A dozen minutes before game time, in a crowded hallway beneath section 12 of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Duke men's basketball team waits for the call. They're just big kids, but they know they're at the next level. The anticipation and excitement that surrounds them is palpable, addictive.
For two-hour spells several times a year, this room seems to be the center of my universe, a guaranteed inducer of goose bumps every time I go to a game. The scene is loose and festive: Blue-haired students cross the open space to get to their seats, their arms loaded with pizza and sodas. Band members fidget with their instruments above and behind us. Several layers of security guards make sure the narrow entrance to the court is kept clear. They make eye contact with one another, looking at their watches and phones for cues and alerts. Cheerleaders are a few yards away, as are several ESPN cameramen goosing the Crazies to look, well, crazy for the folks back home. It's all about to happen.
The chants get louder and ripple through the gym. Here come the Blue Devils. The police and ushers hold up their arms, their palms back and faces somehow still stern. There's no more spectator space in the bleachers or polished floor. Even journalists can't cross the three feet to return to their coveted stations, at least not now. The big kids step into the roar.
As an undergraduate, I had squeezed in behind one of the baskets when Fred Lind beat UNC in triple overtime. He was everywhere, on fire. I remember being very hoarse, very happy. Nearly four decades later, No. 1 Duke was handing the keys to Cameron to the underdog Virginia Tech. The crowds were making for the exits, but I leaned over the brass rail above the student section. With less than two seconds left, we were down by one, with the basket gaping from a full court away. Sean Dockery listened to his assistant coach, Johnny Dawkins, and got open on the right wing. He took a step, heaved a 40-footer and we won.
Though some spots are more snug than others, there are no bad seats in Cameron. I've sat next to wide-eyed, sleep-deprived New Jersey kids who've driven all day to get to a game, having just paid $300 on eBay for a ticket. They can't stop talking and taking pictures with their phones. It's like they just won the lottery. But in fact, we did: We are so lucky to have Cameron Indoor in the neighborhood, even if you're a fan of the other boys in the blue.
And this year, the energy and noise are back—the team chemistry, too. How can you not enjoy watching Jabari Parker thunder dunk and share the ball? How cool is it to have Mr. Basketball, Jon Scheyer back on the bench? But most of all, it's great to see Andre Dawkins grinning again after his family tragedies. He is the beating heart and soul for us 9,300 fans ringing the court, on our feet as he hits back-to-back threes, all the time.
This is going to be a good year.