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Carl Lut Williams
BCSP Editor

With a good 8-2 Tennessee State men’s team visiting No. 5 Duke on Monday Dec. 17 for a college basketball game, I thought it would be an excellent time to make my first visit in 43 years to historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of the Blue Devils and their notorious fans dubbed ‘The Cameron Crazies.”bcsp flag 125

Truthfully, I was looking forward as much to my interaction with the ‘Crazies’ as the on-court match up. Turns out I wasn’t disappointed with either.

While at the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta Saturday, broadcaster and veteran Cameron visitor Stan Lewter gave me a pep talk, more like a prep talk, about going to Cameron. In addition to telling me the backways thru the Duke Forest (or whatever it’s called) to get to the arena, he got down in a crouched, hunched-over position to explain how I would be watching the game. For those who know Stan, he can be a bit dramatic. Not the case this time.

My first visit to Cameron was in 1973 during my freshman year at Howard University as the Bison and the rest of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference played the first of two postseason basketball tournaments in the building. I remember a rather dank place with uncomfortable bleachers that my girlfriend and I sat on as we watched MEAC Tournament games with barely 500 people.

That certainly was not the case Monday. After a $32 million renovation in the late 1980s and additional improvements in 2009, Cameron is now a well-lit, intimate and classic old-time college basketball arena that reeks tradition and charm. And the place was packed to the gills with over 9,000 fans.

Upon arriving at Cameron, the first thing I wanted to do was find my seat on press row. The seating chart indicated I was in seat 11 at the far end of the press table. Upon finding my seat, the first dilemma was how to get to it. You see, the ‘Crazies’ stand just behind the press table – not in the stands, mind you – but right on the floor behind you. Getting to your seat is task No. 1, even if no one else is seated.

Twenty minutes prior to tipoff the ‘Crazies’ are already in place crammed against the press table. As I shimmied past them to my seat, I was thanking Stan for the warning. As I squeezed into my seat with virtually no room to spare one of the ‘Crazies’ behind politely asked, “Can you give me about an inch?” I thought ‘really?’ Really.

‘Crazies’ at my back

As I pretended to scoot up, I got the first of what I assume is the usual greeting for the unitiated. “Welcome to Cameron,” the young’un who asked me for the inch said. It was going to be an interesting night to say the least.

I was informed by the guy sitting next to me that many Duke students had gone home for the Christmas holidays. In other words, it could be much worse. Then I got it again, “Welcome to Cameron,” he said. Then one of the ‘Crazies,’ sensing my mild frustration, leaned in and asked, “never been in anything like this, have you?” I, to his disbelief, responded “University of Delaware Football stadium.” You’d have to have been there.

I then asked why nearly all the members of the Duke Pep Band were graybeards. I was informed that when the regular band members are not there, former members step in. Makes sense. It’s good to have standbys in case you need them. If I hadn’t looked, I wouldn’t have known their age. They played with all the ferocity and verve of college students. I guess ‘Crazies’ is contagious.

Standing for the national anthem was another task. With my chest pressed against the table, how I was supposed to stand up for the Star Spangled Banner? If there was ever a time and opportunity to channel my Colin Kaepernick-inspired unease with this sullied tradition it was now. That thought hit me as I struggled, and I mean struggled, to my feet. I made it up by ‘the dawn’s early light.’

A warning to media members: Don’t wait to go to the bathroom. It takes a while to extricate yourself from your seat. And the lines are long.

Among the things the ‘Crazies’ are known for is they never sit down or shut up and they’re loud. They cheer for everything. And they’re funny. When opposing players are introduced, they are even polite.

ANNOUNCER: “Starting for Tennessee State, a 6-5 guard from Philadelphia, Tahjere McCall.
CRAZIES: “Hi, Tahjere,” they say in unison.

And so on.

Still got Pep!

As it turns out, the ‘Crazies’ are not so crazy or loud, when the opposition is not intimidated by the Duke reputation, its talented squad or imposing crowd. Such was the case with Tennessee State Monday night.

The Tigers scored the first four points of the game, the first basket on a dunk, and stayed with Duke thru the first ten minutes. They took a 13-12 lead on a 3-pointer by Darreus Reddick with 9:43 to play, the second of back-to-back baskets by the 6-4 junior guard. They had their biggest lead of the half at 19-14 on McCall’s reverse lay-in with six minutes left.

That’s when one of the ‘Crazies’ leaned in again and said, “These guys are pretty good, huh?” I think it had finally sunk in. When Duke went in with a 27-23 halftime lead, another said, “These guys are probably going to do pretty well in their conference, huh?” No one said the ‘Crazies’ are stupid.

They had the usual chants of ‘You can’t do that’ every time a TSU player committed a foul or turnover. They continuously chanted ‘Aah’ every time McCall touched the ball, but after a series of great moves by the Philly native, they abandoned that tactic. When TSU center Wayne Martin tied the score at 36 on a fallaway jumper with 14:58 to play in the game, the ‘Crazies’ were worried. It was clear to even them that these guys were not going to go away.

But led by stellar play from freshman Jayson Tatum and veterans Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, Duke put on a patented 25-3 run over the next eight minutes to run out to a 61-39 lead. Over the final six minutes, TSU outscored Duke 16-4, punctuated by a monster dunk from McCall with a little over a minute left. His high-rising slam brought some oohs and ahhs from the ‘Crazies.’ TSU lost by a respectable 65-55 score. McCall and Reddick each had 14 points to lead the espnESPN's Jeff Goodman talks to Dana Ford

“I’m proud of our guys,” said TSU head coach Dana Ford, who at 33 is the youngest head coach in Div. I basketball. “I’m very proud of how hard our guys continued to fight, and we just have to try to learn from this. Hopefully we realize that if we play as a team, we feel like we can play with anybody in the country. But we’re trying to get to the point where we can consistently compete against high level teams. Our goal is to win our conference (Ohio Valley Conference) and play in the NCAA Tournament.”

My goal was to experience Duke basketball and its ‘Crazies’ in the hallowed halls of Cameron and hopefully see a good Tennessee State team battle the highly-respected Blue Devils and represent the great tradition of HBCU basketball.

Both missions were accomplished.


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