who had returned to participate as coaches.
Following the assembly, we did 15 minutes of stretching and then divided into teams for the evaluation games to give the coaches a chance to see us all play.
This was my first opportunity to play a game on Coach K Court. My adrenalin was definitely pumping. Everyone participated in two evaluation games while the coaches looked on. I played pretty well in both my games. I made a few baskets and drew the only charge of the day. During our first evaluation game, one of the players on my team hit a jump shot. As it turns out, this player had attended last year’s camp but never made a shot. Coach K stopped the game and presented the player the game ball as if he had just scored his 1,000th point.
After the games, all of the players returned to the hotel while the coaches met for the draft. While the camp was supposed to be fun, there was a lot of friendly competition among the coaches. They took the draft seriously. Not only did they have a photo and information on each of the players, they also evaluated stats from last year’s camp in making their draft selections.
Around 7:30 we boarded the vans for a trip back to Cameron for a cocktail reception in Duke’s Hall of Fame and dinner in the Hall of Honor. The reception provided an opportunity for the players and coaches to get to know each other.
At dinner I sat with Nate James, Chris Carawell, Trajon Langdon, and Elton Brand. Everyone was laughing and joking around. We talked about NBA players, teams, and toughest match-ups.
After dinner, last year’s K Academy champions were recognized and presented their championship watches. We then watched a highlight video of last year’s K Academy. Finally, it was time for the draft. After the three coaches for each team were introduced, they announced their draft picks. As each player’s name was announced, he went up on stage, received a Duke Basketball hat, and posed for a picture with his coaches.
An important note is that everyone was treated the same way at the camp. There was no camp MVP or All-Star game. When it came to the draft, everyone was a #1 pick and the coaches announced their selections in alphabetical order.
I was selected to be a member of Team Battier coached by Shane Battier (’01), Mark Alarie (’86), and Kenny Dennard (’81).
Shane Battier is my favorite Duke player, so I was thrilled to be playing for him.
After returning to the hotel, I made my way up to the hospitality suite. The suite was reserved for all of the coaches and players to hang out. I was shocked when I opened the door and Coach K was sitting there playing cards with some of the players from the camp. They were involved in a serious game of hearts. After watching for a bit, I went into the other room where I played cards with Mark Alarie, Chip Engelland, Billy King, and one of Coach K’s daughters Lindy. At 1:30 a.m., I decided it was time to end this amazing day.
Friday July 30th
I took the shuttle over to Cameron for the optional half-court games versus the coaches. Two other players and I took on Johnny Dawkins, Chris Collins, and my coach, Mark Alarie. They smoked us 5-0. Johnny Dawkins smiled and reminded me that he could still shoot. Thanks for the lesson, Johnny.
After posing for our team picture, Coach K talked with us about career decisions, including his most recent one–to remain Duke’s basketball coach. Krzyzewski spoke candidly about what he described as “the most intense period of his career.” He took us step by step through his decision-making process, explaining that he had “never made a decision based on money” and that Duke “is our home” (referring to his family).
After Coach K’s lecture, we had team practices. Coaches Battier, Alarie, and Denard went over the motion offense they wanted us to run. They also put in a couple of set plays including a high pick and roll and Coach Denard’s “special” out of bounds play. We worked on some shooting and then it was time to stretch and prepare for game time.
Our first game was a tough one against Team Hill. The combination of our newness to the offense as well as Team Hill’s torrid shooting resulted in our losing the game 52-42. Team Hill’s two leading scorers shot a combined 15-19 from the field and 4-5 from beyond the 3-point line. While we were disappointed with the loss, we would get the opportunity to meet Team Hill again.
After our game we had lunch in Cameron’s Hall of Honor. Around 2:15 PM we assembled for the second of our lectures from a panel of former Duke players. ESPN Analyst Jay Bilas moderated the discussion. He asked each former Duke player questions about Coach K and their time at Duke. Each of them recounted a humorous Coach K story. When asked their best Duke Basketball memory, all of the players said the same thing–it was the people (their fellow players).
After the lecture, we stretched and prepared for our afternoon games. Before we played however, we watched a tape of our morning game. The coaches broke down our performance and identified areas for improvement. The tape session was helpful and we won our second game over Team Dawkins, 42-33. Tied at halftime (15-15), we put the game away in the second half. We shot the ball well making 48.6% of our shots for the game.
After our victory, we returned to the hotel to prepare for that night’s social event. Before dinner, I had drinks with Jay Bilas (ESPN Analyst), Danny Ferry (Director of Basketball Operations for the San Antonio Spurs), Mark Alarie (successful businessman), and Billy King (President and GM of the Philadelphia 76ers) at the hotel bar.
It was amazing to just sit around the table and talk with these guys, all former Duke greats. They were all very personable, friendly, and easygoing.
Dinner Friday night was at The University Club http://www.universityclubnc.com/ , the area’s premiere private dining club. Located on the 17th floor of an office building in Durham, the University Club offers a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
After a cocktail reception, we broke up into our teams to have dinner. I got to sit with Shane Battier and two other team members. The intimate setting felt as though I was having dinner with a few close friends. The food was great and the company was even better. We took turns asking Shane questions about life in the NBA, his time at Duke, and his life outside of basketball. Shane wanted to learn about us too. He asked us all about our careers and lives back home.
Much has been written about Shane, one of the most successful college basketball players ever. I always admired him for his basketball skills, but now I also know first-hand how incredibly friendly, personable, and engaging he is.
After dinner it was back to the hotel for more cards with the coaches, including Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, and Danny Ferry. This time, we played for money. I don’t usually make a habit of playing cards with millionaires but I figured, “when would I ever have this opportunity again?” I didn’t win, but I was having such a great time I continued playing until 2 a.m.
Saturday July 31st
I arrived at Cameron around 8 a.m. and we had a half-hour session with celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson http://www.coresecrets.com
. Peterson is a former Duke grad and was participating in the camp as a player. He took us through some basic exercises that are part of his Core Secrets workout.
Following our “Core” workout, we assembled for a lecture from former player of the year, Jay Williams (’02) http://www.jaywill.com/
. Williams was drafted by the Chicago Bulls as the second overall pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. His successful rookie season was cut short, however, by a serious motorcycle accident. He talked with us in detail about the accident, along with his physical and emotional recovery. Much like Coach K’s lecture the day before, Jay Williams’ talk was extremely candid and personal.
After Jay’s talk, we broke up into our teams and watched tape from Friday’s games. The coaches offered their insight and gently gave us direction on how to improve.
Next we stretched and prepared for our first game of the day against Team Williams. Our game was a classic. The atmosphere was intense and exciting. A crowd gathered and cheered as the two teams battled back and forth. We went to sudden death triple overtime and lost on a driving lay-up 36-34. We had our chances but could not put the ball in the basket when it mattered most.
After our crushing loss, lunch was again served in Cameron’s Hall of Honor.
Following lunch we had a lecture on recruiting from Duke Assistant Coaches Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski. Coach Collins and Coach Wojo took us step by step through Duke’s recruiting process and discussed Duke’s unique approach. They explained that their goal is to build a relationship with a prospective player, and not just to sell them on Duke. It was insightful to get a behind the scenes look at this process.
Afterwards we stretched again in preparation for our second game of the day. Team Gminski played us tough for the first half and we held a slim lead at halftime (17-14). We pulled away in the second half, outscoring them 38-20 and won the game 55-34.
Saturday night’s event was a dinner and auction themed “The Biggest Night in Sports.” It was held at The Wilson Center, Duke’s 5-year-old recreation and fitness center located next door to Cameron Indoor Stadium. The room was decorated with colorful balloons and tables. There were interactive sports games as well as silent auction items on display. Across the room was a stage where a band played and later the live auction would take place. I had dinner with Trajan Langdon, Wojo, and Chris Carawell.
While we enjoyed the night’s festivities, everyone was buzzing about who had won that day and the pivotal match-ups for playoff Sunday. As it turned out, every game counted. The outcome of the final regular season game left three teams at 2-2. Because of our record and total points scored, we wound up with the third seed.
After “The Biggest Night in Sports,” I returned to the hotel and hung out briefly with Shane and some other players in the bar. As we exited, Shane was recognized in the hotel lobby by some of the guests and their children. They asked him for his autograph and he politely gave them each one. He posed for pictures and chatted with each child and their parents.
While Shane was talking with the kids and their families, I was standing next to him. A woman walked up and said to me, “I don’t know who you are but I’d like to have my picture taken with you.” Shane looked at me and laughed. I laughed too and told the woman “sure.” She later asked me if I was a player and I explained that I was a player at the K Academy but that Shane was the real star.
After my fan left, we all went up to the hospitality suite for some more card playing. As the night wore on, a crowd developed to watch me make my “donation” to the coaches’ fund. While I did win one hand against Shane, I’ve reached the conclusion that I am not a very good poker player.
Sunday August 1st
Sunday was the final day of camp. All of the teams made the playoffs and participated in at least one game.
With our record of 2-2, we were the #3 seed and played Team Giminski (0-4) in our first game. We had just beaten Team Giminski the day before (38-20) but this was the playoffs and anything could happen. At the end of the first half, the game was tight and we were only up by three, 18-15. Down the stretch we had too much firepower and won the game by a final score of 44-36.
Our first-round victory earned us a spot in the Final Four. Our next game was against Team Williams who we had lost to the day before in triple overtime. Still stinging from that loss, we were anxious to get back on the floor against them. After the first half, we were up by only 2 points, 12-10. Coaches Battier, Alarie, and Dennard made some adjustments, and we did a better job on defense and executing our offense in the second half. We held them to 25% shooting for the game and won 32-22 to advance to the championship against Team Hill.
As we entered the championship game, our third game of the day, our team was showing signs of fatigue. We had lost one of our point guards to injury and another was limited due to cramping. To give the game an authentic atmosphere, band music was played through the speaker system during pre-game warm-ups. Also, Bob Harris, the voice of Duke Basketball, did the player introductions and play-by-play during the game.
During the first half, both teams went back and forth exchanging baskets. Up only three at halftime, 14-11, we put together a great run and built a double-digit lead in the second half. Team Hill made a run of their own and kept the game close. One key to the game was our ability to get to the free throw line. While we didn’t shoot a great percentage, we did make more free throws than Team Hill attempted. Down the stretch we made shots when it counted and held Team Hill to 26% shooting in the second half. We won the championship 41-34.
Team Battier finished the camp with a record of 5-2. We led the camp in scoring offense (41.4), field goal percentage (41.6%), and rebound average (26.0).
Following the championship game, there was an awards ceremony where all of the teams were recognized and had their photo taken with Coach K.
The weekend concluded with a luncheon back at the Washington-Duke Inn. I ate with members of my team and Coach Battier. I said goodbye to several of the coaches I had become friendly with (Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, Chris Carawell) along with Coach K and his family.
Before attending the K Academy, I could not have imagined how incredible an experience it would be. The Coaches and camp staff did an unbelievable job in planning and execution. Of course, none of this would have been possible without Coach K himself. Constantly involved throughout the entire camp, it was Coach K’s personal touch that made the experience authentic and my dream a reality.
As I observed Coach K over the course of the weekend, it was easy to see his genuine love for his players, program, and family. You can’t help but be inspired being around someone so passionate about what he does and so genuine in his relationships with others. It was an honor to meet him and experience the Duke Basketball program firsthand.
Special thanks to Mike Cragg, Rachel Curtis, Debbie Savarino, Lindy Frasher, Matthew Laurance, Mike Schrage and his staff of Duke Basketball managers. They did an incredible job throughout the entire camp. They were always friendly, professional, and purposeful in their actions. It was clear they take a lot of pride in their jobs.
Thanks also go to my coaches and teammates for creating a memory that will last a lifetime. We will be K Academy Champions forever.