Champion Blue Devils return home to Cameron
DURHAM, N.C. — The scene was almost perfect. The championship trophy was back. Fans had nearly packed Cameron Indoor Stadium to welcome the Blue Devils home after another national championship run. Even the arena's scoreboards displayed Monday night's final score.
Only one thing was missing for Mike Krzyzewski.
"It's good to be home, it's good to be in Cameron and it's good to see that score," the Hall of Fame coach told the crowd before gesturing to the rafters. "It'll be even better to see a fourth banner up there."
About 9,000 fans greeted the team when it returned to campus Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Blue Devils held off Butler 61-59 in Indianapolis to win the program's fourth national title.
That victory kicked off a long celebration on the Durham campus, starting with thousands of students gathering around a bonfire on a quad near the Duke Chapel early Tuesday. The party was still going later in the afternoon with the team climbing onto a stage in Cameron in front of a banner reading "Welcome Home NCAA Champs!!!"
The school had waited nine years for this title and hadn't been to the Final Four since 2004, a drought by the program's lofty standards that had some questioning whether Duke had slipped. But now the Blue Devils are celebrating just as they did when teams led by players like Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Jason Williams and Shane Battier.
"I've been doing this here at Duke for 30 years," Krzyzewski said through a hoarse voice. "This is as good of a group of guys as I've coached here in 30 years."
The team arrived about an hour late, which allowed fans the chance to watch a replay of Monday night's game on the scoreboard screens or shop for championship T-shirts. Their biggest cheers — until the team arrived, anyway — came when the screens showed live news coverage of the team arriving at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport and then taking the bus to campus.
They waited in a nearby hallway for the replay of Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot to again bounce off the backboard, then carom off the rim and fall to the floor at the horn before walking on stage.
"I know it took four years," senior Lance Thomas said, "but four years is worth another banner."
The crowd of supporters included football coach David Cutcliffe and women's basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie, while fans filled most of the upstairs level and packed a standing-room only area on the court at the base of the stage. Freshman Andre Dawkins carried the NCAA championship trophy and held it throughout the ceremony, while the players stood behind Krzyzewski as he addressed the crowd at the podium.
"I'm so speechless right now," said junior Nolan Smith, who teamed with fellow junior Kyle Singler and senior Jon Scheyer to form the high-scoring "Big Three" that led Duke's offense. "It meant so much to me and my family to be a part of something special. Now we're going to hang another banner in Cameron. That's what I came to Duke to do."
The crowd also took the opportunity to try and persuade Singler — the most outstanding player at the Final Four — to stick around for his final season instead of entering the NBA draft.
"One more year!" they chanted when he came to the podium to speak.
Singler didn't respond to the chants.
"I think for me and for you guys, just enjoy this and just have fun," he told them. "That's what we've been doing throughout the whole season."
As for Krzyzewski, he remained fixated on that soon-to-be added banner.
"When you look up," he said, "all of us would want you to say to yourself and to whomever you're with: 'That's when my team — our team — won the national championship.'"