Orange Watch: ‘Cameron Crazies’ at Syracuse v. Duke lived up to the hype

Item: Our first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium last weekend for the SU-Duke rematch was six hours of pure college hoops indulgence.

Durham, N.C. – Business-related events have taken Orange Watch to this city along Tobacco Road on numerous occasions over the years, but we had missed out on attending a game at Cameron until the Orange joined the ACC this season.

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Your humble Orange Watch columnist was welcomed warmly by the renowned “Crazies” including Craig, center, holding piece of paper.

Durham is an interesting college town (also home to North Carolina Central University) contrasting a revitalized urban central city core from its historical tobacco lineage, now well known for the minor league baseball Bulls and great “Bar-B-Cue.” Start downtown and travel west you’ll find that W. Chapel Hill Street actually turns into Duke University Boulevard as it winds through the forested and spacious main Duke campus, resplendent with its old stone architecture mixing in with more modern structures.

» Related: Why does Syracuse keep getting into close games?

In one corner of campus sits the athletic facilities, including the mammoth concrete oval of 85 year old Wallace Wade Stadium home of Duke football, along with practice fields and smaller stadiums for other men’s and women’s sports, and campus gymnasiums for intramural and recreational activities.

Tucked inconspicuously among these buildings is 9,314 seat Cameron Indoor Stadium, which itself opened in January 1940, and instantly invokes similarities as a combination of Philadelphia’s Palestra (opened in 1927), Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym (opened in 1925), and Maryland’s Cole Field House where the Terrapins played from 1955-2002.

The short length of the walk from the media entrance to standing on the court is essentially equal to the distance of the top of three point arc to the basket. The toasty press room was built to hold half the number of media in attendance, which gives you a pretty good idea of the lack of space to maneuver before someone’s tripping over some outlet’s camera or wires.

The visiting team locker room is below court level in one corner tucked underneath a flight of stairs, while the TV-radio broadcast teams sit at the building’s highest point, some 150 feet away from play, in cramped and steamy booths that can only be accessed by a narrow ladder protruding downward.

Three hours before the Orange and Blue Devils tipped off, the long line of Duke students waiting to enter and grab the closest seat they can is already back as far as the eye can see. The students, in blue and white from head to toe including their painted faces, are lined up inside metal barriers forming a cattle chute of sorts. Alongside the long line sits the many tents of Krzyzewskiville, the student encampment that features some tents practically the size of a dorm room, complete with beds, desks and lounge chairs, the necessary ingredients for a weeks-long stay.

All of the sudden there is a loud cheer. Here comes Duke’s first year standout Jabari Parker, who happened to be a regional Sports Illustrated cover subject last week, stopping on route inside to high-five fellow students and throw down a dunk in the hoop of a makeshift court set up next to the tents that was eerily a preview of game action to come against the ‘Cuse a short time later.

When it’s time to let the students inside, the fast and frenzy race to sit closest to the court begins. Within two minutes the entire length of the sideline is filled three row deeps and counting by the second.

“Are you from a Syracuse website?” we were asked by one of those rampaging Duke students.

“Yes, The Juice,” we replied to 19 year old sophomore Rusty Craig from nearby Cary, while flipping open our laptop to reveal the site’s homepage.

“That’s cool,” Craig replied politely, and a fun pregame discussion was underway as he explained it’s been the biggest student prescience in Krzyzewskiville in a decade with the Syracuse and upcoming North Carolina showdowns all the rage.

» Related: Boeheim ejected as Syracuse loses round 2 to Duke

Once the game began those along press row making their Cameron debut, while soaking up the joyous atmosphere and close-to-the-action vantage point, realized that this was going to be unlike any other game they’ve covered. The constant pressing of human flesh against the back of one’s chair left no room to move and no escape until halftime, so nature better not call until then. And, no sense trying to hide what your viewing or writing on a laptop or tablet, there were peering eyes and hot breath over your shoulder the entire time.

The exciting game lived up to its billing, tied at halftime, back and forth the final 20 minutes, with the crowd delirious after Blue Devil baskets and favorable whistles, and quickly muted to a murmur when the Orange scored or got an official’s call.

Ironically, we all know SU didn’t get the critical official’s call on C.J. Fair’s drive to the basket with 10.4 seconds left in this one, igniting Jim Boeheim to his first-ever regular season ejection and permanently placing the game into its own chapter of Orange hoops lore in this ACC debut season, Boeheim’s first ejection in the school’s first game in the home of the “Crazies.”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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