Now in its fifth year, K Academy brings many of Duke Basketball’s all-time best players and supporters together in Durham, North Carolina each July for a Duke Basketball fantasy camp.
I arrived at this year’s K Academy on Wednesday July 25, one day earlier than I had in past years. Due to increased enrollment (80 guys this year), this year’s camp began one day earlier than in the past.
After checking into the Washington Duke hotel, I picked up my gear and dropped my stuff in my room.
Lunch was set up on the patio outside. I grabbed a bite and said hello to a number of the guys I knew from prior K Academies.
Following lunch, I got ready to play and took the shuttle over to the Emily K Center where this year’s evaluation games were being held.
The Emily K Center is a community center named in honor of Coach K’s late mother, Emily Krzyzewski. The Center’s mission is to inspire economically disadvantaged students to dream big, act with character and purpose, strive for academic excellence, and reach their highest potential as future citizen leaders. You can learn more about the Emily K Center by visiting their website, www.emilyk.org
The gym was crowded when I arrived. All the campers was shooting around and talking with one another. The K Academy coaches (former Duke players and Coaches) were there, as well as Coach K and some local media.
At 2:30 everyone took a seat and Mike Cragg, Duke’s Associate Director of Athletics, welcomed us to this year’s camp. He then introduced Johnny Dawkins, Duke Basketball’s Associate Head Coach, who introduced the K Academy Coaches and finally Coach K.
Coach K talked to us about how special it was to have all of the coaches (his former players), return to Duke to participate in the camp. Coach K explained how he and his staff wanted us “to be a Duke Basketball player for the next few days.” He encouraged us to embrace the fantasy, and “try to not be who we are” in our everyday lives. He urged us to have fun at the camp and to take stretching seriously.
Following Coach K’s introduction, we took a camp photo with all the Coaches and players gathering at center court.
We then broke up into our assigned teams and played two evaluation games. During the games, the Coaches scouted the “talent” for who they would select in that nights draft. The coaches have a great time at the camp but are also very competitive. There’s a lot of gamesmanship going on amongst the coaches to get the best talent and team.
Following the evaluation games, everyone went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Draft night is always a lot of fun. Usually held in Duke’s Hall of Honor, this year’s draft was held on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was amazing to see Cameron transformed into a formal setting.
Both Miki (Coach K’s wife) and Coach K spoke to us to open the evening. After a highlight video from last year’s K Academy, championship watches were presented to last year’s Championship team.
Each team of coaches then came up to announce their team. Video highlights of the players were shown with Jay Bilas offering some “colorful” commentary and player analysis.
I was selected by Team Ferry Coached by Danny Ferry, Kenny Denard, Nate James and Steve Wojciechowski. Danny Ferry didn’t arrive at the camp until later in the weekend so Coach Wojo served as our Head Coach.
I woke up on Thursday at 7, had breakfast and headed over to Cameron.
Following our team photos, Coach K and his daughter Jamie talked to us about their recent bestselling book “Beyond Basketball”.
Coach K said how proud he was of the book and explained how the Duke coaching staff had put into practice the ideas outlined in the book.
He explained how all of the Duke Basketball players received a DVD in the off season with highlights themed around one word the Coaches wanted to emphasize to each player.
One DVD about “adaptability”, for example, was sent to an incoming freshman player. “Who you were is important,” Coach K explained, “but who you are (as part of this team) is even more important.”
Coach K went on to discuss the importance of adaptability in his own career. “I have to adapt how I coach the USA National team versus the Duke Team,” Coach explained.
After the lecture, we stretched and had our first team practice. Coach Denard and James explained how important the basics would be during the camp. We ran through some drills and worked on basic shooting, passing, and layups.
This was great advice. I know from past camps, the team that turns the ball over the least, and makes the most layups, usually wins the games.
We won our first game of the day beating Team Gminski 49-36. We showed great balance on the team with our second unit just as effective as our first.
After lunch in the Hall of Honor, we scouted a game between team Laettner and Team Snyder.
Before our next game, we met in the locker room and Coach Wojo went over the points of emphasis against team Bilas. We opened the second game a little flat, and Coach Wojo was not pleased. He got all over us and challenged us to pick up our game. With the score tied and the clock winding down to end the first half, I hit a last second three point shot off an out of bounds play. It was a big momentum play going into halftime and put us ahead by two points.
In the second half, we came out strong and pulled away for the win 42-37. Matt Hancock led the way with his scoring.
After our game, I went on a facility tour that included Duke’s new center for excellence as well as Duke’s Basketball offices.
Next I headed back to the Washington Duke to get ready for dinner at the “U Club”. In the lobby I caught up with friends Russell Newman, Wayne and Jessie Change, and they new son Bradley.
At dinner I sat with Wojo and his wife, Kenny Denard, and the rest of our team members.
Among other topics, we of course talked about Duke Basketball. Wojo told us some recruiting stories as well as his outlook for the upcoming season. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet Kenny Denard, who is a great guy, you’ll know that his stories are a lot more “colorful”.
Back at the hotel following dinner, I had a drink at the bar with some of the guys. I popped into the hospitality suite to play a little poker and then headed to bed.
Friday morning I woke up at 7, grabbed some breakfast and headed over to Cameron.
When I arrived there was a shooting clinic going on with Chip Engelland, as well as pickup games with some of the Coaches. I was excited to see Coach Engelland and asked him to sign my Topeka Sizzlers jersey. He just laughed and kept on shooting.
At 8:30 there was a lecture from JJ Redick. Coach K introduced JJ and everyone rose to their feat to show their appreciation for JJ and his amazing Duke career.
JJ talked to us about many topics including playing for Coach K, the commitment needed to succeed, and his transition to life in the NBA.
When he opened it up for questions, someone asked JJ what his favorite shot was. JJ responded with “the transition 3 pointer” because it was like a “dagger in the other team’s heart”.
Our team played Team Snyder in the first game after the lecture so we stretched and warmed up. When we came out flat for the second game in a row, Coach Wojo got on us about our energy level. We ended the first half up by only two points.
We picked up the effort in the second half and pulled away for the win 44-30. We were again led by the scoring of Matt Hancock who scored 18 points. It was a great effort by everyone but especially our second unit that did an outstanding job all week long.
During lunch, I sat with Coach Wojo and got to meet his parents who were visiting from Maryland.
In the afternoon I walked over to the Duke bookstore and got to see Duke’s beautiful campus along the way.
Before our next game we had a team meeting to go over some plays and review the things we wanted to concentrate on. One of the things Coach Wojo emphasized was a more consistent effort. He wanted us to put together two solid halves of basketball.
We accomplished this goal and played a great game defeating team Henderson 53-29. It was a great team effort. Matt again led the scoring with 23 points on 8-12 shooting. Our 53 points set a record for the most points in a game in K Academy history.
One of Team Henderson’s assistant coaches was JJ Redick, one of my favorite Duke players and the presenter at that morning’s lecture.
Shooting the ball well during our game, I had the opportunity to do something special in the second half. After securing a defensive rebound, I started dribbling up court. While both teams were running in transition, my mind thought back to JJ’s speech that morning. After thinking about it for a couple of seconds, I knew I had to do it. I pulled up at the top of the key for a 3 in transition, JJ’s favorite shot. SWISH… nothing but net.
I got a big smile on my face and immediately looked at JJ as I ran back down court. He was not amused. I tried to explain my tribute, but JJ didn’t seem to appreciate it. A couple of my teammates recognized what I had done and thought it was awesome. I had the chance later that night to laugh about it with JJ. It was definitely a special memory I will always remember.
After the game I got ready for dinner that night at the beautiful Duke Gardens.
Following dinner, we watched the K Academy senior videos. Players who have attended the K Academy for four years were featured in their own highlight video just like the actual Duke players. Since this was my fourth year at the camp, I was pretty excited. The video was great and is another special memory I will look back on for years to come. You can view my video below.
When we got back to the hotel, I had the chance to catch up with one of my favorite people at the camp, Trajan Langdon. Trajan played for Duke from 95-99 and now plays professionally in Russia. I’ve gotten to know Trajan during each of the last four summers and he’s a great guy. He’s very personable, humble, and down to earth. I always enjoy talking with him.
I popped into the bar for a beer and then headed up to the
hospitality suite for a little poker. I headed to bed at around 1:30 for I knew
there was still a lot of basketball to be played.
I slept in Saturday morning. We didn’t have a game until 11:30 so I got to sleep late. I had some breakfast and headed over to Cameron for a 10:30 team shoot around.
We discussed our strategy for our first game. Coach Wojo did a great job of keeping us focused on what we needed to do to win the game versus team Laettner.
Both teams came out hard. The game was tight but we were ahead by four at the half.
In the second half we exploded for 30 points while holding team Laettner to only 16.
We got contributions from everyone on the team. Matt Hancock again led the way with a monster game (25 points and 10 rebounds). During the game Matt set the single season K Academy scoring record. This was before the playoffs had even started.
This was the final game of the regular season and we finished with a perfect 5-0 record.
Following our game, I watched a game between the current Duke players and some of the former Duke players who were coaching at the camp. It was amazing seeing all of the talent on the floor. The team of the current Duke players included Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Taylor King. The alumni team included Jay Williams, Christian Laettner, Kenny Blakeney, Ricky Price, Nate James, and Trajan Langdon.
After watching the game I headed back to the Washington Duke for lunch. Many of the guys played golf in the afternoon or visited Duke’s integrated medicine center. I chose to just hang out in the lobby with some campers (Ross and Duck) and coaches (Quinn and Danny Ferry).
That night’s social event was a surprise birthday party for Coach K, in Wilson Gym. Many of Coach K’s childhood friends, classmates from West Point, and former players were in attendance.
There was a silent and live auction for various trips, sports memorabilia, and art. Jessie Itzler, a camper at the K Academy, did an awesome job emceeing the event. The combined auctions raised over $500,000.
Also at the event, the matchups for Championship Sunday were announced. Everyone has a chance on Championship Sunday but you definitely don’t want to play in the early 7:30 AM game. Since we had the #1 seed, we were going to play Team Bilas at 10:30 AM.
At the end of the evening, I found out we would be without our head Coach for tomorrow’s playoffs. Coach Wojo had to leave on a recruiting trip early in the morning. We were all very disappointed Wojo would not be there to Coach us but obviously understood.
I went to bed early knowing that if we were going to make it
to tomorrow’s Championship, it was going to be a long day.
I slept late on Sunday. After breakfast I headed over to Cameron to shoot around in Card gym before our team meeting. Coach Ferry went over the plan of attack for our game against Team Bilas.
We came out flat in terms of scoring before our second unit picked it up and tied the game at 10 going into halftime. In the second half, team Bilas built a lead but we battled back to tie the game behind the scoring of Matt Hancock, who was named regular season MVP. Team Bilas then went on another run to take the lead with a big basket from Eddie Cue.
Overall we played our worst game of the camp but still had a chance to win at the end. When a three point shot fell short at the buzzer, we lost 33-31 and our dream season was over. Needless to say it was a very disappointing way to end our camp. I feel we had the best team but we didn’t play well when it counted the most.
Congratulations to Team Bilas who played a great game against us and went on to advance to the Championship before losing to Team Laettner in the finals.
This was my fourth K Academy and incredibly my experience keeps getting better and better. Every year is different in terms of the team you are on and the Coaches you work with. This year I was very fortunate to be on a team with a great group of guys. We played well together and had a lot of fun. Our Coaches were awesome (Wojo, Danny Ferry, Kenny Dennard, and Nate James). They worked hard and played a big role in our success.
I want to thank the K Academy staff and Coaches for another incredible camp. Mike Cragg, Rachel Curtis, Mike Schrage and the entire K Academy staff did another outstanding job. Your commitment to making each K Academy the best it can be does not go unnoticed. The camp continues to get better every year.
Thank you also to the Coaches who return each year giving their time and energy. You are our heroes and getting to know you as people, as well as players, makes the bond we feel with Duke Basketball even stronger.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Coach K. Beyond the basketball, the highlight of the camp each year is the time I get to spend with you, your family, and your program. Your passion and pride are both inspirational and contagious. I thank you for allowing me to experience what it’s like to be a Duke Basketball player. The Duke Basketball program is truly special and I am proud to be associated with it.
Next year’s K Academy is scheduled for June 4-8, 2008. Contact the Duke Basketball Legacy Fund office at (919) 613-7501 or email Rachel Curtis for more information.