Even after Mike Krzyzewski retires, Duke’s Krzyzewskiville tradition will last
A rite of passage for Duke students. Cold, and crazy.
Those are some of the terms used to describe Krzyzewskiville.
It’s a collection of tents filled with students outside Cameron Indoor Stadium each winter. Duke senior Natalie Rincon’s family calls it something else.
“My parents like to use the word ridiculous,” she says with a laugh.
Each year, a certain number of tickets to Duke’s home men’s basketball game vs. rival North Carolina are reserved for Duke’s student body. And during the game, they make up the section known as “the Cameron Crazies” – you know, those kids who dance to Cascada and do their homework when it comes to trash-talking an opponent.
This year, those tickets that students like Rincon camped out for are so exclusive because it’s the last home game ever for Duke’s longtime men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski. On secondary market websites like StubHub, some tickets are selling for as much as $70,000. Getting into the Super Bowl could be cheaper.
Saturday’s game vs. the Tar Heels tips off at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally by ESPN. One of Krzyzewski’s former players, Jay Bilas, will be on the call.
Krzyzewski has won 1,196 games, more than anyone else in Division I men’s college basketball. But in his 42nd season at Duke – and 47th overall as a head college basketball coach – his players are at the front of his mind.
“The thing I’ve learned – One of the joys of coaching, for me in 47 years, is to be in the moment of the team that I have the honor to coach,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday, after his final ACC road win at Pitt.
The Hall of Fame coach has already won five national championships, and hopes to add a sixth. Duke is ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and is in first place in the ACC in Krzyzewski’s final season. Still, his focus is on his team.
“For me then to say ‘no, hey, look at me. It's my last game.’ I'm not going to do that,” Krzyzewski said. “And I'm sure it'll be emotional. But it's going to be about my team. Always, always, always, always.”
For the Raleigh News & Observer, Steve Wiseman has followed Krzyzewski’s farewell tour all season long.
“Now, as we get closer to the end here, you can kind of see where the emotions are starting to come out a little bit more,” Wiseman said. “You can see him kind of doing that constant internal battle of staying focused on the game and on the team and not – you know, what's next for him? While you know, people are honoring him for his long career.”
Wiseman has covered Duke basketball for more than a decade, and he expects an atmosphere like no other at this game between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels. And this is coming from someone who covered a 2019 game vs. UNC at Cameron Indoor that was attended by acclaimed director Spike Lee and former President Barack Obama. Duke forward Zion Williamson’sshoe sort of exploded that night.
“And I thought that was the oddest thing, or the most hyped event I’ve been at,” Wiseman said. “This will be – the finality of it, you can’t avoid that… It's going to be, you know, a basketball game, but every play, everything that happens, we're going to be looking at Coach K to see what his reaction is. Everybody in the building probably will, right? Because it's the last time he's going to do this.”
Students and fans had pitched a tent or laid out in a sleeping bag outside of Cameron Indoor prior to 1986, but that was the first year that enough people camped out that a name was given to the encampment. Someone wrote “Krzyzewskiville, Population, 3,000+” on a small white sign. By the time the Blue Devils tipped off against the Tar Heels that year, more than 75 tents were set up outside the arena. Those students were rewarded with an 85-72 Duke win.
“Tenting” – as the students call it – usually starts the weekend after winter break, and two people have to be in their group’s tents during the day and 10 at night. Those numbers decrease as tenting moves into its Blue and White phases. Depending on the basketball schedule and when winter break falls, tenting usually happens over the course of about two months.
Campers are only given grace – meaning, they can go back to their dorm or apartment for a bit – if temperatures drop below 25 degrees, if there’s more than two inches of snow, a half-inch of ice, or thunderstorms. Mariusz Derezinski-Choo – a fellow Duke senior who camped with Rincon – said their group benefited from having wooden pallets under the tent, providing some separation from the cold and wet ground.
“And we had a strict ‘No Shoes In The Tent’ rule,” Derezinski-Choo says. “No exception.”
With the chance to see Coach K’s final game in-person on the line, Duke students were more motivated than ever to participate in tenting in K-Ville this season. A record 174 groups – almost one-third of Duke’s undergraduate population – gathered in Cameron Indoor in January to take a competitive trivia test on Duke basketball for one of the 70 available spaces.
Last year, there were no fans allowed inside Cameron Indoor, and Krzyzewskiville was empty for the first time in 35 years because of the pandemic.
That left students like Derezinski-Choo even more eager for tickets this year.
“I think it being Coach K’s last year and the fact that we had a whole year off is really what made a lot of groups interested and that's why it was so, so competitive this year to get a spot,” Derezinski-Choo said. “And I have the rest of my life to watch it on TV.”
After tenting, Rincon and Derezinski-Choo’s group did well enough on a second test to earn the third place for tickets. When Duke and UNC tip-off, they’ll be in the front of the student section.
While the K-Ville tradition hasn’t changed much over the past four decades, Krzyzewski has evolved since he first arrived in Durham after a five-season stint as the head coach at his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Krzyzewski has always done what is necessary to get the best players – whether they be four-year players like JJ Redick and Mason Plumlee, or one-and-dones like Jayson Tatum and Marvin Bagley. Schematically, he’s played zone and man defenses, and has deployed modern offenses that emphasize pace and three-point shooting.
And he’s also become a bit more outspoken off the court over the past few years. During the summer of 2020 – not long after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis – Krzyzewski appeared in a video supporting Black Lives Matter.
“His involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement was really striking,” News & Observer reporter Steve Wiseman said. “Earlier in his career, he was apolitical as much as he could be, publicly. You know, he had a military background, so that lends to a more conservative-type of thinking, and he has really gone the opposite way in a lot of ways. A lot of social issues, he’s really taken a stand on.”
Asked about his final game on Duke’s campus earlier this week, Krzyzewski said: “I've tried not to think about it that much, but I know it will be emotional. And, I'm not sure how I'll do.”
Even after Krzyzewski retires, students like Natalie Rincon and Mariusz Derezinski-Choo are sure that the Krzyzewskiville name and tradition – which began all the way back in 1986 – will stay.
“I mean, this all started because of Coach K’s legacy. And I think that's something that we need to commemorate forever,” Rincon said. “And it's such a unique experience that like, I mean, even just like the sign and like the area, everything is called K-Ville. So I think that's definitely going to be part of his legacy that hopefully remains here. Forever.”
Should Duke win Saturday’s game, another long standing tradition will likely take place: a huge bonfire on campus.
“That’s just the Duke experience,” Derezinski-Choo said. “Beating Carolina, burning the benches afterwards, everyone celebrating, and sending Carolina to hell.”
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