Before I begin, a few prefaces:
First preface: this will be incredibly long, that I am aware. And I’m taking the time to make you equally aware as I don’t fully expect you to necessarily stay with me word for word here. So, if you need to dip, let me go a little off script here and put the point of this all first, so that if you take nothing else away from this, simply take this message: do it. Whatever it is in your life that you are either putting off or saying “I can’t right now” or “I will do it later, when I have saved more money or more time for it…” Stop putting if off and do it. Pursuing moments- that is truly what life is about. Nothing simply will happen to you; you have to make things happen for you.
The second preface is me being upfront about why I am even writing this. It isn’t simply to go on and on and on about what I just experienced for no real reason. And it isn’t simply to endlessly annoy Will… though that’s always an added bonus (love you, rivalry brother). No, the reason I am doing this is incredibly selfish. I recently found out that one of my family members is struggling with dementia. We aren’t close, so this isn’t a pity party for me (incredibly sad for her and her family, of course)… but it got me thinking. Close or not, we are genetically related and anytime anyone you share genes with suffers from something, at some point, you start realizing that affliction is now in your line. Doesn’t mean I will also suffer from this awful disease, but it certainly raised my awareness to the possibility. And I can’t think of many things that could be worse than the decline and eventual total loss of my memory. Memory is something that has always served me so well- I can remember any date, any number, any event. I can tell you what song was playing that time we walked into that restaurant and what you ordered for your meal. I often serve as the memory for my best friend Stacy who likely cannot remember what she even ate for lunch yesterday. God love her, but the woman has no memory! There are many things I wish I were better at- geography, geometry, reading a map- but my memory is always the one thing I have known was as good as, if not better than, anyone’s. So, finding out that a disease now runs in my genes that could strip me of this- scares me. It scares me for any given memory I have ever had. And it scared me enough to think: I just had the best 5 days of my entire life… I want to remember every single moment of it for as long as I live… and the only way I can cement that is to write it all down. So, that’s why I’m here. To put down on paper the memories that I hope will stay with me forever.
Here we go:
There’s an annual camp, a fantasy camp as it is billed, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina that Coach Mike Krzyzewski puts on every year (KAcademy.com). The premise of the camp being that it is a “once in a lifetime experience for the ultimate Duke or college basketball fan.” I don’t need to walk you through my fandom. If you’re reading this, you know it. You’ve seen the endless posts. You know the tattoo. You’ve met me, most likely, and you can’t escape that which I present right off the bat: I live and breathe Duke basketball and I have for my entire life. I grew up so immersed specifically in the rivalry of Duke and UNC (my Dad worked for Duke, my Mom for UNC) that I honestly don’t even know where Duke ends and I begin. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It defines me. I have met many people in my life that, if you met them and asked them today, what I do for work or what my
So, the camp. It is 5 days, once a year, and the requirements are two-fold: you have to be at least 35 years old and you have to pay the $10,000 fee to attend. My birthday is July 18, 1981, so as of K Academy XV (in 2017), I was eligible to attend. Only problem then was: I was still recovering from a basketball injury that resulted in a broken foot, torn ligaments and dislocation and I hadn’t been cleared by my doctor at Duke to return to sports activities yet. So, that year’s camp (2017) came and went. Later that same year, in December, my wife Ariana and I decided to move back to the NYC area from NC (we moved to NC from NYC in 2014, did the NC thing for 3 years and decided, yeah, we really love NYC and need to get back there- we settled on a house we purchased in NJ). As luck would have it, the housing market in Durham, NC is pretty rock solid right now. Durham is on the major come-up and real estate is feeling those effects. We sold our house in about 2 weeks, with no realtor, and headed back up north. The luck part being: for a house we only lived in for 2 years, we made a nice little profit- nothing extraordinary, but a nice little cushion for our move back. Yay. I thought nothing significant of it other than what a nice little boost for our savings account, especially after a big move. You can imagine my surprise when- and my memory being so great that I remember exactly where I was standing in our living room when this happened- Ariana said to me: “I think we should take the money we made from the house and you should go to K Academy this year.” It was the very end of January 2018 and I thought: “Yeah. Right. Ariana.” In my mind I am thinking: she has either had too much coffee or has taken up day drinking. I didn’t take her seriously at all. She was completely stone-faced serious. She proceeded to tell me things I of course already knew (“this is your lifelong dream” and “no one would get more out of this experience than you”) and then told me what I needed to hear to push me over the hump and into thinking this could actually be real (“this is likely the only time we will ever be in a position to do this”). I thought about it and realized, whether she’s serious or not, I’m going to jump on this before she changes her mind. I went into work the next day, pulled up the form online and emailed it to Rachel Curtis, Assistant Athletic Director, Athletics Facilities Branding and Director of the Basketball Legacy Fund at Duke. Actually, no, first I had to do some research. I had looked at this camp for years and years and years online- and it’s always looked like my absolute dream- but one thing I also noticed was: I’ve never seen a female in any of the photos of the campers. I read page by page of the internet profile for K Academy and noticed that the wording, especially as it came to the eligibility, was very particular: “you must be at least 35 years of age or older and physically able to engage in the various camp activities and games.” That’s it. It doesn’t say you must be a man at least 35 years or older; in fact nowhere does it say anything about gender. It says “campers”, “participants”, but not “guys” or “men”. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I decided I was going for it and the worst they could say is “no.” However, I wasn’t coming to this meekly. I’ve seen the photos. I’ve seen the videos. There was zero doubt in my mind that I could hang with every single one of the people who have attended. Didn’t mean I thought I was going to go there and leave their ankles on the court… but I knew they weren’t doing that to me either. And I pretty much said just that to Rachel- that I could hold my own and wasn’t afraid to get in there with any guy (my Dad is somewhere laughing right now thinking, “yeah, you aren’t afraid to get in there with any guy because all you do is roam the 3 point line… not really in any danger of getting too hurt out there.”). You can imagine my excitement when I received the following right back from Rachel: “I have received your registration, and of course you can attend! As you may know, we have only had one female participant in the past, but that most certainly is not because women are not allowed.” Holy crap: I’m in. My mind was blown. I could have legitimately floated down to NC that very moment. I remember thinking: “I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL MAY” but then also being conflicted, as we were smack in the middle of basketball season and thinking “Ah dang. That means basketball season will be over though.” I made my peace with it, no doubt. (Quick side-note on that whole “one female participant in the past” part. Turns out, Jeni Kim and I share a mutual friend and Jeni was kind enough to connect with me before the camp and really give me a rundown of what to expect. I appreciate her so much for that, but more than that, I appreciate her for being the one who blazed the trail for me, and any other female, to attend. I owe her an endless amount of gratitude and I will forever be thankful.)
So, I’m in. Awesome. Now I had to hit my first obstacle in this: telling my Mother. Anyone reading this who knows me: that needs no further explanation. Anyone reading this who doesn’t really know me or Linda Goswick, let me put it this way: my Mom would do anything for me… but she also prefers to still mother the hell out of me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m the youngest or because I moved to NYC right after undergrad graduation so she still thinks of me as that “kid” she had to come to the Principal’s office for grades K-12 (no exaggeration) to discuss my talking in class… but I’ll give you an example. As I said, I moved to NYC, on my own knowing exactly one person, put myself through grad school up here, got married and essentially became an adult. Imagine that. But my Mom? With the very best intentions, while visiting me once in NYC, was with me when I swung by my office to pick up my paycheck and as I was walking to the bank, she looked at me, completely seriously, and said, “now Sarah, do you want me to put some of that in my account for you so you can save it?” That’s just her modus operandi when it comes to me: she parents me to death. I love her for it, but I knew this was not going to go over well- me spending $10,000 on a 5 day camp. This is a woman who scoffs when Ariana and I go to a Broadway play for fear that we are spending too much money. She does the same thing if we go out to dinner (“Do y’all go out for every meal?” “No, but we do go out sometimes on a SATURDAY NIGHT, Mom.” “OK, I just want to make sure you aren’t blowing all your money.”) I went back and forth on how I was going to approach this because 1) I needed her to come up to our house in NJ for the 5 days to watch our dogs and 2) I decided I was not going to lie to her about it- I wasn’t going to tell her I won it, I wasn’t going to tell her we “found” ten thousand dollars. I was going to be upfront and just deal with it. I told her one day, via email (that was as courageous as I could muster up), and was shocked: she was totally supportive! She was super excited for me! And she was totally in to come up and watch the dogs. I completely sidestepped that landmine. Only, I knew this was temporary. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would get the idea to look up the camp online and figure it out. And that day came on February 20, 2018 at 3:02PM.
The text reads: “You must be kidding. I looked at Coach K Academy and is says 10,000. Tell me this is a joke.” And then a follow-up of “Are you serious. Makes me feel so foolish for all I have done to help y’all thinking you needed help. Guess not. This is for people with lots of money who want the prestige. What are you thinking.” NOW THAT’S THE LINDA GOSWICK I KNOW AND LOVE! After a little bit of back and forth with me doing my absolute best not to take the bait and instead stay levelheaded and certain in my decision, the conversation ended. She had now told me she would not come up to help with the dogs (this was her effort to make me change my mind) and just went on and on about how foolish I was being. I was dejected but I wasn’t changing my mind. We didn’t speak for a few days. She was furious at me. And then, she was over it. She was on board even. In other words, unbeknownst to me, Ariana had intervened and made my Mom understand how important this was to me (not that she needed that understanding; she knows) and made her understand that no matter what financial strain this may put on us, we were going to make it work because this was a literal dream come true for me.
My Dad needed no such coaxing. He was beyond excited for me from the get-go. Our conversation went something like this:
“Dad, I’m going to K Academy this year and I think you can come as a guest.”
“That’s incredible! How exciting. I’m there! I’m sure that didn’t come cheap.”
“Yeah, $10,000. Mom is not pleased.” Nervous laughter.
“Hahahaha, I’m sure she isn’t! I think it’s great. There are many things in my life I wish I had done and didn’t for some reason. If you can do it, do it.”
NOW THAT’S THE PETE GOSWICK I KNOW AND LOVE!
If my Mom is an expert Apache helicopter parent, my Dad is a “you do you and as long as you are happy and aren’t hurting anyone, that’s all I care about” parent. It’s the perfect balance I need to chase my dreams but not go too out of the pocket with them.
I can’t believe I’ve gone on for this long and haven’t even gotten to the camp yet. My bad, everybody.
So, February, March, April and all of May come and go. Duke doesn’t win the National Championship as I hoped, and the loss to Kansas was so hard to take. I mean, an OT loss, to Kansas in the Elite 8? That’s rough. And I don’t take any Duke loss well, but the last one of the season, especially when it is Grayson Allen’s last game, that’s hard to swallow. But, the haze soon lifted: K Academy will be here soon!
May 29, 2018: the journey begins.
Mom had come up the weekend before and we spent time planting and just hanging out. That Tuesday, Ariana and I left Mom with the dogs and cats in NJ and drove down to NC. To give an idea of how excited we were: I don’t leave the house in the morning for work without at least a 5 minute goodbye session with the dogs, particularly Jake. It’s as though I’m leaving for a world tour when in reality, I’ll be back in 9 hours. On Tuesday, May 29th… we were essentially crossing the border out of New Jersey when Ariana turned to me in the car and said: “We didn’t even say goodbye to the dogs and cats!” We were shocked. And really disappointed in ourselves. Not to worry though, we promptly FaceTimed them via Mom. But that’s just how pumped we were.
So, we get down to Durham and are staying at my Mom’s house that night. Having lived in Durham for the previous 3 years, and me also having grown up there, we knew there were 2 things we had to do that night: have dinner at Pizzeria Toro and then swing by Parlour. It was the perfect way to start the week of my life. Those two places are as good as it gets- and that’s coming from two people who take full advantage of what NYC has to offer in terms of food.
That night, it was like every single Christmas Eve of my life rolled into one. Thank goodness for Melatonin- otherwise there is zero chance I was getting even 10 minutes of sleep.
Wednesday, May 30, 2018:
I am up immediately and ready. Like 6:30AM. Of course, registration doesn’t actually begin until 10AM at the Washington Duke, so my morning consisted of a quick run to Dunkin Donuts and then a lot of pacing. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Time check, time check, time check. Finally, it was realistic enough to get in the car and drive the 8 minutes from Mom’s house to the Washington Duke.
10:00AM: I fight my intense desire to literally RUN to the registration table that is down the hall from the lobby and Ariana and I instead to “play it cool” and sit on a couch near the lobby and wait a bit.
That lasted maybe 4 minutes. I had to go check in. Cool schmool. I walk back and immediately am met by what will be the theme for the entire weekend: the nicest, kindest, friendliest and most genuine people. From the ladies and gentlemen doing the registration check-in, to the basketball managers who assist in pulling our K Academy duffle bag and shoes, to Rachel Curtis and Debbie Savarino who come up and each say to me: “Sarah! Hi! We are so glad you are here!” I was taken aback by the fact that they immediately knew who I was and were completely genuine in their approach. It all comes from the top and I knew- with these two running this event, combined with Mike Cragg, I was about to be blown away. I had no idea though how incredible it would get. Every moment was legitimately better than the one before.
Ariana and I get our room keys and head up to the room. I’m dying to get inside the room and open this heavy duffle bag that is on my shoulder. I am a Nike and Duke swag fanatic, so my world was about to be tipped on its axis. I opened the bag and it was awesome shirt after awesome shirt- this one says K Academy (meaning: EXCLUSIVE!), this one says DUKE, I LOVE THESE K ACADEMY SWEATPANTS, oooooh look at these awesome LeBron shoes, I love these socks, there’s a bookbag in here, not sure what I’m going to do with these briefs but I.WILL.MAKE.IT.WORK! I mean, it went on and on and on. I was in Heaven. Ariana jokes that if they had said: “OK, that’s it! That’s the camp!” that I would’ve been like- “Works for me! Best time of my life! Thanks for having us!” And she’s not entirely wrong. But, this was just the beginning and my goodness were we off to a good start.
Next we went over to the K Center as it was open at 1:30 for anyone who wanted to come shoot around. Sign me right on up! I shot around for about an hour where many Duke players- past, present and future- were mulling around. I have an incredible ability, for me, to completely zone out when I am playing basketball but this was going to be an ultimate test for me. Just shooting around while Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish walk around. Lay-ups and oh, there’s Tre and Tyus Jones. This was a true mental test.
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. On that note, I must say here: there is NO detail that is overlooked at this camp. They do it up. If the premise of the camp is that you are meant to live the experience of what it would be like to have been a Duke basketball player, they don’t miss it even by a beat. No stone is left unturned, no detail is too small, no expense spared.
Coach K soon came to the podium and gave a talk that would set the tone for who he was for the next 5 days: he was invested, and he was funny. Do you know how many times I’ve watched this man be interviewed? Read his post-game quotes? Watched him game after game after game? I’ve been amused, sure, but on a list of adjectives I’d use to readily describe him, funny might not be in my top 5. He’s not unfunny in those moments, but postgame press conferences and halftime talks are usually just not the place for “haha moments.” So, this was an awesome side to see. It made this that much more personalized too. Millions of people have seen the business side of Coach K; we were seeing the human side now too.
The K Academy XV National Championship team was then called up by Coach K and recognized for their title the previous year. They were given commemorative watches for their championship and this too would set another standard for the week: prepare to be recognized and celebrated. K Academy has cornered the marked on how to celebrate individual achievements at K Academy in the way of returning: based on whatever year it is that you have returned, there is a specific celebration marked by memorabilia. After a certain number of years, you receive a tent right outside of K-ville with individualized posters marking your tent; one year is the year of the bobblehead; one year is the year of the senior night video; one year is the year of the player trading cards- you being the player; one year is the year of the FatHead- you as a FatHead; one year is the year of the photo plaque- again, you being the one photographed; one year is the year of the matted photo of yourself at K Academy; one year is the year of you being commemorated on a Coke can; one year is the sports jacket. But there is one year in particular that I don’t care how big or small of a Duke fan you are, how much or little you follow any sports whatsoever… this moment will get you all kinds of messed up. Go into Cameron. Look up. What do you see? Lots of things, right? ACC Tournament banners. ACC Regular Season banners. A banner that notes that Coach K is the winningest Coach in Division 1 basketball history. You see 5 of the most glorious sites you can imagine: 5 banners with the words NATIONAL CHAMPIONS emblazoned on them. And you see player jersey banners: Dick Groat, Mike Gminski, Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Art Heyman, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Jeff Mullins, Shane Battier, Jay Williams, Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick. But for 5 days spanning May and June? Look up there. There’s your jersey. Hanging in the rafters. In Cameron. That’ll knock you back, to be sure. I haven’t hit that milestone as this was my first camp, but in the event I do one day, good luck ever getting that jersey back down- I’m cementing that thing up there!
Back to the events. So, Coach K recognized the reigning K Academy National Champs and at this point all I can think is: “Wow, my knees would be wobbly if I had to go up there and get this recognition from him.” I am so invested in this moment that it takes my Dad pointing out to me that he has now flipped through the media guide and ascertained that I will be wearing jersey number 22. ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME? I get to wear a jersey that says Duke on the front, the number 22 and Goswick on the back? 22 as in the number that Jay (I still struggle not to slip up and say Jason) Williams wore? Come on, man. This can’t be real. And full circle moment: he just so happens to be my Dad’s favorite Duke player in history. My Dad: the very reason I am a Duke fan to begin with. I know he’s dying inside. And I’m happily dying on the outside for anyone to see. No shame.
We are dismissed from Scharf and go pick up our jerseys at the bottom of the stairs. Putting that jersey on for the first time was a feeling I never want to, and never will, forget. I knew these jerseys were part of the experience and I had already told Ariana: when I die, I want to be buried in my K Academy jersey. I say that not to be morbid; I say that to be completely serious. I don’t care how old I am… if I have to take this heart shaped toe ring tattoo literally to my grave, I’m taking the jersey too. It’s that simple.
I’ll pick it up a little here.
We now go down to K Center courts and have player evaluations. This consists of some stretching and then lay-up and shooting lines followed by shoot-around and scrimmages. Nothing too difficult, but again, keep in mind that all of the Duke players- past, present and future- are walking around and now they have clipboards. They’re watching us and they’re, well, evaluating us. Reason being: they are about to go back upstairs and have a closed-door draft. The next 3 days are meant to be the regular season (2 games each day on Thursday and Friday; 1 game on Saturday) and then Sunday is the tournament (3 or 4 games, back to back to back… to back to win the K Academy XVI National Championship).
So, off they go and back to the Washington Duke we go. I’m beyond riding high at this point. My mind can’t even compute the level of excitement and awesomeness I am completely immersed in. Not witnessing; immersed in.
7:30pm begins Draft Night. Again, Ariana and I are easily the first people there- we could’ve basically opened the doors for the catering staff to arrive- so in another attempt to play it cool, we decide to walk up to where our season ticket seats are (shout out to Section 12, Row Q) and then mosey around the Museum for the millionth time. And, again, I did that for as long as I possibly could (read: 5 minutes) and then we headed down.
I’ve been to Cameron far too many times to count. I went to basketball camp here when I was 15. I grew up going to games here. My high school graduation was held on this floor. It doesn’t matter. Every single time I walk into this building and onto this floor, I am taken aback. It’s so impactful to me to stand there and let myself be absorbed by the history that has happened on this floor. It never gets old and it never doesn’t register with me. Every single time.
This time though, it looks different- intentionally so. It’s been made even more intimate (which is really saying something for a building that doesn’t even hold 10,000 people). Cocktail tables are set up, the scoreboard has been lowered closer to the floor, and a curtain separates the socializing side from the dinner side. Yeah, we’re about to have dinner in Cameron, down at the floor. How many people can say that? Not too many.
This night is where camp went to another level for me too. You gather from the price tag (and my Mom’s exact reaction) that this camp attracts a certain person: an affluent one. Not 100% of the population is a Fortune 500 person (hey there, Sarah and Ariana), but the great majority are. This was a part that I was shaky on. Not because I don’t know how to socialize with people from different circles, I do, but sometimes, it’s intimidating and sometimes, frankly, people with a certain achievement in wealth can be a little harder for me to relate to- or better, I worried it might be harder for them to relate to me. Earlier in the day during his talk, Coach K told us how great of an opportunity this camp is to socialize, meet others and network. The purchase of the Atlanta Hawks apparently was sparked from a meeting that occurred at K Academy. Which: awesome. But also: am I going to feel out of place now? This was 100% on me and I am so incredibly happy to say that I was completely, totally and absolutely: DEAD WRONG. From the moment we walked in to Cameron that night, Ariana and I were approached at some point by pretty much everyone. They told us how happy they were that we were there. They were entirely invested. They talked to us about their families, where they live, what they do- not just for work, but what their passion in life was. They asked us all about ourselves, our dogs, our families, my love for Duke. It was completely normal. Not one person was aloof, presumptuous, arrogant, brash… nothing like that. And that goes for everyone- campers, staff, coaches, Duke players. Greg Paulus walked around introducing himself by his first and last name. I wanted to be like, “I know who you are Greg Paulus!” But that’s just how everyone was- completely unassuming and kind. I’ve never been so happy to have been so needlessly worried. I’ve never felt so welcomed and so wanted as I did these 5 days and it all started right away. I told Debbie and Rachel after the camp ended that they should really take a step back and realize how much they are doing right to be able to attract the level of character that this camp does and to really be proud of the relationships that are fostered out of it. That says so much about Duke, Coach K, the camp and their effort. If you get back what you put in, then they are really putting it in.
OK, the Draft. Full disclosure, Ricky Price came up to me moments before the Draft began and told me he was drafting me to be a part of Team Charlotte. A quick historical fact: I have always worn the number 3. It’s my number, it was always my jersey number and it is completely attributed to one person: Ricky Price. I loved this man at Duke. He made me fall in love with the three- both the number and the shot. So, you can imagine what this moment was like for me. I just kept thinking to myself- the kid in me would be dying right now… and the adult in me is! I am so thankful that he told me he was taking me because, 1) he was taking me and 2) I knew when to somewhat expect being called. And turns out, Team Charlotte was first on the clock. So, I was able to get it over with right away. Not because I wanted to “get it over with” but because I am a naturally shy person 99% of my life. The 1% of the time I’m not shy- when I am playing basketball and particularly, when I am shooting a three. I have always felt like I could relate to any player, for example, Grayson Allen, who was one person on the court and another off of it. I am shy when you meet me… but if I hit a three and you’re on the court, you and your entire family are going to know about it.
Every player was drafted and got their moment on the stage. I was lucky to be drafted to Team Charlotte coached by Ricky Price, Cherokee Parks, Mike Buckmire and Player-Coach LuAnn Crosby. I was so excited. I’ll get to my teammates later and I swear I’ll try to keep my lovefest for them as minimal as I can- because I could go on and on and on about them. For real. But I’ll try to keep it concise-ish.
This was also the night that they unveiled the newest retired jerseys and like I said before: that’s a moment, whether it’s for you or not, that will get you good. That’s some special stuff.
After dinner finished up, we were all winding down and preparing to head out. Everyone was sharing their excitement to get started the next day… we all were holding or wearing our Draft hats (again, they don’t miss a single detail at this camp)… lots of people were walking around to find the basketball decal that was on the floor of Cameron that said their name and their number so that they could kneel down and take a photo with it.
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. Only, I was just getting started. By the end of the night, I had taken another photo with Coach K- only this time it also included Tre Jones, Tyus Jones and Amile Jefferson. Little did I know that by the end of the camp, this would be commonplace, but for me, at that moment… I was floating. You try sleeping after that. But, I had to sleep. The next day started early.
Each day we met in the breakfast area- and I’m talking like 6:30AM. And that’s 6:30AM with no coffee for fear of getting dehydrated. We ate breakfast (for those of us that can eat that early) and got our freshly cleaned jerseys and gear from the managers who brought our laundry nets. Following a team practice, my team had 2 games that day.
We didn’t win either game, but we showed marked improvement from our morning game to our afternoon one. I didn’t feel great about how I particularly had played after our first game. My shot wasn’t falling and even though it was right there, it wasn’t falling. I don’t know how a player like Steph Curry can do it. That guy can be 0-9 and he just keeps shooting. I think it’s incredible. I remember when Rodney Hood played for Duke and in an interview, Coach K said something to the effect of Rodney being one of the only players he has coached that believes every shot he shoots should go in. Should go in. There is a massive difference in the thinking behind should go in and will go in. Steph Curry is a “my shot will go in” guy. The step before that though is the hump you have to get over- the “my shot should go in.” It’s a hump because when you reach the level thinking it will go in, you can easily move on to the next one with the full confidence that it actually will go in. Next play. When you are stuck at the should go in stage, you can get in your head. Should can rock your confidence because when it doesn’t go in, you are left questioning yourself. After our game Thursday morning, I was feeling very much in the should stage of shooting. I don’t say it much aloud, but I can get very affected by missing shots. I can look at any box score all day long and see that even the greatest shooters hover in the high 40% range- and these are players who I think can shoot the hell out of the ball- but I know me and I know I would have such a tendency to focus on the other 60% instead. So, when it’s really not falling, I can fall into a funk. But, sometimes, you just need that one person to step in and say what you need to hear. And on that day- it was Debbie Krzyzewski Savarino. (I put the maiden name in there because, well, you get it.) As Ariana and I were walking back into Cameron to get ready for my second game, Debbie made a beeline for me. And there was no confusion in her voice or tone… no vacillating or wavering whatsoever. “Sarah. (Pointing to herself.) Debbie. (Like I the lifelong Duke fan didn’t know who she was, please). Shoot. The. Ball. I watched your game before and said, ‘they don’t have any three point shooting.’ And then you came in. Shoot. The. Ball.” I laughed and she didn’t. “Oh. OK.” Ariana, in a tone of ‘I’ve been telling her this and she won’t listen to me”: “Thank you! Who is this coming from?” “Me”, Debbie said. For someone who has a direct sightline to Debbie’s seats when Duke plays at Cameron, I have seen her at every game. She is 100% Coach K and Mrs. K’s daughter. She ain’t at the games to socialize… she’s at them to get after it. Every cheer. Every chant. Every clap. Every play. Every game. So when Debbie tells you to shoot, you shoot.
Our next game started and BOOM. Three ball up, three ball in. I told you have I have an ability to block everything out when I play. I rarely know where anyone is in the stands and I rarely hear anything outside of those court lines. But I also told you that if I hit a three, you and your family are going to know about it. But in this moment, there was one person who I knew exactly where they were and there was one person I wanted to let know about it: and that was Debbie. I hit the shot and immediately turned and pointed to her. She got me over that hump. The should hump had been cleared: when I shoot, it will go in. (Appreciate that, Debbie.)
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.” And intended to be. So, I needed to get out of there and go to sleep. Of course, this means I missed the ending of Game 1 in which, apparently, NBA basketball went crazy, but whatever- I needed the sleep.
Friday, June 1, 2018.
Unless there comes a day in which I win the lottery or something, and probably not even then, this date will forever fall second only to my wedding as the best day of my life.
We had two games again- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Our first game, we won! I didn’t shoot particularly great, but I also didn’t hesitate to continue to shoot it even when they weren’t falling. I really credit and appreciate Chip for coming up to me afterward and saying “You won the game by 20. You didn’t need your shot to fall then. When you need it, it will fall. Keep shooting.” Keep shooting. If I had a dollar for every time someone- a coach, a friend, a spectator, a player, a teammate, anyone- told me those two words this past week, I could pay next year’s K Academy tuition. Everyone refused to let me backtrack to the should hump. We also had one of the coolest moments of camp this day: film session. We went in the men’s locker room where the lockers had been transformed to be ours with our names on them and we watched film of our earlier game. It was awesome.
I knew my shot hadn’t fallen the game before, but I let what Chip said really wash over me. “When you need it, it will fall.” I stayed up and readied myself for our next game. And our next game, it clicked. We were down nearly double digits and I needed my shot. I got space and lined one up: cash. Next play, I got space again and set my feet: money. A couple plays later, I found daylight and I wasn’t missing it: bam.
We were hanging in the game and I was feeling it. I wish I could say we won, but we didn’t. But, just like every game before it, we were markedly better than the one before. Coach K came up to our huddle after this game and gave sound advice to everyone on how to improve and stay composed. It was this moment, for me, that the star-struck feeling wore off. Yes, he’s still Coach K and that won’t ever be lost on me, but I was now able to let this really all sink in and take it at face value. When he talks, you listen. And if you listen, you’ll hear something. I made sure to listen.
That night, I decided to go with my gut and wear a shirt that means a great deal to me: my “Tupac wearing Capel’s jersey” shirt. These evening events have verged on a little classier than t-shirt attire, so I threw a collared shirt on underneath it, put my glasses on, and we headed out to Scharf Hall for dinner. This is as close to a celebrity as I have ever felt. I was riding high about having found my shot in the most recent game (normally, yes, that wouldn’t even matter to me since we lost, but this is fantasy camp- not the NCAA Final Four, so I was able to make my peace with that) and people were loving the Tupac shirt. I was feeling good. Then, we sat down for dinner. 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.
In reality, Ariana and I, or the ghost of me that remained, spent the rest of the night hanging out and talking and getting to know everyone even more. We had such a great time talking with Andy Borman and he and Ariana have lots of professional goals with youth in common which was really cool to talk about. We walked back to the Washington Duke having the same conversation as we did every night:
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.”
I should also note that this was the night of the silent auction and the stuff that they brought to the table, in literal terms, was nothing short of awesome. So much exclusive memorabilia that was going for some serious cash- all of which went to benefit the Emily K Center. Which, if you haven’t checked that out, do so (https://www.emilyk.org/). 40% of our K Academy tuition goes to benefit the Emily K Center, as do the profits from the auction and raffle, and frankly, it couldn’t go to a better cause. My godsister, Julie Wells, is the Director of PYO in Durham, NC and they have similar goals and serve similar purposes and similar populations. I have been to benefits for PYO and heard Julie talk with undying passion and drive about her work with PYO and it is the most incredible and worthwhile work that there is- the work that PYO and the Emily K Center do- so, just knowing that an event meant to make my dream a reality also in turn helps make the students of the Emily K Center’s dreams a reality- it doesn’t get much better than that.
So, we are up to Saturday. A one-game day. And I think I speak for every camper when I say: thank EVERYTHING for that. I used the extra time I had on this day the same as I did any other free time I had: bouncing between the Training Room (top notch training staff on hand to assess and treat any and every medical need) and the Recovery Lounge. The RL is a room built just for that- recovery. Massage chairs, comfy couches, TVs, games, NormaTec Recovery Systems gear… and the thing that Ariana and I couldn’t get enough of: the refrigerator. This thing is STOCKED with every drink any athlete in any stage could ever need. And they are ice cold. This was seriously a highlight. I said this about camp: I’ve never been more tired or more sore… but I’ve also never been so hydrated. In seriousness, Duke really took every step possible to make sure we were all as equipped for success as possible. I mentioned earlier that with the days beginning so early that it was often hard for some of us to eat breakfast, me being one of those people. As such, the things in the RL fridge and Training Room were crucial. I could get my day’s nutrition needs met at any given moment by utilizing all of the available stock in those rooms. We also could take advantage of Restorative Yoga classes that were specifically taught for us- and many of us did. It helped me immensely.
Before I recap our game on Saturday, let me tell you about a defining moment of camp for me and anyone who was in attendance for this game in Cameron: With about 48 or so seconds left in their game, Coach Marshall Plumlee, with his team up big, put in Dr. Morton Schulman… Morty. Backtrack to Friday night, Morty is in his 4th year of K Academy, meaning he is one of the players who had a senior night video played at Friday night’s dinner. Morty is an older gentleman who, based on his senior night video, usually serves as a Player-Coach as opposed to strictly a player. His video was a montage of many highlights of Morty coaching and cheering his team on. So, back to Saturday. Under a minute to go. Morty comes in and Ariana and I (and many, many others- including Coach K) are sitting in Cameron watching the game. All I hear is Marshall’s hoarse voice yelling to his team who is lined up on the opposing free throw block, “GET MORTY THE BALL.” Free throw goes up, I don’t remember if it went in or not, but one way or another, Morty’s team has the ball. They come down and do exactly as their Coach has instructed: the get Morty the ball. He has a few shot attempts from a touch outside of his range until he finally steps into his preferred shooting pocket. Clock is running down. 10 seconds. It rattles out. 6 seconds. In and out. He puts it up. 3 seconds left.
Morty scored for the first time. When I say Cameron went ballistic, I’m talking like when we got the stop at the end of regulation in 2015 to send the Carolina game to OT; I’m talking like when Grayson hit the game-winner over UVA; I’m talking like when Capel hit the shot. It was pure joy. As I said on social media: this, to me, is EXACTLY what K Academy is about. Yeah- it’s about winning and meeting Coach K and Duke players and socializing and playing in Cameron- but what it’s really about- are these moments. Dr. Schulman scoring his first points and all of Cameron absolutely erupting. It’s about friendship. It’s about teamwork. And it’s about togetherness. These are the memories that will stay with me forever. “It only took me 4 years,” he said after he scored. Well, thank God his 4th year coincided with my 1st. It was a moment to remember forever.
So, back to Team Charlotte. We didn’t win on Saturday, but we put up a fight. We played Team Indy, Jon Scheyer’s undefeated team, whose reputation precedes them. They are known to be one of, if not the, team to beat each year. And we gave them all they wanted.
This was the day my brother, nieces and best friend Stacy came to watch, so that was an extra cool time for me.
Team Indy outlasted us, but back at the Washington Duke, I was talking to one of their coaches, Luol Deng, who said we were the toughest team they played. I’ll take a moral victory at a fantasy camp- especially if it’s coming via Luol Deng. Yessir.
This night was bittersweet as it was our last night. We were shuttled over to The University Club for team dinners. By far the best dinner both food-wise (truth be told though: all of the food at every meal was superb, no doubt) and company-wise. I mean this with every fiber of my being when I say it: I love my team. Jason, Keith, Randy, Matt, Adam, Ferol, Dan, Andy and our coaches Ricky, Cherokee, LuAnn and Mike. I couldn’t have loved this team more. We didn’t win as many games as we may have liked, but I couldn’t ask for better teammates. No one at this camp is on the cusp of the NBA. As such, mistakes are made, defensive assignments are missed, whatever. But not once… not once… did I hear anything but people picking one another up. No one focused on what we didn’t do… we focused on what we were going to do. Next play. I’ve never felt more uplifted, more supported or more team camaraderie than I did on Team Charlotte. I played basketball my entire life. I’ve had so many teammates. I’ve had so many teammates. I’ve never had any better than those 8 guys. None better too than those 4 coaches. Do you know how impossible that is to achieve in 5 days? It’s actually not supposed to be possible. But we did that. And we did it by what we said at the end of every practice and game: TOGETHER. I can’t thank those 12 people enough for what they brought me in those 5 days. They are what it’s all about. It’s about being there. It’s about communication. It’s about trust. It’s about support. It’s about the next play. And it’s about doing it together. Thank you Jason, Keith, Randy, Matt, Adam, Ferol, Dan, Andy, Ricky, Cherokee, LuAnn and Mike. I wouldn’t want to play with, or for, anyone else.
Sunday came and went so fast. Probably because it’s a single elimination format and we didn’t win our first game, so we were out. As with every game before, we left it all out there- not one person took even one play off, ever, and I hit the last shot I put up- a three. I’ll take it.
The final post-game talk and huddle was tough. Again, it’s only been 5 days. You’re not supposed to be this invested. I’m not supposed to have tears in my eyes as LuAnn speaks to us. I’m not supposed to hear Matt’s voice crack as he talks about these 5 past days. Except, you absolutely are supposed to be this invested. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. And when you look around and see 11 people every bit as invested as you, and as invested in you, yeah… 5 days or 5 years… this camp affected me. It changed me. It brought me to places I couldn’t have imagined. I saw and felt what it is to be fully supported. From the moment we stood on that stage together on Wednesday night to the moment we stood, fists in the air together, and said our final TOGETHER, we were bonded. We couldn’t run from that. We just embraced it. We were invested.
Ariana and I stayed for a couple more games, had some lunch with my Dad and Mike and his son Christopher who had come to watch. Every second that ticked on the clock was another reminder that we were that much closer to this really being over. And that stung. But, my goodness as cliché as it is, this was absolutely one of those “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” moments.
I spent a couple more times that day talking to Coach K and Debbie and trying to convey just how much this has meant to me. It’s like I keep waiting to finally find the words that will properly spell it out- but they just don’t exist. I pushed myself far out of my comfort zone for this. Meeting people is not my strong suit… I tend to retreat internally and present as shy. Often my shyness can be mistaken for disinterest. Nothing could be farther from the truth- sometimes it’s just really hard for me to engage the way that seems to come so naturally to others. In the past, I would use alcohol to ease those situations. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve haven’t shared this with anyone outside of a very, very small circle of family and friends (I’m also intensely private), but I recently had to be honest and upfront with myself that the reliance I have had on alcohol for a very long time had gotten away from me. I no longer necessarily opted to do that; I had to. Alcohol had gone from being a crutch in my life to being more like a prosthetic. It was no longer something I could necessarily opt to leave at home- it simply came with me. And I was losing control of that. Correction and honesty: I had lost control. With the help of an incredibly patient and supportive wife- and family and friends- I quit drinking in its entirety a little over 6 months ago. It’s not a super long time, yet, but it will be. And I say all of that to get to a point here: this camp, well, first of all, this camp wouldn’t have been even remotely a possibility for me if I were still drinking. No way, shape or form would I have been able to do it. But, let’s just pretend in some alternate universe that I did go to camp and was still drinking. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have ruined it for myself by drinking. My drinking wasn’t a “wake up in the morning and I have to drink” type thing. It was a “once I start, I can’t stop” thing and it was particularly bad any time I went to anything that was exciting. My poor wife has never enjoyed a wedding or probably even so much as a party because of my drinking. And I mentioned before that I’m naturally shy? Well, the shame I would feel the next day when I was sober (and hungover) and the now-back-to-regularly-scheduled-programming/shy Sarah was dealing with the behavior of what not-at-all-shy drinking Sarah had done… it was overwhelming. I could never make peace with it. So, for me to have gone to this camp and gotten through all of the things that made me excited, the things that made me nervous, the things that made me shy, the moments that overwhelmed me- and to have done it without ever turning back… makes me proud of myself. But! What is more than that is: I got a firsthand experience of what it’s like to do something that matters and do it without alcohol. I remember every moment from camp. I took in every moment. And I’m only able to do that as a sober person- so that entire experience, on top of everything I already mentioned that it gave me- it gave me something that really stands above all of it- it gave me a shining example of how good it feels for me to not drink. I wish I was one of those people that many seem to be- someone that can do it in moderation and not go too far. But, I’m not. And I needed something to positively reinforce why it’s OK for me, and, actually, even better for me, in situations where I don’t drink… and K Academy XVI will always be what first gave me that. And for that, I can never really express how grateful I am. (For those of you who saw me at the events- when we went to the dinner at University Club and the one at the Washington Duke, they had nonalcoholic beer- and the other nights it was either Diet Coke or Seltzer for me. So if you saw me “drinking”, don’t be concerned that I fell off the wagon, I didn’t.)
So, that’s pretty much my camp in a very large nutshell. And I venture back to what the original purpose and message of this was to begin with:
That thing you want to do? Do it. Whatever it is in your life that you are either putting off or saying “I can’t right now” or “I will do it later, when I have saved more money or more time for it…” Stop putting if off and do it. Pursuing moments- that is truly what life is about. Nothing simply will happen to you; you have to make things happen for you.
With the help and support of family and friends- none of whom were more supportive of me than Ariana- I chased my dream. This post would go on another 844 pages if I started trying to express my endless gratitude to her… but I will say that I couldn’t do any of this- not just this camp, but this life- without her. No one pushes me more out of my comfort zone all while standing there beside me when I need support than Ariana. Ariana was so invested in every moment of this camp- and let me be clear, Duke basketball and sports in general do not rev her engine… she did that all because I truly believe she’s one of those rare people who is happiest when those around her are happy- and nothing makes her happier than seeing me happy. She was there for every huddle, every practice, every post game talk, everything. And I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, have done this without her.
I chased my dream. And every bit of it came true. Moments I couldn’t have dreamed of came true. I hope that every single detail of this experience will never leave me. But as time goes on, the memories will naturally fade some. But the feelings won’t. Again with the cliché, but the Maya Angelou quote rings so true: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ll never forget the feeling that this experience gave me. And I hope you all have a chance in life to find whatever it is that will make you feel the same.
Thank you to every single person involved in and associated with K Academy XVI. You have my sincerest appreciation.