That time I called an NCAA tournament game at Duke…

IMG_0578Few basketball teams at any level, even the pros, can drum up the kind of envious hate that Duke basketball can. And it’s not just the winning that irks people. UCLA, Kentucky, UNC, and Indiana all have as many or more titles. Duke’s smug confidence and long line of notorious villains works in tandem with their winning ways to set them apart.

One of the coolest aspects of Duke basketball is Cameron Indoor Stadium. Recently, I was lucky enough to call an NCAA tournament game there. And I figure I’d share my experience since most people, like me prior to the game, have only seen the place on TV. I hate to be cliche, but there is a certain magic about the place. As soon as you walk in, there’s this feeling of “whoa I’m at Cameron.”

It’s not because Cameron is the state-of-the-art arena that you would expect basketball royalty like Duke to call home. It’s a gym in every sense of the word. We’re talking bleachers where the Cameron Crazies sit.

IMG_0453 That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of Cameron Indoor Stadium that are modern. Just past the front entrance there are touch screens that display life-sized digital versions of each Duke player, along with stats and fun facts about them.

The media luncheon was held in Duke’s brand-spanking new Champions club which is a huge room with lots of big glass windows that provide lots of natural sunlight and stunning views of Wallace Wade stadium. With 12 flat screen tv’s, giant Duke logos, retired jersey exhibits and a full bar, it’s an awesome place to take in a college basketball game.IMG_0460 The path to the media room is a long, narrow hallway lined with blue carpet. It’s like the college basketball version of walking the red carpet. I was there for an opening round women’s NCAA tournament game, so the room wasn’t as packed as it could’ve been but it was cool knowing that someone sat exactly where I was sitting and was able to ask Kyrie Irving and Jabari Parker questions.IMG_0621 My team, the Hampton Lady Pirates, surprisingly had the last media session of the day and they practiced shortly after that. Walking into the actual gym part of Cameron Indoor was both familiar and foreign at the same time. I’ve seen it countless times on TV, but actually standing in it was different.IMG_0528 It’s not as big as you’d think, seating under 10,000 people. Where Cameron shows its age is the copious amounts of wood throughout the arena. Coming from a school that plays in a newer arena where just about everything is plastic, I was surprised. It’s old, but that’s the point of keeping the place around.

It’s like Fenway Park in that old and new are blended together to create a unique experience. The most unique part of the experience? It’s definitely climbing (yes, climbing) into the press box. Our assigned space was the national radio press box, which is a crows’ nest that literally hangs over the nosebleed seats. You have to put a seat up and climb a ladder to get in. They put the ladder up in the press box so you’re trapped up there until halftime.IMG_0575 Once you’re in the press box the first thing you notice is the low hanging pipes directly over your head. They are padded, which is a good thing because I could totally see someone jumping up and hitting their head on one. Other than that, the box is basically a small room with a table, some chairs, and phone, power and ISDN lines.IMG_0570 Another cool thing about being at the tournament was getting to see the mascots up close. I ran into the Oregon mascot in one of the lobbies and I was amazed that there was a six-foot tall duck just walking around. Not only that, he was hitting threes before the game! Getting buckets can’t possibly easy in a giant duck suit.IMG_0622 I won’t go much into the actual Hampton-Duke game because it was a blowout. Hampton’s all-time D1 scoring leader tore her ACL and couldn’t play and three other starters were out with injuries as well. All I have to say is that the girls fought hard. To go in shorthanded against one of the premier programs in the country in their home gym takes guts.

So, like many other people, my college career ended with a loss at Duke. It’s not how I envisioned it ending, but who can complain about calling their last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium? I’m grateful to Hampton University, specifically  the football, men’s and women’s basketball programs and the campus radio station 88.1 WHOV for letting me call four years and 12 season’s worth of games.

It’s been a priceless experience. And as for Cameron Indoor? I’ll be back for sure. I have a pretty ambitious sports bucket list. So far I can check off throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park and calling a game at Cameron Indoor stadium. One day soon, I have to catch a Duke-UNC men’s basketball game at Cameron.IMG_0613

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