SOPHOMORE SZN… expect the unexpected.
Well, the good news is: if you’re sitting down to read this, you’ve probably read the one I wrote around this time last year and have prepared yourself for a nice 2 hour read- and I’m here to tell you: this one won’t be as long. The bad news is: I have no idea if that’s accurate or not. Let’s see, shall we? (***Spoiler alert: inaccurate.***)
So, I just returned from my 2nd year at K Academy. My SOPHOMORE SZN, if you will. Last year at this time, I sat down ready to write about every single detail from the 5 best days of my life: the intricate details of DUKE, Cameron, basketball, Coach K, former and current players, The Washington Duke Inn, Durham, socials and swag. This year, just know that every single thing that I wrote before still 100% applies. DUKE is still DUKE; Cameron is still the Mecca; basketball is still the nucleus of K Academy; Coach K is still the GOAT; former and current players are still literally everywhere you look; The Washington Duke Inn is still the most gracious and lovely home setting for our 5 day week; the socials are still definitely worth staving off pure exhaustion and skipping naps to make sure you attend every single second of; and the swag is still more than you can imagine… I don’t care if you watched the Grayson Allen video that DUKE Basketball posted on social media going through what all is in our swag bags.
Yeah. Pretty sick, right? But I’m telling you: until you see it in person, you can’t understand how awesome it all is. Yeah, it’s just stuff, but good grief, it’s the stuff material dreams are made of.
Back in May, when I had only just found out that I would in fact be returning for my Sophomore SZN, I jotted down a quick post about how excited I was and I noted that I kept coming back to being overwhelmingly excited for one particular aspect. Yes, I was of course excited for all of the aforementioned, but what I kept finding myself completely focused on was the excitement I felt to return to my K Academy family.
I said it in May and it is worth repeating. K Academy is a family. And family doesn’t have an off-season. You’re a K Academy camper for 5 days; but you’re a K Academy family member for life. Talk to anyone who has ever attended… they all describe it as such: family. As Rachel Curtis once put it to me: “The friendships and bonds formed during the K Academy are meant to last a lifetime- not just while you are a camper. You are now one of us for life (even on the days when you may not want to have us- haha)!” I guess I sort-of knew that going in, but I didn’t really know it until it ended. In life, lots of people say lots of things and a select few actually live up to it. Family. K Academy says that for a reason: they mean it.
So what was an inauguration for me last year turned into a full-blown reunion this year. A family reunion for the ages. And it started immediately.
Ariana and I hadn’t been in our room for 5 minutes before there was a knock at our door. The person on the other side? Only the number one person I would want to see: Matt Cantando! Turns out his room wasn’t ready yet so he was hanging in ours for the time being.
SUMMER CAMP HAD OFFICIALLY BEGUN!
Matt and I quickly became two young kids at 5AM on a holiday morning- going through our bags piece by piece and freaking out over everything. “A WATER BOTTLE!!!!!!!!” I have a vivid recollection of me giddily jumping over and showing Matt how the water bottle has a built-in straw. It’s that kind of week, everyone. Everything is a 10 because, well, everything is a 10.
From there, Matt and I got changed into our uniforms and headed down to lunch. I said it last year and it too is worth repeating: the level that The Washington Duke Inn rises to for these 5 days is nothing shy of perfection. The attention to detail, the kindness, the friendliness, the helpfulness, the professionalism, the commitment to making sure that every single need/want is attended to… the staff there from top to bottom is as good as it gets. I still can’t get over Tommy not resting until he tracked me down a Diet Dr. Pepper on Thursday night… even after I begged him to believe me that I was fine with a Diet Coke instead. The entire staff there deserves so much thanks for how they welcome us all and are so incredibly supportive of us in every aspect, so I hope they know how much we all appreciate every single thing they do. Thank you, thank you, thank you Washington Duke. You’re our home-base for these 5 days and you make it just that: our home.
So, lunch comes and goes and what comes with that is the growth of the family reunion. From here on out, every single encounter is one of “HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! Oh my gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! How are you?! So good to see you! What’s new? How have you been? Where’s [insert family member name here]? I’M SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE.” Hugs, hugs, hugs, high fives, high fives, high fives. And what these encounters make up in quantity, they don’t lack in quality. I felt like a high schooler just back from summer break and seeing all of my friends again. And when you consider there is over 100 campers, plus each of their family/friend contingents, this becomes a full-scale operation really quickly. And it’s just the best! I had the feeling about it in May and it held true: the best part of K Academy is what I perceived it would be: the family.
I’ll tell you how I know the family aspect is the best- walk with me here:
Wednesday comes and goes.
Wednesday day is the meeting with Coach K and then followed by player evaluations where we all warm-up, stretch, shoot around, do drills and scrimmage as the 30-40 former/current/incoming players, coaches and Coach K watch. You can’t really beat playing for hours on hours with a group of people you absolutely love on the most beautiful campus in the world. This is such a great way to kick off K Academy because it sets the tone for the entire week: friends, family, DUKE and ball.
Wednesday night is the Draft and social in Cameron.
Very cool, personal and intimate experience. I’m at a table with Ariana, my Dad, Matt Cantando, Amy Cantando, Ferol Vernon, new camper Bob, David Merin and Ann Merin. Our table is right next to Coach K, his family and friends, and is surrounded by the players I have looked up to and watched for my entire life. I’m blessed beyond measure to have been drafted by Team Charlotte coached by David Henderson, Martynas Pocius, Marty Nessley, Jim Yuschak and Joey “WE’RE DOING THIS” Baker. Oh, and by the by, my teammate? Matt Cantando. (“Just say ‘thank you.’”) Pretty sure anyone who knows me knows my love for Matt, Amy, Jack, Emma, Sadie, Mary, John, their houseplants, their mailman, their accounting professor at Wake, etc. It’s no secret that if nothing else happened for me at K Academy, I had already won just by being able to team up with Matt again.
And even better, I’m teamed up too with Bryan Palma, Matt Devin, Marc Wise, Terry Rains, Owen Littman, and Jim Tobin. And just like last year, this was only day 1, and it always only gets better from here. (Remember, I’m building to tell you how I know the family aspect of K Academy is the best.)
Thursday comes and goes.
First things first: team pictures.
Thursday day then proceeds with an early morning practice, followed by 2 games- one in the morning (we won), and one in the afternoon (we lost a super close one, which, stinks, but we lost to a team with my teammates and friends from last year, Dan Sutera and Ferol Vernon. Never want to lose, ever, but if I’m going to lose, let it be to those two guys any day of the week).
Between games is time spent catching up with returning family and meeting new friends-who-will-become-family, such as my most favorite new person ever, Kevin Malphurs. It was Kevin’s first camp experience this year and I’m pretty sure I just watched the reincarnated version of myself from last year when I watched him. Not so much when he played- he’s a phenomenal passer and much more efficient shooter than I am- but more so when he walked around and took it all in. I didn’t see him stop smiling once. Not once. So, I’m pretty sure I passed the “I slept with a coat hanger in my mouth” look down to him and it’s now on him to pass that torch to someone next year. Kevin, let us know who you choose in 12 months.
I’m also very pleased to tell you that the fridge is still in the recovery room and it’s still as ice cold and stocked as ever. When I say it’s one of my top 5 favorite things about camp, I am neither exaggerating nor saying where aspects like DUKE gear, Cameron, Coach K and basketball fall on the list (after the K Academy family, of course)- but that’s five aspects and only four remaining spots, so…………… (I’ve reworked that sentence so many times and I’m still not sure it’s correct. The bottom line is: THE FRIDGE IN THE RECOVERY ROOM IS A GAME CHANGER. JUST TRUST ME ON THIS ONE.)
Thursday night is dinner on the patio and surrounding area at The Washington Duke. Coach K talks to us all for a bit between dinner and the start of the Warriors/Raptors NBA Finals Game 1. This is such a great night because in addition to everything else going on- Coach K mulling around and chatting everyone up, getting to talk to and take pics with some of my favorite players ever such as Grayson Allen and Shane Battier, meeting 3 of the incoming freshmen and taking what can only be described as a Fun House photo in which they all appear to be life-size and I appear to be the only one of us whose photo was taken using a long lens- Ariana and I got our annual dose of Andy “it’s not stand up, this is just how I am” Borman storytelling. If I could have a daily dose of this, my life would be that much better. There we are- me, Ariana, Andy and now Shane Battier (with Kevin and Jeff Klein popping in and out too), standing around talking about their Fantasy Football league- which, apparently has a groundswell for a new Andy Borman division- and the conversation just goes every which way. Fantasy Football; Mike Dunleavy taking Andy to Elmo’s to break the news to him that he’s going to the NBA… and not break it to him that he’s going to be leaving him, but break it to him that he won’t be able to hold up his end of the lease they just signed at Erwin Square; Mike Dunleavy subsequently lightly wrecking Andy’s old truck or Jeep while back on campus at DUKE to take summer classes and dejectedly calling to tell Andy who is out and about driving Mike Dunleavy’s Mercedes 9 series around California; and just on and on and so on and so forth. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to talk to Andy Borman about anything, then you know- it’s never the subject matter that is the point, it’s the Andy Borman way of telling it. He could tell me about last night’s episode of House Hunters and I promise he could do it in a way that I’d walk away crying laughing. He’s just that funny. What I didn’t know though, and what I was about to learn over the course of these 5 days, is that Andy Borman isn’t just a lovely and funny guy- this man is a damn fine Coach and is on an absolute crash-course to take a team far whenever he decides the opportunity is right. Ask Ariana and Amy Cantando and Ann Merin who sat with me behind the bench when Andy coached his team- they too had to stop themselves from checking in to the game after hearing his speeches. Something about that whole family, man: they will have you ready to run through a wall for them.
So, that’s Thursday in a large nutshell. Great day, and yep, still building to tell you how I know the family aspect of K Academy is the best.
Up to Friday. Similar to Thursday in that it’s a 2 game day. 2 games up, 2 games won. Yay, Team Charlotte. Great games and these were two games that were won entirely by the collective team. Bryan with great defense and pushing the ball and pace. Terry with lockdown defense that would make Jordan Goldwire proud. Owen with passes that would make Tre and Tyus proud. Matt being the Mr. Everything player he always is and taking charges like he’s got on a full set of football pads or something. Matt Devin playing as well on both ends of the floor as anyone could- he’s tough as nails and can knock down any shot he gets a look at… and routinely does just that. Jim getting stops and hitting clutch threes with authority. And Marc consistently with one of the sweetest back-to-the-basket-turn-around shots I’ve seen and somehow also being right where he needs to be to make crucially timed blocks. It was a great, great day of basketball for Team Charlotte and we were feeling good about it. That put us at 3-1 for the season to that point which was a great place to be going into Saturday.
Friday is also the day we get to hang in the DUKE locker room and watch film. Always one of the biggest highlights of the week.
Really quickly: speaking of the locker room visits. Did anyone happen to catch David Merin’s locker room visit headgear? Later in this post I will reference “minor injuries.” Just know that I am NOT talking about David’s warzone-esque battlescar when I say “minor.” LOOK AT THIS WRAP! He’s a warrior.
And! Apparently he plays even better when injured!
Too good. Too good.
So, now Friday night comes and this was dinner at a new venue: the Champions Club upstairs at Cameron. Another fun night of socializing- Coach K, Mrs. K and family mingling around, players and coaches dispersed throughout, and the highlight of the night: the senior videos. When it is your 4th year at K Academy, you get your very own personal highlight reel put to whatever music your spouse/family/friend chooses. This year? 12 seniors. TWELVE. And the videos were all awesome. I was particularly into these because three of my best guys had their senior videos played: Matt Cantando, Dan Sutera and Scott Ethridge. And they were all as “Matt, Dan and Scott-esque” as they could be. Purely perfection.
So, we’ve now kicked it through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday- I’m once again in the midst of the best few days of my year, just like I was last year- and I’m still winding up the story, building to tell you how I know the family aspect of K Academy is the best.
Have you figured it out yet?
I’ll give you a clue. Here are a few snippets of what I had said to this point in my post last year:
From Wednesday day:
At 2:30, we went up to Scharf Hall where we had our formal introduction. Duke players lined the sides of the front of the room and by this point, Ariana and my Dad had joined me. And then it happened: the door toward the back of Scharf Hall opened, as Mike Cragg the Deputy Director of Athletics at Duke, was speaking and there he was: Coach K. Standing at the back of the room that I was sitting in. I’ve been in a room a million times with Coach K- it’s just that in the past, that “room” has been a stadium that holds, at minimum 9,314 people (Cameron) and at maximum, 19,812 people (Madison Square Garden). This was a touch different. I was completely sidetracked. I could barely even focus on the amazing program media guide that they had given us.
From Wednesday night:
I had one goal in mind: get a picture with Coach K. Only, I wasn’t sure of myself enough yet. So, naturally, I sent in Ariana. Only, damned if she didn’t get momentarily star-struck. “Coooooooooooach”, she said, her voice cracking. And then turned around the most genuine (I’m going to beat that word to death, but it fits), kind, and completely tuned-in person. He stood there and talked to Ariana, told us how happy he was that we were there… and then said some other stuff that frankly I don’t remember because I was trying to take in the moment. My Dad came over and introduced himself and they talked for a bit and then Dad read my mind and said: “Let me get a picture of you 3.” My father the hero. This literally was all I needed from camp. I had my bag. I had my jersey. I had my photo with Coach K. I was set.
This was an awesome day for me, losses notwithstanding, and now we were headed to cocktails and dinner and watching the first game of the NBA Playoffs with Coach K at the Washington Duke. This was already super cool to me- getting to watch a game with Coach K- that’s a bucket-list item for sure. And lo and behold, it got even better. Game is on, I’m sitting there talking with one of my favorite people Ariana and I met at the camp, Chip Engelland, and I feel a tap on my shoulder. Oh, hey, Coach K. Yeah, just a little rattling. “I saw you today. Be ready tomorrow. You don’t want to be a one-shot wonder.” I laughed, he didn’t (I clearly don’t have a gauge on when the Krzyzewski family is joking or not). Ariana then blew up my spot and said that I pointed to Debbie after I made my three. “I saw that. I see lots of things. I saw you profiling.” All I could think of was that scene in Love & Basketball when Monica shoots and holds the pose and her coach is not impressed. Thankfully, he chuckled then.
Chip, being the awesome human he is, told me how cool he thought that moment was, after Coach K returned to his seat. A few moments later, I hear: “Sarah!” I know that voice. It’s Coach K again! “You gonna be ready tomorrow?” I looked him dead in the eye and said without hesitation: “Yes I am.”
Coach K took the podium to speak to us all- probably about 200 or so of us were there including all the Duke players at camp, etc.- and as he’s speaking, he refers to all of the campers as “you guys.” I take zero offense to this and legitimately could not care less, but to his credit, Coach K has made a point all camp to make sure whenever he does this, to correct himself and say that he either means that in general terms, or to change his language to say “and you ladies.” (He actually came up to me earlier in camp and explained just that- “when I say ‘you guys’, I just refer to everyone as that.” He also told me he’s going to prefer to say “hi” to me by saying “yo” as that’s something he learned from Bobby Hurley and he likes saying it. I told him I took no offense by the “guys” language and that I looked forward to my next “yo.”) This time, on the podium, he corrected himself in the way of saying “and ladies. We have a couple of ladies this year.” And then it happened. No way will I get this wording exactly right because I lost my damn mind, but it went something like this: “You guys. And ladies. We have a couple of ladies this year. And incidentally, I don’t think anyone has shot it better than Sarah. The real question is why Ricky didn’t have her in at the end of the game. But what do I know, I’ve only been doing this 43 years.”
I should pretty much just end this writing there. I don’t have anything further to say. How? How do I have any moment after that? Pursue moments? You pursue a moment after that. I’m maxed out.
Ariana: “Are you dying?”
Me: “I mean. Yeah. There’s no way I can even process that. I keep thinking that nothing can ever get better, but then each day or night, something new happens and I’m just… yeah.”
Do you see what the central focus of my day-by-day recap last year was? Last year’s focus was exactly as it should be: 200% on the magnitude of what I was experiencing from the standpoint of a fan living a fantasy. Have you seen me write about this in this way this year? Not so much. And let me be very clear: the scene isn’t any different. Coach K and all of the players and coaches and everyone associated with DUKE that I have watched 2 hours a night, twice a week, 5+ months a year for the past 37 years are all still there. And they’re still providing all of the storybook moments that I raved about last year. Nothing has changed in that regard. And throughout the year, I only become more immersed in my life as a DUKE fan with every passing second, so that hasn’t changed either. What has changed is… no, not my perspective. Believe me entirely when I say I will never, ever not be affected when Coach K, JJ REDICK, Battier, Duhon, David Henderson, Marty Nessley, William Avery, Mason, McClure, AOC, Joey Baker, Andy Borman, Hairston, Justise, Thornton, Robert Brickey, Gene Banks, Andre Dawkins, Shelden, Pocius, Grayson, Kennard, Tre, Okafor, Matt Jones, Amile, Scheyer, Buckmire, Brennan Besser, J-Rob, Savarino, Nolan, Nate James, Chris Carrawell, Ricky Price, Cherokee Parks, Vernon Carey, Cassius Stanley, Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore, etc. etc. are in my visual. That part didn’t change.
What did change is: what hit me hardest in terms of “this is surreal.” And that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. The first year, it’s all about the “oh my goodness, I can’t believe this is happening” moments that are happening faster than you can process- that whole “DUKE, Cameron, basketball, Coach K, former and current players, The Washington Duke Inn, Durham, socials and swag” thing I’ve been referencing. But then, there’s this whole 365 days that happens after your rookie season ends. And that’s when you really get what makes this camp so special. You start to realize- wait, there’s something real here. And all that other stuff- the stuff that will blow your mind for 5 days- moves from the focal point of your experience and shifts to being something else: the icing on the cake. Had someone told me that a year ago, I’d call bullsh*t. No way would you ever convince me that it wouldn’t be, and stay, the other way around: “Not a chance,” I would have told you. And I… would have been wrong.
I care that Coach K was there. Profusely. Intensely. Profoundly. I care. You know me well enough to know that I could never underscore that enough. But I can tell you this tidbit that truly happened: Ariana turned to me on Wednesday at the draft, on Thursday before the NBA game started, and on Friday between my first and second game, and asked me each time “don’t you want to go talk to and get a picture with Coach K?” and each time I responded with some version of “yes, of course, but sometime later… I’m gonna go grab lunch with Amy and Jack right now” or “yeah, but I’m going to shoot around with Matt Devin and work on my shot fake.” Taking a step back, this even makes my head spin a little. But that, again, is what I’m trying to tell you. K Academy is a family and those waters run deep. Deeper even than fanaticism, I now see.
So, Saturday comes.
Reality starts to set in, so yeah, I made sure to pull my head out of the sand and ensure that I got a chance to talk with Coach K and spend some time with the man who, to say I look up to him, would be a sad little understatement. And, per usual, talking with Coach K produced a moment that I couldn’t have fathomed. My shot this season was up and down- hit some, missed some, such is life. So, before my Saturday game, I sat and talked with Coach K for a few in which he told me how to mentally prepare to be successful in my shooting for my upcoming game and ended it with “because you’ve got a good shot…” And just like that, it was Friday night of my rookie season at K Academy all over again and my head was in the clouds. You understand that DUKE has had some of the best shooters in college basketball history- JJ, Collins, Ricky Price, Kennard, Dawkins, Capel, Langdon, Curry, Laettner, Singler, Scheyer, J.Will, and Battier, to name a few- and here is the Coach that led them all, telling me that I have a nice shot?! Now, do I think he was lumping me in with all of those shooters I just mentioned? Yes, actually, I do! It’s a fantasy camp, OK? Let me be.
So, yeah, head in the clouds, not really sure this just happened- thankfully Ariana happened to catch this all on video, so I know I didn’t imagine it… but only now, I have to actually go play. Last year I just had to figure out how to go to sleep after hearing Coach K laud my shooting; this year I had to actually go be productive afterward. The game before ours went into sudden-death double overtime so I proceeded to spend every last second doing exactly what Coach K had advised me to do: envisioning my shot. There’s a picture of me with a death-stare, eyes locked on the rim… I’m not crazy, I’m envisioning.
And it worked. I hit one of the toughest shots of my two years at K Academy that game. Lucky, maybe… but it was just like I had envisioned it. And Ariana, my Dad, Jenny, Marc, Kayla, Kai and Stacy were all there to see it too.
Speaking of Stacy, there is something that makes her being in attendance (both last year and this year) ultra-special to me. Back in January 2015, ESPN did a feature entitled “Do You Know Mike Krzyzewski? His friends, family and the people closest to him say you know the coach- not the man.”
In this article, there are interviews and bites from people who have grown up with Coach K and have remained steadfastly by his side. One of whom, of course, is Dennis “Moe” Mlynski.
IT IS EARLY December and Duke has just beaten Wisconsin, and, after the game, a few select people gather in the hallway outside of the visitors locker room.
Stepek is there and, of course, Mlynski.
He’s always there if he can be. Best-friend status — Krzyzewski was his best man — has afforded the man everyone calls Moe a few perks. He’s been in the bleachers when Krzyzewski recruited Chicago products Jon Scheyer, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor.
He has spent the day in the Krzyzewski home on days of the Carolina game, and been in attendance for all of the Blue Devils’ title victories.
So naturally, when the Devils play in Madison, Wisconsin — a doable roughly 150-mile ride away — he’s there. After Duke won, a happy Krzyzewski is holding court, regaling folks with stories and tales until someone finally says the bus is waiting and it’s time to go.
Krzyzewski goes from person to person, offering each a warm hug and sincere thanks, saving Mlynski for last.
“I say, ‘You want me to kiss your ring?'” Mlynski says. “And he says, ‘No. But you can kiss my ass.'”
You think you know Mike Krzyzewski?
Maybe you do.
But then again, you really don’t.
You see, Stacy… is my Moe. She’s been with me since we were both just two 4th graders running around the original Hillandale Elementary School in Durham. We rode the bus every morning to Chewning together, then Brogden. Our parking spots at Riverside were side by side. We lived together all 4 years of undergrad at UNC-G. And we have a bond that is simply unbreakable. Stacy couldn’t care one bit less about DUKE (she’s a UNC fan, actually), basketball, Coach K, Cameron, or any of it. She comes for me. She’s my Moe. Always has been, always will be. Sharing any moment of my life with her is what makes those moments special to me. This year as I was standing post-game and talking with her, Moe came up to say hello. It was a full-circle moment for me because “my Moe” got to meet the Moe. Family had just met family.
Whew, OK. Back to the action.
Saturday night is always so bittersweet. It’s such a lovely dinner- we all sit at team specific tables (this year at the Blue Devil Tower) and just rehash what we have all been through over these past few days and make sure we spend as much team time together as we can. It’s so hard because you don’t want to get caught up in knowing tomorrow is Sunday, but tomorrow is Sunday, and that’s tough to swallow. But it’s a night filled with laughter and comradery and ends with us all coming together, watching the Xs and Os video, and mentally preparing for the next morning. And when I say morning, I mean morning.
Team Charlotte was fortunate to advance to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. This year the format was restructured a little: 12 teams total- 8 of whom play in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday; 4 of whom play in the newly-minted NIT Tournament on Sunday. Team Charlotte was the 4 seed in the NCAA, so, when I said morning, I meant it: our game was at 7:30AM. Not our warm-up, not our introductions, not our stretching… our game.
I’m sorry to report that after a major comeback rally effort, Team Charlotte fell short and was eliminated. We finished the week with a record of 3-3. Nothing to hang our heads about. Plus, I knew that losing that game was nothing compared to what I was going to be feeling in a few hours when we all parted ways. At least, for right now, it was only about 8:15AM and we had nearly a full day left to hang out and stay a team. So, we did just that. We all stayed, ate lunch, watched the other games, cheered like crazy for our friends and just made sure to soak in every last second.
And this is when K Academy becomes painful. If you aren’t one for mushy and corny, then this would be a good time for you to close your browser. I am an intensely sentimental person and I truly feel goodbyes, so this part of camp always hits me extremely hard. I’m the kind of person who will watch a TV show’s series finale, knowing damn well I haven’t ever watched a single episode of the show otherwise, just so that I can get caught up in the emotion of the end. I have a love-hate thing with goodbyes: I hate them, but at the same time, the emotion of them makes me feel very real, and I love getting caught up in that feeling. In saying our goodbyes, I kept thinking about these 3 shows that a) I loved and b) had such poignant moments at the end of the series. In my mind, the gist of what was said in each of these shows was ruminating around, but not the specific wording. I have since gone and looked at the scripts. I knew I kept reflecting back on them, so I thought that there must be something specifically said in each of them that I was relating to. And, I was right:
Golden Girls Series Finale:
– I guess this is it.
– Listen, you don’t have to say anything.
– I mean, what can you say about seven years of fights and laughter?
– Just that it’s been very… Well, it’s been an experience that I’ll always keep very close to my heart. And that these are memories that I’ll wrap myself in when the world gets cold and I forget that there are people who are warm and loving and… I’ll miss you.
– You will always be a part of us.
– Your friendship was something I never expected at this point in my life. And I could never have asked for a better surprise.
FRIENDS Series Finale:
– So, I guess this is it.
– Yeah. I guess so.
– This is harder than I thought it would be.
Fresh Prince of Bel Air Series Finale:
– It’s been a good trip.
– It’s been a great trip.
– Look, whenever, wherever, I got your back, C.
– Whenever, wherever, I’ve got your back, W.
– That just doesn’t sound right coming from me, does it?
– Sounds great, man.
That’s pretty much how I felt, and how I feel, about K Academy. The memories I have made are ones that will forever be ones that I hold in the highest regard and the closest to my heart. The people I have met, yeah, I didn’t expect it at all. I’m 37 years old. This is a basketball camp… a fantasy basketball camp, no less. For adults. Over 35 years old. I’m one of two female campers. 500+ miles away from where I currently live but oddly enough right smack in the middle of where I grew up. I knew no other camper when I signed up for this experience. None of this is screaming: YOU WILL MAKE LIFELONG FRIENDS HERE THAT YOU CONSIDER FAMILY. And isn’t that just when life is at its best? When you have expectations, or lack thereof, and they just get blasted beyond recognition? And when you walk away with these friendships knowing: I’ve got these people for life, and they’ve got me right back too. That’s the kind of thing that, well, it’s just real. And everything else, no matter what, is just icing.
Family. It’s lived and breathed at K Academy.
You see, a lot goes on at K Academy. These days are jam-packed. Sun-up to midnight. There are good times, there are hard times. It’s competitive, it’s intense, it’s demanding, and it’s challenging. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of things like: minor injuries, 7:30AM games, pure exhaustion at the end of the night, missed shots, flubbed plays, lost games and seasons ending.
But what you will find, what I surely have found is: those things fade and it’s everything else that will rise to the forefront of your memories. Your focus shifts to the things that matter: the way it felt to pick up Matt Cantando after he had just taken his 6th charge of the season; the text message from Bryan Palma at 6:09AM Sunday telling Team Charlotte he’s “opening up Cameron- time to win a chip!” (and the response from Coach Henderson coming in all of 4 minutes later: “that’s what I’m talking about!”, followed by Jim Tobin’s response not even 10 minutes after that… just a reminder- it’s not even 6:30AM and these guys are READY); hanging out with Owen and Tara Littman back at the Washington Duke and talking real life, politics, what it’s like to have 4 dogs (who knew we were all crazy?!) and NYC; getting a midday pep talk from Dan Devin and then practicing my shot fake with Matt Devin; spending time between games sitting and chatting with Jennifer Lang about, just, living real life; seeing the joy Jordan Karen has in showing his Mom, Carla around- and the pride they both feel watching Rob Karen out there playing his heart out; running out to mid-court as the buzzer sounded to celebrate the incredible game Terry Rains just had on both ends of the floor; Marc Wise with the ultimate team-first attitude, playing his guts out amidst a seriously badly pulled hamstring; 11PM hallway story-time with Keith and Alaina Fournier- complete with Keith regaling us with tales from his debaucheries as a student at DUKE; talking with Andrew Tuttle and his Dad, David (who is just a priceless gem, everyone) and seeing the pure glee on their faces when Jahlil Okafor politely excused himself as he walked through our little circle (“I won’t take that charge!”, David exclaimed); watching Kevin Malphurs hit yet another huge 3 but knowing he knows it was extra special because JJ Redick was sitting there watching too; hearing- and seeing in person- the prank that David and Ann Merin managed to pull off after many years of planning (HILARIOUS, you two); sitting in Cameron and listening to Debbie Savarino talk with absolute pride about how well her oldest son, Joey, is doing in college and how well he has taken to his life there; laughing with Hamill Jones about how he Zion Williamson-ed my De’Andre Hunter corner 3 shot attempt, closing a full court gap in less than 2 seconds… and then seeing the look of pure completeness on Hamill’s face as he gathered all of his family to take a group photo with Coach K on Saturday night (PS, Hamill, I 100% think you should do the camp idea at your high school- if there is anyone who can follow in the footsteps of Coach K, it’s you, Hamill Jones the Third!); feeling so grateful for Coach Yuschak’s wife, Susan, as she is running around on Saturday night to ensure we received the definitive answer as to exactly what time the training room would be open Sunday morning; looking over every game and seeing- and certainly hearing- Ariana Goswick and Amy Cantando cheer their hearts out for Team Charlotte; catching up every night with Jeff Klein and being there to cheer him on for each game (did you know Jeff has the record for most FTs taken at K Academy- try to guess it… you won’t even come close); Ariana’s chats with Dan Sutera and his “Dad”, Dan (hahahaha); having breakfast in the mornings with Randy Chen and his two girls; getting the “club passes” from the girls serving as the doorpersons in the defense room; meeting Ferol Vernon’s sweet kids and watching his games together with Ricci; daily chats and hugs with David Zenon; talking with Robert Brickey and finally getting to tell him how he was my favorite player when I was in second grade- a trait I shared with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Earlene Kistler (as in Doug Kistler’s wife); watching Scott Ethridge beam as he watched his daughter show her friend around Cameron; getting shots up in the K Center and Cameron as Coaches Henderson, Yuschak, Pocius, Baker and Nessley all rebounded for me, helped me with my form and built my confidence up- shot after shot after shot; Mike, Mercer, Stirling and Christopher Griffin coming out in full support; Jack Cantando being Team Charlotte’s 9th man – celebrating our successes and shouldering our losses right alongside with us; watching K Academy: The Next Generation play some seriously good pick-up in the K Center each day; and, finally, getting the game plan drawn up in the pre-game huddle by Coach Marty Pocius, only to then have him turn the board over for his final message: ENJOY THE MOMENT.
Family. It’s lived and breathed at K Academy. You can’t help but see it.
You look out and see Luke Kennard coaching his dad, Mark Kennard, who is attending as a camper this year. You see the joy Luke has when Mark steps to the line to ice away a game with 2 free throws. That’s family.
You look out and see Nolan Smith’s wife, Cheyna, who is literally about to give birth just strolling around K Academy each day. When I say “literally about to give birth”, I am being, well, literal. K Academy ended on Sunday. She gave birth to their daughter on Monday. So the 5 days leading up to that? There she was- at K Academy. In Cameron Indoor Stadium. In late May/early June. In the south. I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it isn’t exactly revered or renowned for its level of comfort. And I don’t know if you looked at a weather report last week for Durham, NC, but when we landed on Tuesday, it was 98 degrees. But there she was. Day after day after day. In full support mode. That’s family.
You sit on the bleachers in Cameron with Debe and Corey Parks, Cherokee Parks’ Mom and sister, and you listen to them cheer for Cherokee’s team and it’s as if he’s about to sub in. The passion they bring, it’s real. They are as invested as invested gets and take this as seriously as possible- it’s like it is 1994 all over again. That’s family.
You walk around each day and night and see the likes of Mrs. K., Debbie, Lindy, Steve, Joey, Michael, Quin, Remington and Caden… Coach K’s family. These are people who have had more than their fill of DUKE in their life. No one would think one thing about it if they said, “you know, I don’t know if I really want to spend my summer sitting in Cameron Indoor Stadium watching a bunch of adults act like they are playing for DUKE.” Yet, there they are. And not at all phoning it in. Watching, cheering, investing, and loving it. “This night makes my heart so full,” Lindy said as we all rode back to the Washington Duke after the Wednesday night draft. And it wasn’t lip service. She didn’t owe anyone that remark. I’m not even sure she was talking to anyone other than just saying it aloud to the universe. And she said it because she meant it. That’s family.
And finally, not 5 minutes after Team Charlotte lost our last game, I caught a quiet second with Matt who came up to me with tears in his eyes, hugged me and said “I feel like I let you down.” He knows he did no such thing. And I made sure to tell him that. But, in typical Matt fashion, he’s always thinking of others. Whether it’s running down from lunch to be behind Dan and Ferol’s bench to sideline coach them and cheer them on; or taking charge after charge after charge in our games, body and health be damned; or yelling “CLEAR! CLEAR! CLEAR! CLEAR!” the duration of our games until he loses his voice; or just being the guy who will always, always, always lift you up as a teammate and a friend; Matt Cantando is a teammate and a friend you should all be so lucky to have. Coach K, to my knowledge, does not have a vested interest in any of the games in terms of hoping one team wins over another. But I just happened to see him as our last-chance-shot rimmed out and the deal was sealed for our loss. Have you ever watched a DUKE game and seen a play fall apart or something just not go right and over on the bench you see Coach K pull his knee toward his chest and he leans back and, kind-of, sighs… as if to say “maaaaaaan, damn”? Have you seen that? I have. And I saw it when we lost. And I know that was for Matt. Matt would never accept that as true and would be sure I didn’t see it correctly, but I know what I saw. That’s just the kind of reaction Matt elicits- he puts everyone else first, so we all want to put him first and see him succeed. Even Coach K… the winningest coach in basketball history… at his fantasy camp… in a game that has no true impact on his life. That’s family.
I told you: Family. It’s lived and breathed at K Academy.
So, that’s it.
Sophomore SZN… OUT.
I will say to any of you who are reading this and are at all on the fence of making the leap to attend K Academy: if it’s feasible for you- do it. Go back and read what I wrote after last year to get a proper feel for all the cool stuff you can expect at your fingertips. And then read what I wrote here and know that I foresaw nothing like this happening. I thought I’d be writing a second post to tell you how cool the stuff in my bag was when I arrived, or what it’s like to play in Cameron, or how mindboggling it is to sit and watch film in the DUKE locker room. Look: I live and breathe DUKE and particularly DUKE basketball and Coach K and everything associated with the program. You may find a bigger fan than me out there, and if you do, they should likely be under mental health supervision. Never could I have imagined something about K Academy supplanting all of the stuff I wrote about following my rookie season. But I’m telling you: it happened. Here’s the bottom line: if you’re looking for a way to carve 5 days out of your life and be surrounded by DUKE, Cameron, basketball, Coach K, former and current players, The Washington Duke Inn, Durham, socials and swag: congratulations- you found it. Just don’t be surprised when you walk away with all of that and find yourself talking about it all in the secondary. You come for the rookie season experience and the stuff; you return for the family. Over and over and over again.
To my family – my parents, my brother Marc, my nieces Kayla and Kai- and to all of my friends: you all have always been there cheering me on through everything in life. Thank you for loving me the way you do and for loving me for exactly who I am.
To my wife, Ariana, who loves and supports me like no other: thank you. Thank you for being there with me every step of the way and for making my life- and our life together- what it is: everything.
To everyone who works their face off to bring this fantasy camp to life: Debbie Savarino, Rachel Curtis, Jon Jackson, Reagan Lunn, Nolan Elingburg, Kevin Cullen, Jose Fonseca (and the entire training staff), the Team Managers, the Equipment and Facilities Operations team, Food and Beverage crew, and everyone who is part of putting this experience together for all of us (far too many to name here, for sure): please accept my most sincere thank you for all that you do. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m so grateful you’re you. I appreciate each and every one of you- individually and collectively.
To the DUKE players- past, present, and incoming: THANK YOU doesn’t quite cut it. You show up, you give us your time, your attention, your commitment, your energy and your passion. You don’t take a single play off and you make each one of us better- better players, better people. Thank you for taking time out of your lives to have an impact on ours. You’re THE BROTHERHOOD and we’re all just lucky to tag along.
To Coach K: you never cease to amaze. The loyalty, the passion, the consistency, the fire, the commitment, the principles, the fight and the perspective that you provide each one of us who wants to look, listen and learn is unmatched by anyone, anywhere. In a time when you have nothing left that you need to prove to anyone, you continue to prove to us what we have long known: you are the greatest to ever do it and your willingness to let us- and desire to have us- all be a part of your team is something I will never take for granted. I respect many, many, many things about you, but not one comes before the intangibles that you bring to the table, simply by being you: first and foremost the way you regard your family and your friends. Middle of March, big time game, camera pans to the tunnel and there you are- heading to the locker room, holding hands with Mrs. K. End of May/beginning of June, there you are- sitting in Cameron at your camp, surrounded by your wife, your kids, your grandkids and your best friend since childhood, Moe. On Saturday, you talked about how you are deep in your love for your family and your friends. Thank you for not just talking about it; but for being about it.
And finally, to those of you who I have had the pleasure of spending 5 days with each of these past 2 years, please know: it has been the experience- and the time- of my life. I cannot thank you all enough for what you have each brought to my life. It’s been more than I ever could have imagined, and I’m so incredibly blessed to call all of you my family.
Let’s do it all again in less than 365 days, shall we?
– SMG #22